There are few future British monarchs who have spent their Christmas Day in India’s Calcutta. But in 1875 that’s exactly where the future King Edward VII, then the 34 year-old Prince of Wales, had docked his ship in readiness for an amazing Christmas Banquet that surely tested the resources and ingenuity of the royal naval chefs.
Tyranny of distance proved to be no barrier to the chefs who were expected to prepare the future King of England with a traditional Victorian Christmas banquet; while the crew set to work recreating false snow landscapes on the deck.
On this Christmas morning the Prince of Wales, accompanied by the Viceroy of India, attended divine service in Saint Paul’s Cathedral before returning to HMS Serapis to host and partake in this royal Christmas banquet, served on deck, complete with all the traditional offerings of turkey, legs of ham, grouse, plum pudding, sherry jellies and mince pies.
This was the trip of a lifetime for the future King who had set sail from London on 11th October 1875 and would not return until the 11th May the following year. There were fifty men in the Prince’s party including the Duke of Sutherland and his honorary Private Secretary, Sir William Russell, who recounted of this Christmas day how:
“thousands of natives and hundreds of Europeans, attracted by the Serapis dressed out with flags, had assembled. Two lines of sailors (Commander Bedford) and marines (Major Snow) were drawn up on the gangway, which was covered with scarlet cloth, and on pontoons extending from the shore to the ship. Outside, the officers of the Serapis and of the Osborne. Most of the blue-jackets had flowers in their breast.
"The deck was artfully transformed into a winter scene by means of shrubs and branches covered with cotton-wool to represent snow, which, with the aid of some glistening white powder, it did most successfully. Holly and ivy wreaths, fabricated on board, were suspended on the bunting-walls alongside inscriptions of "Welcome, merry Christmas!" "Happy new year!" "God bless the Prince of Wales!" “céad míle fáilte," "Welcome."
Old Father Christmas was duly represented. Across the forecastle was the inscription, "We wish you a prosperous journey and a safe return to us." A table prettily decorated, was prepared for lunch on the main-deck. "God save the Queen" having been played, the health of the Prince was drunk with Highland honours, the cheers being echoed by the crowd outside. The Prince proposed the health of Captain Glyn and the officers of the Serapis, to whom he paid some graceful compliments, adding the name of Commander Durrant of the Osborne.
The menu-card is embossed with the Prince of Wales personal monogram at the time, which inlcuded the letters 'A' and 'E' for Prince Albert Edward. Fittingly for this tour, his monogram is also surrounded with the collar of the Order of the Star of India for whch the Prince of Wales was the second member (following his father) since the creation of the Order in 1861 by Queen Victoria.
Printaníer au Consommé
Spring vegetable consommé
Côtelettes de Mouton aux pois
Mutton cutlets dressed with peas cooked with onions and lettuce
Poulets au Yus au Cresson
Chicken breasts dressed in creamed watercress flavoured with the pan juices from the chicken
Galantines de Dinde a l’Aspic
Cold dish of de-boned turkeys stuffed with forcemeat and foie-gras which have been glazed in aspic jelly
Pâtés de Grouses ala Gelée
Pastries filled with grouse meat and sealed with aspic jelly
Roast young turkeys
Langues a l’ E’carlatte
Beef tongue pickled using saltpetre and dressed in a tomato sauce
Bœuf Roti a l’Anglaise
Roast beef served with roast vegetables
Mayonnaise de Poulets
Chicken breasts dressed in mayonnaise
Poulets découpér Garnis de Langues
Finger-food sized slices of chicken breast, cut into Christmas shapes such as stars, and layered with a thin slice each of cured tongue and truffle
Salade de Homards a l’Aspic
Elaboarte high moulds of aspic jelly filled with lobster meat and topped with mayonnaise
Balottines de Bologne ala Gelée
Bologne sausage meat rolled into a cheesecloth with pickled tongue and olives before being bacon stock, cooled, unwrapped, topped with stock and chilled until jellied
Macédoine de Fruits au Champagne
Elaborate high moulds of Champagne jellies filled with diced fruits and topped with cream
Gelée au Vin de Zerés
Petites patisseries Assorties
Assortment of small cakes
Peum-pudding au Saboyon
Plum Pudding (spelt the old-fasioned way) served with zabaglione made from whisking egg yolks with sugar, white wine and brandy
Mince Pies a l’Anglaise
Traditional English mince pies
Menu dated: Christmas Day, 25th December 1875
Christmas Day luncheon hosted by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII) aboard Her Majesty’s Ship Serapis moored in Calcutta, India.
From the private Royal Menu Collection of © Jake Smith
HMS Serapis: moored in Calcutta for Christmas Day 1875 carrying its royal passenger, the Prince of Wales (future Edward VII).
The Prince of Wales in India: the future King Edward VII on tour in India in 1875 poses atop his elephant used for a tiger hunt; and poses with his trophy (second from left, back row). (Photo courtesy: Library of Congress)