The Tudor kitchen was a deeply impressive site, hidden from the sight of the palace’s esteemed inhabitants, courtiers, chapels, great halls, pomp and ceremony. The kitchen was the heart of this massive household which kept everything running smoothly. Tasks were not limited to cooking – though that was a major undertaking. Those who worked in the kitchen were also involved in stacking the firewood, keeping track of candles and charcoal, preparing the laundry, etc. The task of keeping the entire palace on track fell on the shoulders of this secret, hidden half of the establishment.
The kitchen would have been packed with hoards of men, all of whom were working away on sections of what would become one of the palace’s many grand meals and feasts. It was split into various departments including bakeries, boiling houses, roasting rooms and pastries. It’s believed there were at least 19 of these different departments, all of which combined to form one massive kitchen which would feed hundreds of people twice a day. And all of this food had to be simply magnificent.
Storage at the palace wasn’t an issue as it was very well designed and only needed for very brief periods at a time. With 500-600 people eating at the palace twice every day, the kitchen got through an incredible amount of food. The problem, then, was not so much in the storage, but in the transport and sourcing. Once the food arrived at the palace, it could be stored in any one of a number of stone stores in an area now referred to as the Fish Court, but originally called Pave Passage. The storage areas were open to the air, but oriented east-west, so the sun didn’t shine in very often. Fish Court stays damp and cold at all times. Modern thermometers have found that the temperature generally stays around that of a modern walk-in fridge, so storage was certainly the least of their worries.
The challenge was keeping the storage areas full when the kitchen was expected to feed so many mouths. Fresh food would be deposited in the stone stores for no more than a day or two, before being brought into the kitchen and used. No food would have a chance to spoil, unless it was somehow forgotten about.
One of the main events to be held at Hampton Court was the christening of Edward VI. Here, the kitchen would have served up countless bakes, boils and roasts of every great meat available. Served up were the most expensive birds, the lightest cuts of meat, and every other fabulous dish created. Unfortunately, however, the only thing that we know for certain they served was a selection of fine wafers, spiced with ginger and cinnamon – an exotic selection of sweets to be shared with all of the distinguished guests.