Every spring, Queen Elizabeth throws three garden parties at Buckingham Palace, where 8,000 invited guests gather for a spot of tea and a healthy dose of British tradition.
I managed to wrangle an invite the night before — and spent the morning of the party finding a hat (required) and a “day dress or pants suit” appropriate enough for the occasion. Thusly dressed, I joined hundreds of other well-heeled guests in line at the palace gates. And well-heeled they were. Some men were dressed for the Blitz in classic military attire, others wore top hats and tails; the women were in feathers and fascinators and gloves. A visual feast as well as a culinary one.
Navigating war zones and refugee trails is almost easier than navigating palace gardens on a torrentially rainy day. The Queen looked oh-so-chic and bright in her hot pink suit and matching umbrella. My heels went squelch into the palace mud as I walked along, arms pinwheeling as I suddenly found myself rooted to the grass with no more forward momentum. More than once I grabbed a fellow tea-partier to avoid falling down. (Which, by the way, would be a classic, klutzy me thing to do.)
Royal bands played as the 90-year old Queen and 94-year old Prince Philip chatted with guests, and a full tea was served. At each party, guests consume 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake. I had no where NEAR that much.
But I did have my fair share, and what I ate was excellent: pretty as a postcard and even more delicious.
Sandwiches included free range egg salad with watercress, ham/tomatoes/mustard, and cucumber with fresh mint and black pepper on crustless, buttered white bread. The mint took an otherwise dull sandwich somewhere fresh. I heard not one but TWO different guests murmuring about it. They also served a lovely mini biscuit topped with smoked salmon, and a pinwheel wrap of coronation chicken (chicken, raisins, mayonnaise, curry spices) and spinach.
Next up: platters of beautifully made mini-cakes. I moved past the dense Dundee Cake (scottish fruit cake) and the charming little carrot cakes… and even passed up the Chocolate Croustilliant with its adorable crown decoration. Instead I honed in on the girlie desserts on the table: a little Eton Mess tart (raspberry meringue, whipped cream) wearing an adorable meringue cap, the time-intensive checkered Strawberries & Cream Battenberg cake, and the Passion Fruit Tart. Oh, and a mini scone with blackcurrant jam, just for the Britishness of it.
To drink? Tea, of course, and mini iced coffees (though in another British stereotype, there was no ice to be found in the glass… “cold milk coffee” would be more accurate).
Despite the weather, which left fascinators drooping and top hats dripping and shoes ruined and cuffs muddied… it was a simply gorgeous day.
For the sake of this blog’s name, I will mention that security was on the roof and in the windows of the palace, keeping a watchful eye on the crowd. So, technically, we were eating under surveillance, though not fire. It can’t all be strawberries and cream.