Here in Britain, we can often take it for granted that our festive tables will be adorned with a perfectly golden turkey and all the trimmings, but it hasn’t always been that way. Here at The Mitre, Hampton Court Hotel we are blessed with a building with a rich and characterful history dating back to the 1600s so are surrounded by history every day. With Christmas around the corner we wanted to delve deeper into where our Christmas traditions derived from, and with food and drink our speciality, where better to start than the festive feast…
During the Stuart times in which our Surrey hotel was built in, extravagant feasts and banquets were a much-loved occasion. The Christmas menu often included capons, hens, turkeys, geese and ducks. The centrepiece, and most impressive meat dish of all, was the boar’s head, which traditionally had an apple or lemon in its mouth. The boar would be beautifully decorated, laced with holly, ivy and rosemary before being carried ceremoniously into the dining hall. But now times have changed and it’s all about the bird.
Why do we eat turkey at Christmas?
Turkey is arguably the most popular meat to be served at Christmas in the UK, with sales exceeding 10 million birds last year alone. But its popularity didn’t start to thrive until the 1950’s, when Turkey became a more widely available Christmas treat. According to the history books, the first recorded arrival of the Turkey into Britain was in 1526, brought over from America by Yorkshireman William Strickland. Henry VIII, of the neighbouring Hampton Court Palace, was the first English king to enjoy a festive turkey.
The interest in Turkey began to steadily increase and by the eighteenth century turkey had become so popular that birds were being bred on a large scale. However, even though turkey had risen in popularity, it was still a delicacy for the rich and on average it costed a week’s worth of wages to buy a single turkey.
If turkey isn’t traditional, what is?
Before the turkey took centre stage as part of our British festive feast, a traditional medieval Christmas dinner would have consisted of any roasted meat. For those who were less well off, beef or offal was a popular choice as this was a cheap way for everyone to enjoy meat. For the slightly wealthier, a roasted goose or woodcock (a small game bird) with all the trimmings was often enjoyed. If you were lucky enough to be part of the upper echelons of medieval society, the Christmas meal might have included roasted swan (with the permission of the king, of course), pheasant, a roasted boar’s head, or even peacock.
If any or all of those delicious festive fancies have got your juices flowing, why not book a table at one of the finest restaurants in Hampton Court? Let us spoil you this year, whether you join us for a Christmas party, festive lunch, or for Christmas day itself, our riverside venue is the perfect setting to celebrate. Please call 0208 979 99 88 to make your reservation today.