Here herons stand silent
Near the shimmering pool,
And egrets glide on splendid wings,
Coming to light where willows
Kneel beside the kind water.
A frog, large as a hand,
Waits on a stone near the grassy bank,
And even bunnies—large brown families--
Hop together where pink begonias
Line the path.
As I walk among these quiet friends,
I ask for their wisdom
To treasure the light and water
And all that is sweet and green.
London is also a city of parks, gardens, museums, churches, restaurants, palaces and castles. Americans are in love with castles, thanks primarily to Disney movies, as most of the Disney princesses seem to live in castles, and perhaps also because we have no castles of our own. In fact, America does have one Royal Palace where a King and Queen once lived—the Iolani Palace in Honolulu, once the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Constructed in 1879 in the Hawaiian Renaissance architectural style, reminiscent of the palaces in Florence, this magnificent building, now open to the public, was home to King David Kalakaua and his wife, Queen Kapiolani, and King David’s sister, the final monarch of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani.
Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, whose grandmother, Queen Victoria, was friends with Queen Liliuokalani, officially owns seven royal residences, the most famous of which is Buckingham Palace, right in the center of London, near three of the other most famous and oldest monuments in the city—the Palace of Westminster, now known as the Houses of Parliament, built one thousand years ago by King William II, Westminster Abbey, where all of England’s monarchs since William the Conqueror in 1066, have been crowned, and Big Ben, the iconic chiming clock tower added to Westminster Palace in 1859. All of these old and architecturally fascinating palaces can be viewed easily simply by hiring a cab to drive you around central London, taking one of the red tour buses or by walking there yourself if you are staying nearby. The Savoy Hotel, where we stayed and enjoyed Afternoon Tea, is within walking distance of all of these London Landmarks.
When we were in London, the excitement was everywhere, as the entire Commonwealth, and especially the City of London, were preparing for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the first ever celebration of a British Monarch’s seventy years of service. This magnificent event, actually a series of events beginning on February 22 to commemorate the Queen’s Coronation in 1952, took place over several months throughout the spring and culminated in a Bank Holiday and four-day celebration from June 2-5. These events included Trouping the Colour, a magnificent parade of mounted military, marching bands and musicians, viewed by the Queen and the Royal Family from the famous balcony at Buckingham Palace, a Service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Derby at Epsom Downs and a massive musical pageant in front of Buckingham Palace, at which the ninety-six-year-old Queen appeared again on the balcony to the delight of the crowd.
Windsor Castle, another of the Queen’s official residences, and the oldest occupied castle in the world, is sited in the lovely Berkshire countryside about twenty-two miles from London and easily accessible by train or car. Queen Elizabeth II’s preferred home, Windsor is a fortified castle built by William the Conqueror in the Eleventh Century and has been the residence of thirty-nine British monarchs. St. George’s Chapel, a glorious example of Gothic Architecture with magnificent stained-glass windows, was added to Windsor Castle in 1475. Numerous royal weddings have taken place at St. George’s Chapel, and many of England’s monarchs, including Henry VIII, Charles I, and George VI, Queen Elizabeth II’s father, are buried there. The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, and her mother Queen Consort Elizabeth are also entombed at St. George’s Chapel. Visitors can tour parts of Windsor Castle, and plenty of information is available on-line to arrange tours, tickets and transportation to Windsor.
With only a few days in London before we traveled on to Paris, we could not visit every palace in London, so we decided to tour Hampton Court Palace, the best example of Tudor architecture in England and a royal residence which we had not seen previously. Visitors can easily get to Hampton Court from Central London by car, train or boat. The Palace is located on the River Themes, just twelve miles from London and within the public transportation system. There are thirty-six trains per day from Waterloo Station to Hampton Court, so we took the train and arrived in about forty-five minutes. The British train system, including the underground, is clean, well maintained, on-time and efficient. And a new line, the Elizabeth Line, just opened in honor of the Platinum Jubilee. The fact that Wayne hired a guide to escort us made the short journey simple and easy. When we arrived, the film crew from the television series “Bridgerton,” which is partially filmed at Hampton Court, was on the premises, but they did not impede our visit in any way.
Getting to know Hampton Court is an adventure filled with art, beauty, glorious gardens, treachery and intrigue. This magnificent red brick residence spans the Medieval, Tudor and Baroque periods and is still filled with priceless art treasures from these historic eras. The remains of a house built some time before 1338 lie beneath the current palace. This original home was part of a large farm estate belonging to a religious order, the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, who helped provide food and funds for crusaders to the Holy Land. Later, Giles Daubeney, a courtier in the service of King Henry VII, leased the property in 1494 and began construction on the earliest parts of the palace. Now the intrigue begins.
