When it comes to Princess Charlotte’s christening party, the scene may be familiar to Downton Abbey fans. The ladies will likely perch on sofas clustered around small side tables as guests stand sipping tea – and a toddler prince will be scurrying around, likely dipping his hands into the jam tarts.
When Queen Elizabeth II invites the family and friends of Prince William and Princess Kate back to her grand house at Sandringham for tea Sunday following Charlotte’s christening at St. Mary Magdalene Church, they are set for a feast of tiny, delicately cut sandwiches, light sponge cake and perhaps a toast of Champagne.
Inside Sandringham House, they will likely congregate in the Saloon, former royal chef Darren McGrady tells PEOPLE, and prepare to formally welcome the 2-month-old baby with a tea eaten off fine early 19th century china and sip tea.
McGrady, who penned the book Eating Royally, cooked for the Windsors for 15 years, the last four of which were for the late Princess Diana and her sons, William and Prince Harry.
He says it will not be a formal sit-down meal, but take place in the Saloon where there is enough space (and is where the family divide up the Christmas presents on long trestle tables when they gather in December). But if they are using the piano, it could be in the Drawing Room, McGrady says.
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It’s not a “high tea,” as it has been called but an “afternoon tea,” he points out. For the royal family, a high tea is a nursery tea that Prince George might have if he was staying with the Queen. “That might be beans on toast, or little fish fingers,” McGrady says.
They will likely use the hand-painted Meissen china, of which there are several sets at Sandringham and, in fact, the Saloon is decorated with the china, including vases, and antique tea sets.
He adds, “It is low-key, and it’s mainly family and a few friends. They will not sit at one long table. Some people will stand and drink their tea. Others, especially the ladies, will sit dotted around the room. The Queen doesn’t eat much – for her afternoon tea is probably one square of sandwich and one piece of cake.
“It is like Downton Abbey when they do afternoon tea. The sofas are laid out in U shapes and a small table in the center so you can put six inch side plates down,” he says.
So what will be on the menu?
A selection of sandwiches: “They usually only do two or three types of sandwiches. They will likely have cucumber, or smoked salmon and the Queen’s favorites are jam pennies, the neat little ones. My guess is they will choose egg mayonnaise, and children like those, and ham.”
For the sweeter tooth: “They will definitely have scones. They use plain ones as not everyone likes dried fruit. When she’s on her own, the Queen has plain scones one day and a fruit ones the next,” McGrady reveals.
“The scones are cut a lot smaller, so no-one gets too stuffed on a big scone. They will serve it with butter and jam, and don’t normally do clotted cream with a large party.”
The favorite preserves for sandwiches is Little Scarlet jam, made from tiny woodland strawberries.
“They’re so fragrant, gorgeous. They grow them at Balmoral and have them about twice a week,” he says. The favored brand of the jam is by Tiptree,” McGrady says.
There will be a large cake and “that could be anything from the chocolate biscuit cake, which is William’s and the Queen’s favorite,” to a lighter sponge.
William, 33, had the chocolate biscuit cake at his wedding alongside the traditional tiered creation (and, talking of that McGrady confirms that the tradition of using the top tier of the original wedding cake, made by Fiona Cairns, at the Christening party of the first born will have taken place.)
But he adds, “They get so many cakes when they get married and they may have kept another one,” he says. The palace will not comment on what they might have saved.
Alongside, or instead of, the chocolate is more likely to be a “honey and cream sponge or lemon curd sponge which is light and easy to cut.” And to top it off there will be smaller cakes, like Madeleines, or Friandes or little jam tarts. “These are very popular with the children,” he adds.
“The family tends to stay away from chocolatey things as they tend to get messy, especially with the children.”
Tea will be Earl Grey or Darjeeling. If the Queen was on her own she “would often have the Lapsang Suchong.”
There would be a speech, likely from William and then there may still be a little alcohol. “I would imagine they would do a champagne toast to Charlotte, but certainly the drinks trolly won’t be open,” McGrady says. “You won’t see the Queen drinking a gin and Dubonet while eating scones.”
After an hour or so, the Queen will make her departure and the party will break up, with William and Kate, 33, and their young family heading to their home at Anmer Hall, two miles across the 20,000-acre estate.
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