We are deep into the pageantry, politics and passion of the first season of Victoria, the opulently produced seven-part series airing Sundays through March 5 on KCTS 9.
With the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), 19-year-old Victoria (Jenna Coleman) was, by the Grace of God, crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Defender of the Faith in 1838 — a tall order for an inexperienced, diminutive teenager. Last Sunday, we attended the Queen’s 1840 wedding to her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. A lovely match.
Among the aristocrats and servants who made up the Queen’s entourage and royal household staff is Charles Elmé Francatelli, Chief Cook and Maître d'Hôtel to Her Majesty from 1840 to 1842.
Born in London in 1805 of Italian parentage, Francatelli was the celebrity chef of his day. Educated in his art at the Parisian College of Cooking in France, under the tutelage of legendary chef Antonin Carême, Francatelli returned to England to work in the households of nobility and gentlemen’s clubs, becoming the chief chef of Crockford’s on St. James Street in the swank Mayfair district of London. Renowned for his creative and elaborate interpretation of Italian and French cooking, he earned the admiration of one of the club’s important members, the Earl of Errol, lord steward of the royal household of Queen Victoria, who hired him away from private service and into the royal household in 1840. This set him on the trajectory to become the most famous chef in the nation.
In Victoria, we see Mr. Francatelli, portrayed by Ferdinand Kingsley (son of award-winning British actor Ben Kingsley), running the royal kitchen with a firm hand and creative passion. Screenwriter Daisy Goodwin has incorporated true facts from his life and the era and spun her own magic to create a secondary plotline for Mr. Francatelli and Miss Skerrett (Nell Hudson), dresser to Queen Victoria.
His character is a bit of an enigma — it’s not clear if his intentions regarding Miss Skerrett are honorable or sinister. However, we do see his desire to present inspired dishes to Her Majesty and Prince Albert. Included in his first book, The Modern Cook: A practical guide to the culinary art in all its branches, adapted as well for the largest establishments as for the use of private families, we see many recipes named after the royal couple.
Written in 1846, The Modern Cook included Francatelli’s recipes for the aristocratic and upper-middle-class table, including instructions for the service of wines and eye-popping bills of fare for every month throughout the year. Browsing through this fascinating cookbook is like opening a window into the culture and culinary delights of the Victorian world.
Francatelli’s intelligence and artistry in modifying the French and Italian gastronomic repertoire “to accommodate an even wider range of taste,” as described by Andrea Broomfield in Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History (2007), exemplify why Francatelli was so successful and became the celebrity chef of Victorian London. Published by Richard Bentley & Son, London — eminent publisher to Jane Austen and Lord Byron — The Modern Cook is illustrated with 60 black and white engravings demonstrating how to present such elaborate dishes as Chicken à la Montmorency, Meringue à la Parisienne and Iced Pudding à la Prince of Wales. Considering that Mr. Francatelli had 24 assistant chefs, two yeomen of the kitchen and a multitude of scullery maids and dogsbodies to help him in the royal kitchen, the book is certainly a testament to the public’s enthusiasm for all things Victoria and Albert, inspiring both British and American upper-middle-class households to attempt such complex French, Italian and German-style meals. A bestseller on both sides of the pond with an amazing 12 updated editions, The Modern Cook has remained in print for 170 years and is still available today.
It is well documented that Queen Victoria enjoyed a good pudding, a fact corroborated by the numerous recipes in The Modern Cook named in her honor and that of husband Prince Albert. In Britain, the term pudding equates to a dessert to the American palate – so cakes, cookies (biscuits), pudding (blancmange) and ice cream (iced puddings) are all called puddings.
I was curious about what a Victorian pudding recipe would taste like to the modern palate and reached out to food writer, photographer and author of Pride and Pudding, Regula Ysewijn, who is an expert on the history of the traditional British pudding. She kindly cooked and photographed two puddings from Francatelli’s book for us. “One is the ‘Queen Pudding,’ which is a baked pudding with glacé cherries, and the other is a steamed pudding called Biscuit pudding à la Prince Albert.” Each was delicious! Regula’s passion for pudding might rival that of Queen Victoria herself, who according to British food historian Dr. Annie Gray, author of the forthcoming book about Queen Victoria The Greedy Queen, explains:
She was certainly a fan of pudding — and I mean pudding in the true sense, not in the modern sense. Even in old age she'd tackle both hot puddings and iced puddings with relish, and on one occasion, staying in a rather downmarket inn in Scotland, complained that there was “no pudding, and no fun.”
Well, we are all about having fun, so here are some pudding recipes dedicated to the royal couple and whip sauce to accompany them — all converted by Regula from Mr. Francatelli’s famous cookbook The Modern Cook.