Today it would be considered a culinary horror to serve roast swan, but at this 1890’s dinner, the future King Edward VII served the exclusively royal offering at his Sandringham residence under the name Cygne á la Windsor on the menu.
Swan has always been considered a dish reserved for royalty. It appeared on the 1399 wedding menu of King Henry IV; Peter the Great of Russia enjoyed slices of swan breast served with vinegar, sour milk, pickles and prunes; and the regal bird graced the Christmas table of Queen Victoria in the early years of her reign during the 1840s and 1850s, before she took a preference to roast turkey.
Although Edward was still the Prince of Wales during this dinner, his penchant from swan followed him to his coronation as Edward VII. In December 1908, The Times reported that “at their Majesties' Christmas dinner one of the special dishes will be roast cygnets, which have been reared on the Thames and caught by Mr. Abnett, the King's swan-master”.
For true gourmands of the era, swan could only be eaten in December due to the meticulous rearing and preparation required for a truly perfect dish.
Eating an adult swan is considered to be a particularly tough and unpleasant feast. Therefore the preparations began at around June when the cygnet (baby swan) first hatched. By the end of August, the King’s swan-master was to have separated the ‘required’ cygnets from their parents and have them placed in a separate pond where they were deliberately fattened on a diet of grass and barley along with corn that sat in special vats just beneath the water level.
Timing, as always, needed to be perfect. Once white feathers started to appear, the fattening ceased and the cygnet, or cygne as it now was, was ready for the royal table weighing around 12 kilograms. Stuffed with a spiced beef mince and wrapped in meal paste to protect the breast, the swan was spit-roasted with a mixture of beef stock combined with red wine regularly poured through the middle of the bird during cooking. Toward the end the meal paste was peeled away to allow for a final browning of the breast before being served at the royal table with hot redcurrant jelly.
The grandeur of the swan at this dinner no doubt took away from another elaborate dish that would usually be the talking point of any dinner party, Chartreuse de Perdreaux á l’Anciénne. This was an elaborate mould with a colorful outside layer of ornately shaped sliced vegetables disguising a filling of cabbages stuffed with a mix of braised partridge, diced sausage meat and bacon.
The appearance of Mince Pies on this menu is a reminder that this dinner took place just two days after Christmas.
Potato and turnip soup
Filet de Soles á la Valny
Filets of Sole
Chartreuse de Perdreaux á l’Anciénne
An elaborate mould of cabbages stuffed with braised partridge, diced sausage meat and bacon that is enveloped in a colourful layer of ornately shaped thin slices of vegetables; then garnished with peal onions and mushroom caps
Cygne á la Windsor
Roast swan especially fattened for six months from its hatchling state; and served with hot redcurrant jelly
Les Pieces de Viande froide
Roulettes of cold meats
Poulets rotis á la Caserole
Timbale made from puréed cooked rice filled with shredded roast chicken bound in an espagnole sauce made from a veal
and partridge stock
Salade á la Portugaise
Tomato, mushroom and potato salad tossed with white wine and French dressing
Cardons á la möélle
Baked cardoons topped with bone-marrow
Charlotte de Pommes
Parfait au Câfé
Menu dated 27th December circa 1890s
Dinner at Sandringham hosted by Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra).
From the private Royal Menu Collection of © Jake Smith
Dinner host: HRH the Prince of Wales
(Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Photographers' Gallery, London, 1973
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of the Bowness Family Foundation)
Dining Room at Sandringham