Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Queen Anne's Birthday - February 6, 2010

My very good friend and fellow pageant participant, Amery Boyer has written an excellent account of the Queen's birthday event which I include here today. Today's picture is of the head table - the Lord Counsellor, the Queen's Herald, the Queen and Lady Glazebrook, the lady-in-waiting.

How to Celebrate a 300th Birthday

Forty-three people attended the Annapolis Royal Golf and Country Club on February 6 to experience Queen Anne’s 1710 royal birthday party. They came from Halifax, Dartmouth, Yarmouth, Paradise, Lawrencetown, and some from the area.

Harry Shepherd was “volunteered” for the job. “It happened at the Golf Course. This time of year, there’s not a lot going on. Coming from England, people thought we would have some inside knowledge, especially being in the catering trade. We were approached by the 300th Committee, would be we be interested in putting something together for an experiential event? It seemed like a fun thing to do, out of the ordinary from what we normally do. Five years, ago, we were involved with the dinner for the 400th at Fort Anne, so this seemed like a logical next step.”

Harry did a lot of research on the internet. He started to rediscover things he had learned at college years ago. “Like just how sophisticated the food was in the 16th and 17th century – like the meringue we did for the Queen’s pudding dessert that was first recorded in English cookbooks in 1706. It was a recipe brought over from France. You realize that things like Yorkshire pudding, methods of preserving foods, and food inventions were being developed.” The sophisticated foods were so important because of the French connection during the reign of Queen Anne and became the fashion from the mid 1600’s to the 17th and 18th centuries. For example, although everyone knew what egg whites were, no one really did anything with them until the French started cooking with them in the mid 1600s in the French Court. The first reference to cooking with egg whites in England was in 1706.

He also consulted a traditional French cook book, La Gastronomie by Larousse which is like a cookery bible, containing many recipes of older origin, some of which have evolved, and some that are no longer used in our health conscious society (like marrow puddings). Desserts were always made with beef suet, something we don’t do now because it would probably be bad for any cholesterol test.

There was also a lot of thought that went into the set up. The set up at court could involve up to 180 dishes and meals could last 5 and 6 hours. “So we tried to create a bit of the atmosphere with silver, gold, and glassware at the court table and the use of the Habitation pewter tankards for the tables. With 43 people, we laid out a formal arrangement with the Queen, Lord Counsellor, lady in waiting, Town Crier, the Jester and the footmen at the head table.”

The room was adorned with candles and candelabra, flags of the realm, Scotland, England and Nova Scotia. “We also had an original royal navy fleet flag which would be similar to the flag that would have been flown by any of the British frigates that would have been anchored in the Annapolis Basin, donated by Peter Davies”.

Many people came in costume, ladies in beautiful long dresses with wigs, some of the guys in kilts or tuxedos, they took it to heart. For the people who came, it was all about the experience. When people arrived, Harry and his wife Jaqui took their cloaks. The Queen was in the front parlour in a receiving line. Everyone was formally introduced to the Queen as though being received at court. The Queen was seated with the Lord Counsellor and the lady in waiting at her side. The Town Crier announced each person formally, very much like being presented at court in 1710. This still happens to day at court banquets, according to Harry.

The menu was carefully selected so that everyone could eat the food rather than deal with obscure dishes like quail and pike at this time of year. The roast beef was very traditional, the duck was popular and the dessert went down really well. The music matched the period and added a touch of sophistication to the evening.

It was all about the Queen, said Harry. She looked like a 17th century queen would look. The costumes at the top table, from the Court Jester, John Coker, to the Queen, Anne Crossman, the Lord Counsellor, Ken Nye, the Town Crier and his escort, Peter & Val Davies – it was like stepping back in time as near as can be done in the 21st century.

“It worked very well for us in the kitchen because we had the speeches of the jester in between the courses. That gave us time to do all the clearing. It was hectic between the main course and the dessert because we were doing the meringue straight from the oven.”

Annapolis Highlands wine was the feature for the toast to the Queen. Their very rich red wine seemed to fit in with the period – more of a port wine, and lots of people were asking about it. Ale was the really big thing in those days – they didn’t drink water very much because of the problems with sanitary water – so they drank milk, ale and wine.
Everyone seemed to get into the spirit of the event and enjoyed quite a bit of red wine. It was like stepping back in time and getting a little taste of how things may have been 300 years ago.

Harry thought that the event was pretty spectacular for a small venue. There has been nothing but positive feedback. “Most certainly, we would do it again” said Harry. “It’s something that tourists and local people could enjoy. If you were doing this once a month or every 3 or 4 months, it would just go like clockwork. For example, you would gather up the candlesticks, the tankards, and all of the other accessories that people contributed to make this such a successful event just the once.

At the end of the evening, it was quite an adrenalin buzz for us and we were on high. We were as worried about it as Linda Brown, though she probably started worrying a lot earlier than us. I would like to think we exceeded people’s expectations. We were pretty elated at the end of the night.”

What made it successful? Harry said that the first thing was good planning. “It was a combined effort. Linda Brown and her 300th team did 90% of the planning creating the event, and Jacqui and Harry Shepherd planned 90% of the food service and venue. They each have 40 years of experience in the catering trade. Grace Butland and her team handled promotion. The group effort involved different people at different stages like making the costumes, dressing the Queen, with the Queen Anne experience having been launched earlier in the year. The second thing was experience. The Shepherds have been in the catering business for 40 years and they have done similar events. Third was the willingness of people to participate in this sort of event.

They could have got more ornate crockery or china, but this was not as important as the ambience of gold and silver on the top table, and candles and candelabra in the room. They could have done it on a grander scale but not at the Golf Course. But in a hall, you wouldn’t have the right atmosphere with the high ceilings – it was more intimate at the Golf Course. This was consistent with the feedback. “When people come and look for you to shake your hand at the end of the evening, you can tell, and we received follow-up e-mails” People want that experience. B&Bs could sell it as a little weekend package. There could be a Dine with Royalty Weekend just like they do the murder mysteries elsewhere.

But did the Shepherds get the bug? “The Queen was most appreciative of what we did for her. Her Majesty even asked for the recipe for the Queen of Puddings that we made for dessert. It is also referred to as Queen Anne’s Guts, probably due to the fact that it is a swirl of white meringue with browns and reds in it.” Harry subsequently used the same pudding for another dinner. “Some of them were asking for the recipe, it may become a favourite!”

And now, a word from two of Queen Anne’s guests: “I can usually find something that could have been improved any event we have attended, no matter how trivial (which, I hasten to add, is not meant to be critical in any way of any particular event) but not this time. Perfection! Well, perhaps if we had had period costumes. But Joyce has already contacted the local person in that regards. Please express our congratulations to your other colleagues who put in the enormous effort involved to bring on such success. We look forward to further events this year.”

Writer’s Postscript: As with any event, there is always news that isn’t fit to print. However, you would have had to have attended the event to have witnessed the pièce de résistance. Only those who were there will ever know!