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Christmas in the royal household is a big deal. There are festive sit-down meals, tons of gift-giving, and even a few fun rounds of charades. While this year's celebrations will certainly feel a little different without Queen Elizabeth around, the Windsors will presumably honor the many age-old family traditions that have been followed for generations.
Now, with the holiday season quickly creeping on us, you can get in on the time-honored royal traditions yourself with a little help from King Charles and Princess Diana's former chef Carolyn Robb. Her latest cookbook, Christmas at the Palace, is out now and comes jam-packed with family-friendly, royal-inspired recipes—such as savory blue cheese and walnut biscuits, gingerbread man wreaths, and merengue snowflakes (a Prince William and Prince Harry favorite!)—perfect for any holiday table display.
"Christmas is the time of year when everybody can get in the kitchen and cook as a family," Robb, who was head chef at Kensington Palace for more than a decade, tells T&C. "I always think it's really good fun to do that with children. You can be really creative—there are so many different things you can do. It's really just to give people a bit of inspiration. And I hope it'll appeal to all ages as well."
Here, the former royal chef shares more about her new book—plus what Christmas with the royals is like.
What is your favorite recipe from the cookbook?
One of my favorite things was the spiced orange slices. That takes me back to my childhood. Growing up in South Africa where we had lots of fresh citrus in the garden. I always used to do that with my mom. And the smell of making those, to me, is very reminiscent of Christmas.
Obviously, the Wales's spent Christmas at Sandringham with the Queen. What was the lead-up to Christmas at Kensington Palace like?
I didn't have work because they all gathered [there] together. They were hosted by the Queen for Christmas, but the run-up to Christmas was always really busy. Their Royal Highnesses always made sure that all the charities that they were patrons of and all the organizations they worked with had some kind of Christmas celebration with them. So, lots of canopy receptions and that kind of thing.
Did you ever bake Christmasy desserts or treats around the time to get everyone in the holiday spirit?
A little bit, but generally they were so busy. They were out and about and doing all their sort of Christmas-related work. And the time for celebrating for them tended to be when they were all together as a family at Christmas itself. But yeah, when Prince William and Prince Harry were young, we'd do Christmas baking and that. The meringues from [the cookbook] are probably the thing they'd have enjoyed the most.
The last time we spoke was around the Queen's Jubilee. A lot has happened since. Did you ever have an opportunity to cook for her or make her acquaintance at Kensington Palace?
I did. I cooked for her a few times when the Royal Highnesses invited her mostly for lunch, but also did meet her on a few occasions.
What was that like?
Oh, just incredible. She really does deserve all the incredible tributes that have been written about her and everything everybody said over the last few months. The most fabulous, incredible lady, and so devoted to duty, but had that incredibly radiant smile and a real twinkle in her eye. She had a wonderful sense of humor as well.
So, when the Queen came over, would you have to adjust the menu for her liking?
[King Charles] definitely guided me as to what something would be that she would really enjoy. I can't remember [what but] so much of what we cooked was based around what was in season in the garden. So, if it had been a summer meal, then it would definitely have been a wonderful sort of asparagus and peas. They ate very healthy and simple, and always quite small portions.
Now that King Charles has assumed his role on the throne, what are some of his favorite meals or foods you think are at his banquets or parties these days?
I'm sure nothing's really changed. It'll still be very much what's in season. He's always enjoyed game, and we're coming into the winter now. Pheasant is always a favorite, it's a lovely warming meal. And as far as desserts go, there are always lots of apples at this time of year. So, wonderful apple desserts, apple tart, homemade ice cream. Very simple, seasonal, and healthy.
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