Eat like the Queen at Christmas - how to have a royal festive season

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·7 min read

Watch: Queen and Philip to spend Christmas at Windsor

Every family has their own Christmas traditions, whether it’s setting out a mince pie and brandy for Father Christmas (and a carrot for Rudolf) or wearing matching pyjamas over the festive period.

They might be one of the most famous families in the world, but the Royal Family is not above festive fun and they have their own traditions when it comes to the holiday season too.

One of the ways they keep things the same year on year, is through the food they eat, with the Queen quite particular about what is on the menu at Sandringham.

The Queen is making some changes in 2020 though, because of the coronavirus pandemic. She and Philip had already planned a quiet Christmas at Windsor Castle but had any plans for outdoor visits from their family scuppered when Tier 4 was brought in.

On Christmas Eve

This is when the Queen and her family open their Christmas presents, to ensure the day itself is dedicated to the religious services, a family meal and watching the 3pm broadcast.

The family has afternoon tea, a daily event, before the doors to the dining room are opened and the children are allowed to run in and open their presents.

The Queen’s Christmas hamper from Fortnum and Mason is delivered on Christmas Eve too.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (L-R) look at their hampers after being presented with gifts at the Fortnum and Mason food store in London March 1, 2012. REUTERS/Leon Neal/POOL  (BRITAIN - Tags: ROYALS ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS FOOD)
The Queen is said to get a Christmas hamper from Fortnum and Mason each year. (Reuters)

Read more: Here's what a royal Christmas at Windsor used to look like

Speaking in the TV programme A Very Royal Christmas... Sandringham Secrets, Paul Burrell, Diana’s former butler, said: “It’s like an Aladdin’s cave. Turkey, foie gras, chocolates, goodies to eat after dinner.

“It all comes in a laundry hamper with F and M on the side.”

When the presents have been opened, the adults change for dinner, which is a grand occasion.

Burrell explained: “The men wear Windsor coats, they’re a gift from the Queen, and have red lapels. One to wear if you are in the family club.”

Darren McGrady, who used to work for the Queen as head chef, said there could be five chefs working over the Christmas period, and that the work would begin “weeks and weeks before”.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Shylah Gordon, aged 8, attach a bauble to a Christmas tree during a visit to children's charity Coram in London, Britain, December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The Queen puts a bauble on a Christmas tree with Shylah Gordon during a visit to children's charity Coram in London in 2018. (Reuters)

Read more: Queen showing 'real leadership' with message 'it's alright to miss Christmas', says expert

McGrady told Channel 4: “You have to order all the turkeys and make all the puddings, the way Sandringham works, there’s no equipment there, [as] it was used by the Prince of Wales, the Queen’s chefs didn’t leave any equipment there because we’d lose it.”

The Queen has her love of chocolate satisfied on Christmas Eve with a “chocolate perfection” pudding which is served after the main meal.

McGrady described the dessert as a “rich pastry shell, cinnamon and meringue, and in there cream and more meringue into that and then chocolate and grated chocolate on top”.

He added: “When you cut in it’s so rich, and it’s perfect for that time of year.”

On Christmas Day

The Queen is very traditional and so her Christmas Day menu is unlikely to surprise anyone.

However the day’s events do start differently to the way most families will begin their Christmas morning.

The Queen still gives out stockings to her children – despite Prince Charles being in his 70s – and so everyone receives small gifts, like an orange, nuts, coins and a small gift, like a tie or a scarf.

With no family to stay with her in 2020, the Christmas stocking present list was probably a good deal shorter for the Queen this year.

KING'S LYNN, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 08: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 48 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh depart after attending the Sunday service at St Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham on January 8, 2017 in King's Lynn, England. The Queen missed services on Christmas Day and New Year's Day after suffering a heavy cold. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
The Queen and Prince Philip after attending the Sunday service at St Mary Magdalene Church in King's Lynn in 2017. (Indigo/Getty Images)

Men and women take breakfast separately on Christmas morning, according to Katie Nicholl, royal correspondent for Vanity Fair.

She said: “Royal women are allowed to take breakfast in their room - coffee, croissant, continental breakfast. The royal men have breakfast downstairs.

Former butler Burrell added: “Men have cooked breakfast in the dining room on Christmas morning - you serve yourself, no one is waited on on Christmas morning.”

After breakfast, the royals change to go to church, which in Sandringham means going to the 11am service at St Mary Magdalene. Most of them walk together, but the Queen is driven.

In 2020, the Queen will miss out on a public church service, but will worship privately inside Windsor Castle.

Once they’re back from church (and changed for lunch), they tuck into their festive spread.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 01:  Chef Darren McGrady attends BritWeek's 10th Anniversary VIP Reception & Gala at Fairmont Hotel on May 1, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Britweek)
Darren McGrady, here at BritWeek's 10th Anniversary Gala in Los Angeles, used to cook for the Queen. (Getty Images)

Dickie Arbiter, former press secretary to the Queen, said on A Very Royal Christmas... Sandringham Secrets: “Lunch is pretty much what you and I would eat, turkey, roast potatoes, mash potatoes, parsnips, turnip, sprouts, cranberry sauce.”

He added: “They might be more upright but by and large they do what we do - they eat, they drink, they swap stories.”

An average Sandringham Christmas would include three turkeys for the main royal lunch, a turkey for the children in the nursery, plus turkey for the staff.

McGrady said: “We had our lunch too, in the staff dining room, we had all the turkey and the trimmings and there was champagne. The Queen wanted us to have as good a Christmas as she was.”

McGrady said the Queen will always toast the chef too, once the turkey is carved.

After lunch, the whole family watches the Queen’s Christmas message, which is pre-recorded and broadcast across networks at 3pm.

They pass on their compliments afterwards – watching the broadcast in silence.

And to drink

Of course no royal celebration would be complete without something to drink with the meal.

According to Burrell: “The Queen particularly likes champagne and white wines. At lunchtime she has a gin and dubonnet.

“In the drawing room she likes a martini and then a glass of wine at dinner - maybe two.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 11: Queen Elizabeth II attends a reception for winners of The Queen's Awards for Enterprise, at Buckingham Palace on July 11, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Yui Mok - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The Queen is said to like white wines, and a gin and Dubonnet. (Yui Mok - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The Royal Family also enjoys Christmas crackers on their table, but they are not picked up at the supermarket.

Burrell told Channel 4: “She chooses the joke and the present in every cracker.”

Lady Colin Campbell said: “They are bespoke, filled with really interesting items.”

The Queen’s Christmas pudding recipe

According to Nicholl, the royal Christmas puddings are “very special and meaningful to the royal house”.

And in 2020, the royal chefs shared the recipe, allowing royal and food fans alike to make them at home.

This recipe makes two Christmas puddings.

250g raisins

250g currants

185g sultanas

150g mixed peel

250g suet or vegetarian suet

250g breadcrumbs

90g flour

12g mixed spice

2 whole eggs

180g demerara sugar

275ml beer

40ml dark rum

40ml brandy

Alcohol can be substituted for orange juice or cold tea.

Stir the ingredients together and add them to a greased pudding bowl. This recipe makes two puddings. Cover the puddings with greaseproof paper and tin foil, and place them in a large saucepan with water about three-quarters of the way up.

Steam the puddings for about six hours.

When they’re done, wrap them tightly and store them in a cool, dark place until Christmas Day. Reheat them in a bain-marie for 3-4 hours. Remove from the basin using a rounded knife or palette knife, flip out onto a plate, garnish or flambé and serve with brandy sauce and cream.

Watch: The Royal Family at Christmas