5 Royal Wedding Food Traditions That Will Inspire Your Own Party Menu

by JR Thorpe
Chris Jackson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The news that Meghan Markle will marry Prince Harry in May has royal-watchers all aflutter, but others are looking ahead to more important matters: what they'll eat. Royal wedding food traditions in Europe have historically been extremely mad; rulers have traditionally used them as displays of wealth and status, serving delicacies and hugely expensive treats to wow their guests while cementing their vows. While things have quieted down in recent years (Prince William made headlines simply because he and Kate had two wedding cakes), Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's wedding will be part of a long and very odd culinary history.

Royal wedding food used to be a much more public affair; members of the public would often make delicacies for the lucky couple (Queen Victoria and Prince Alfred were famously presented with a 1120-pound cheese by proud English farmers on the occasion of their nuptials), and leftovers from medieval feasts would often be distributed among the massive crowds who had gathered in the location of the ceremony. It was part of the duty of the crown to distribute bits of their feast, and the tradition lives on in the idea of the wedding cake slice parcel, which is still sent to guests who can't attend the royal wedding in the post. When it comes to weddings, the royals have always known how to throw elaborate parties — and get the most amazing food around.


Dishes Named After Family Members

This tradition is actually rather charming: royal weddings in the British Isles have often involved special dishes concocted specifically for the occasion, and named after the bride, the groom, or famous guests. Queen Elizabeth II's mother had "consommé à la Windsor" (which was made with calves' feet) and "Suprèmes de Saumon Reine Mary" at her wedding, and Elizabeth herself had a custom-made wedding dessert when she wed Philip: ice cream bombe "Princess Elizabet.h. The specially devised new dish for the wedding of Charles and Diana was much less appetizing-sounding: Suprême de Volaille Princesse de Galles (chicken supreme Princess Of Wales), chicken breast stuffed with fine lamb mousse. Meghan mousse? Harry haddock? The possibilities for the royal nuptials in 2017 are endless.


Everything In Aspic

Many of the wedding menus of important royal breakfasts and meals have been preserved for food historians, and while they're important social artifacts, they can also make for some slightly disturbing reading. Queen Mary of Teck and the future King George V married in 1893, and the menu for the guests celebrating their marriage would make anybody of the period salivate, but might make you a bit queasy. Along with some pretty tasty sounding dishes, including lamb chops and fillet of beef, there's an entire course of meat — including sliced tongue and foie gras — preserved in aspic, the gelatinous jelly that helped preserve meats before better refrigeration was available. No word yet if this will make an appearance on the royal wedding table, but it sure... exists.


Extraordinary Cakes

The cake is often the focal point of wedding food, and nobody does it quite like royal wedding bakers. One of the most remarkable in history sounds less like a cake and more like an inedible piece of architecture, though. The wedding of Princess Louise, Queen Victoria's daughter, in 1871 was renowned for a lot of things (including Louise's delightfully bonkers dress), but it was her wedding cake that made headlines. It was over 5 feet high, reportedly weighed over 200 pounds, and instead of cake toppers depicting the bride and groom, the decorator instead opted for a classical temple made out of sugar with a vestal virgin statue on the roof, surrounded by figures representing "Agriculture, Fine Arts, Science and Commerce." It is unclear whether it tasted any good. Queen Victoria's own cake had set a precedent, though. It apparently weighed nearly 300 pounds, and was 3 yards across. Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's cake flavor (and style) has yet to be revealed to the public, but based on Will and Kate's news-making double cake situation, we can predict that it'll be an impressive spread.


Obscure Delicacies

Royal wedding feasts have often been occasions for royal families to show off their wealth and sophistication, and that has meant they've found some serious delicacies to feature on the menu. When Queen Victoria's son Prince George was married in 1893, his proud parents held a dinner the night before the ceremony in which they served food that is, under current food standards, absolutely illegal. The two dishes in question? One was ortolans, a tiny songbird that in traditional French cuisine is trapped, force-fed and then eaten — a practice that has been, thankfully, outlawed for decades. The other was pastry filled with beef sweetbreads, which have been highly restricted in the UK in recent years to avoid the spread of mad cow disease. Tasty.


Uber-Trendy Food

Along with obscure delicacies and expensive treats, royal wedding feasts have often been trend-setters when it comes to culinary fashion. For decades, French food was the height of sophistication for the British upper class, particularly after Queen Victoria's son Albert served an all-French feast at his wedding in 1874. And the vogue for lobsters, which were once viewed only as fitting food for peasants and prisoners, as elite dishes was cemented in 1885 at the wedding of Princess Beatrice, who served lobster in vinaigrette at her nuptial lunch. As food trends become more focused on farm-to-table cuisine, organic produce and healthy cuisine, it's likely that Meghan and Harry's wedding will also feature up-to-the-minute culinary inventions — though I wouldn't hold your breath if you're waiting to see a cronut or a matcha latte.

Given that their love story prominently involves a roast chicken, it's likely that we'll see a bit of homespun-inspired food at the upcoming royal wedding, and possibly a few nods to Meghan's American roots. Either way, we won't know for sure until May 19 rolls around, but until then we'll be salivating at the thought.