In 1514, Cardinal Woolsey, the most powerful cleric and politician in England at the time, acquired Hampton Court as his personal residence, reception area and office where he entertained international ambassadors on diplomatic missions. By this time Henry VIII was King, and Cardinal Woolsey worked in his service. Woolsey made extensive renovations and expansions to the house to accommodate the King and his courtiers as well as his own staff. He added an enormous new entrance courtyard and a long gallery overlooking the newly designed gardens. And as Woolsey was the most important English religious leader at that time, he created a new chapel with a cloister for state processions. Hampton Court’s beautiful Chapel Royal is still in use today and has been used continuously for religious services since Woolsey had it constructed, although Henry VIII installed the glorious, vaulted ceiling in the 1530s and Queen Anne refurnished the interior in the early 1700s.
Cardinal Woolsey was also a great admirer and collector of tapestries, one of the most significant and most expensive art forms of the late Medieval and early Renaissance period, the time when the Tudor family came to power in England. Woolsey commissioned around six hundred large wall-hanging tapestries depicting religious and classical themes, some inspired by the poet Petrarch. And he even instructed the weavers to include his own likeness and that of Henry VIII in some of the scenes in the tapestries he purchased. These masterpieces were based on Italian designs and created in Flanders, where this art form flourished, and it was from Cardinal Woolsey that Henry VIII developed his own passion for tapestries, commissioning over two thousand by the time of his death in 1547. Today only thirty tapestries remain from this magnificent collection, once the largest in the world, but many of these exquisite and complex works of art are still hanging on the walls in Hampton Court readily visible to visitors.
Hampton Court is also a treasure trove of world class paintings, hanging on the walls of the sumptuous rooms where Henry VIII and successive kings and queens resided, including James I, William and Mary and Queen Anne. The Royal Collection Trust, one of the largest art collections in the world, displays some of its finest paintings, on a rotating basis, at Hampton Court. The Cumberland Art Gallery, which occupies four rooms in the palace, includes works by Holbein, van Dyck, Caravaggio and an exquisite self-portrait by Rembrandt. Joos Van Cleve’s famous portrait of Henry VIII as a portly middle-aged man in his mid-forties is also owned by the Royal Collection Trust and can be viewed at Hampton Court Palace.
Sadly for Cardinal Woolsey, Henry, once an attractive and athletic young man, became a narcissistic and power-mad tyrant later in life. In his youth, Henry never expected to be king, as his older brother, Arthur, was crown prince. However, Arthur died at the age of fifteen, shortly after having married Catherine of Aragon. Henry’s father, Henry VII, died in 1509, and his son became Henry VIII at the age of seventeen. Shortly after his coronation, Henry married his brother’s widow, and they remained married for twenty-four years, but in middle age, Henry became obsessed with the fact that Catherine did not give birth to a son who could succeed Henry as king. Henry wanted to divorce Catherine, and the job fell upon Cardinal Woolsey to convince Pope Clement VII to grant Henry a divorce. Woolsey’s efforts failed, and Henry retaliated by trying Woolsey for treason and confiscating his magnificent palace, Hampton Court, and all of its contents.
Henry solved his marital problem by separating England from the Roman Catholic Church and appointing himself head of the Church of England. He then was free to marry five more women in short succession, two of whom he had executed, and ironically none of them produced a male heir who lived into adulthood. Two of his daughters, Mary his daughter with Catherine of Aragon and Elizabeth, his daughter with his second wife, Anne Boleyn, (whom he had decapitated), went on to become Queens of England. Visitors at Hampton Court can see first-hand, the details of Henry’s self-indulgent lifestyle. The tour of his large kitchens and wine storage areas is breathtaking, as the amount of food that Henry and his courtiers consumed daily is almost beyond belief. Historians have surmised that Henry ate five thousand calories of food, mostly various forms of meat and poultry, daily and imbibed copious amounts of wine. Not surprisingly, Henry became obese as he aged and was no longer able to participate in dangerous martial sports like jousting and tournaments, so he turned to tennis and had an indoor tennis court built for himself. Tourists are welcome to visit Henry’s tennis court, which was actually in use when we were there.
Like everything else at Hampton Court, the gardens are expansive and magnificent. You will need a map to guide you through all sixteen of the garden areas. Of course, I loved the rose garden, and there is also a maze, a kitchen garden filled with herbs, a fountain garden and an orangery where citrus and other exotic plants are grown in beautiful blue and white Delft pots. The Privy Garden, the private garden of Henry and the other British monarchs who resided at Hampton Court after him, has been beautifully restored as it was in 1702 during the reign of William III. The garden is laid out in small, patterned squares with statuary and carefully clipped shrubs, including yew and holly trees interspersed with flowering spring bulbs and annual summer flowers. One of the great surprises for me at the Hampton Court Gardens was The Great Vine, the world’s largest grape vine, housed in its own glass enclosure. This Black Hamburg grapevine was planted in 1768, and still produces about six hundred pounds of sweet dessert grapes a year. These are sold in the Palace Shop each year in September after the August harvest.
