Instead of Food Under Fire… Tea Under Raincloud at Buckingham Palace!

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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But I did have my fair share, and what I ate was excellent: pretty as a postcard and even more delicious.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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