by Scott Mehl
How about a nice meal with some of your favorite royals? No need to bring out the good china… just a good cookbook! Through the years, many foods and dishes have been named for royalty, and some have become rather well-known and can be found on menus and grocery store shelves around the world. How many of us have nibbled on a Marie biscuit – many without even knowing that they were named for Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, later the Duchess of Edinburgh, and Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha? Or perhaps enjoyed a snifter of Napoleon Brandy, not realizing it was a nod to the vertically-challenged Emperor himself?
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of foods named for royalty, ranging from soups and sauces, to entreés and desserts. Whether you’re planning a formal, multi-course dinner or just a snack, it’s easy enough to bring some royalty to your meal. Below are just a few examples…
If you want to start simple, it could just be a matter of changing out your bread for a roll. A Kaiser roll, that is! As with many of the foods and dishes named for royals, there is some disagreement as to the exact source of the name. In doing some research, I’ve found some sources attributing them to Emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph I of Austria (1848-1916); others to Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (1765-1790); and even some as far back as Holy Roman Emperor Frederik III (1452-1493)!
One of my favorite dishes is Veal Oscar. Sauteed veal with crabmeat and asparagus, topped with béarnaise sauce. Little did I realize, it was named for King Oscar II of Sweden. Turns out, it was made specifically for the King, combining several of his favorites into one meal. And to add possibly a second royal connection, many believe that Béarnaise sauce was named as a nod to King Henri IV of France, a native of the Béarn region of France.
Another favorite food of mine is pizza… any kind of pizza is good as far as I’m concerned. But I’m partial to Pizza Margherita. According to legend, in 1889 Queen Margherita of Italy was presented with three different kinds of pizza by a local pizza maker. She chose as her favorite the pie with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil – representing the colors of the Italian flag. It was quickly named Pizza Margherita in her honor. There has been research in the last few years which seems to debunk this legend, but who doesn’t love a good story? (and pizza!)
Moving on to a few desserts, let’s start with Battenberg Cake. It’s made by slicing long strips of cake (usually dyed yellow and pink) and stacking them in a checkerboard design, with a thin layer of jam between them. This is then all covered in marzipan. There are several stories as to the name of this tasty dessert. The cake was served at the wedding in 1884 of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine to Prince Louis of Battenberg (later the Marquess and Marchioness of Milford-Haven, and grandparents of the Duke of Edinburgh). Many believe this is where the name originates. Others suggest the four squares of the cake were meant to represent the four Battenberg princes – Louis, Alexander, Henry and Francis. There are many variations – I’ve seen them made with 25 squares, and often in colors or designs other than the traditional yellow and pink.
You prefer a custard? Charlotte Russe is just one of hundreds of variations of Charlottes. The original would have been made with bread or cake, lined in a mold and then filled with a mix of fruit and custard. I grew up knowing it as Icebox Cake. Supposedly Charlotte Russe was created by a French chef, who had previously worked for King George IV of the United Kingdom, and currently worked for Tsar Alexander I. He named it for George IV’s daughter – Princess Charlotte of Wales – and also in reference to his current employer (‘russe’ being the French translation of ‘Russian’). It is made with Bavarian cream set in a mold lined with ladyfingers, and often garnished with fresh fruit. A tasty alternative uses swiss rolls instead of ladyfingers and is referred to as a Charlotte Royale.
Perhaps some chocolate is more to your liking? Then Queen Mother’s Cake should be on your menu. In the 1950s, the famed pianist Jan Smeterlin, a close friend of The Queen Mother, had come a cross this recipe in Austria and made it for Her Majesty. She insisted on having the recipe and was known to serve this to guests at most of her homes. Made with just chocolate, sugar, eggs, almonds and salt, it’s a deliciously rich dessert, sure to satisfy even the sweetest of sweet-tooths!
And here is one of my favorites. In 1842, Willem Hendrik Fortuin started the Fortuin confectionery company in Dokkum, Netherlands. It quickly gained recognition when it developed what would become the DF peppermint – ‘the original English peppermint’. In 1892, to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary, they developed a new peppermint candy. Imprinted with a portrait of Queen Wilhelmina, they named it the Wilhelmina Peppermint.
The first box of these new candies was presented to the Queen, who loved them. She later granted a royal warrant to the company, as Purveyor to the Queen. Fortuin retains that warrant to this day. Over the years, Fortuin has put out dozens of tins featuring photos of the royal family, usually in recognition of major events in the Dutch Royal Family. The most recent line of tins featured photos of the new King and Queen.
Growing up, my grandmother always had a tin of these which she would bring out when I would visit, and she would tell me stories about the Queen whose image was on the mints. I’d forgotten all about them until I began to write this article. Two days later, I received a package from a friend (and long-time member of Unofficial Royalty), who’d recently visited the Netherlands. In it was a Wilhelmina Pepermunts tin, much like the ones I remember from my childhood. Total coincidence, and an amazing surprise!