Not surprisingly, Hampton Court does have a place to stop for lunch, the Tiltyard Café, near the gardens. This pleasant little place, which has an outdoor terrace, was not overcrowded, and seemed to be occupied mostly by local mothers on an outing with their children. The Tiltyard Café serves tasty sandwiches, coffee and plenty of tea-time sweets, including pastries, cookies, muffins and cake. I was delighted to spy a beautiful, freshly baked Victoria Sponge Cake, just waiting to be cut and served with a nice hot cup of tea.
You can read all about Victoria Sponge Cake, named for Queen Victoria, (and also loved at tea-time by Queen Elizabeth II), on this website in our Classic British Afternoon Tea menu in the World of Tea Parties section of The Tea Book. And I will share a recipe for Victoria Sponge with you. But first, you will be delighted to learn that as part of the joyfully over-the-top Platinum Jubilee, the Royal Family held a Platinum Jubilee Pudding Contest. Keep in mind, as we learned while watching “Downton Abbey,” that the word “pudding” is used as a generic term in England to refer to any kind of dessert. The winner of the Platinum Jubilee Pudding Contest is a very happy woman named Jemma Melvin, an amateur baker who created a magnificent Lemon Swiss Roll and Amaretti Trifle. Wow!
You can easily find photos and recipes for this masterpiece, as the internet is filled with articles about this exciting event. I downloaded the recipe including a photo of Jemma, holding her trophy, standing between HRH Camilla The Duchess of Cornwall and the charming BBC food hostess and cookbook writer, Mary Berry, who judged the event. Just type in “Platinum Pudding Recipe—The Royal Family,” and you will find the recipe. The steps to creating this innovative but still very traditionally British Trifle include making the following individual components: Swiss Rolls (called Jelly Rolls in the US,) Lemon Curd, St. Clement’s Jelly, Custard, Amaretti Biscuits, Chunky Mandarin Coulis and Jeweled Chocolate Bark. A caveat at the end of the recipe points out that many of these components can be purchased separately, simplifying the process considerably. Our website contains recipes for making Lemon Curd and home-made Custard. I offer a round of applause for any readers who feel inspired to make this new and historically significant dessert to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee at home with your own families.
Meanwhile, as promised, I am happy to share the recipe for Victoria Sponge Cake.
Victoria Sponge Cake
Ever since Queen Victoria, who ruled the British Empire from 1837 to 1901, fell in love with this simple and delicious layer cake with her Afternoon Tea, the people of England have continued to enjoy Victoria Sponge Cake. The recipe for Victoria Sponge Cake included in our menu for “A Classic British Afternoon Tea” on this website is adapted from an early cookbook from the Victorian Era, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861. Many similar recipes for Victoria Sponge can be found online today. Keep in mind that Victoria Sponge is not a true Sponge Cake, as Sponge Cakes do not contain butter. Victoria Sponge resembles a golden yellow cake or a Pound Cake. This enduringly popular dessert is two cake layers sandwiched together with a layer of strawberry or raspberry jam topped with freshly whipped cream. Usually, no additional icing is placed on the top of the cake, just a sprinkling of powdered sugar. The recipe on our website calls for Lemon Curd as the filling only because Bakewell Tarts, also on our Classic British Afternoon Tea menu, are filled with bright red cherry preserves, and we wanted visual and taste contrast among the desserts for this special British tea.
Home bakers who want to make Victoria Sponge should feel free to vary the filling based on their own preferences and the season of the year. For example, whipped cream might not be the best choice for a Fourth of July outdoor picnic, as it is likely to melt, causing unsightly slippage. However, one could create a lovely Victoria Sponge for an American Independence Day celebration by spreading a layer of buttercream icing over the bottom layer, topping it with fresh blueberries and raspberries, sifting pure white powdered sugar on top of the cake, and surrounding it with additional raspberries and blueberries, providing the traditional red, white and blue effect. I have provided a simple recipe for Buttercream Icing for anyone who prefers not to use Whipped Cream. Since I love fresh cherries, and they should still be available in July, I am including cherries and dark chocolate shavings in this simple, recipe for Victoria Sponge Cake, adapted from Zoe Bakes Cakes. Please note that this recipe calls for self-rising flour and superfine sugar, both easily available at the supermarket. My final caveat for the hurried, busy (or lazy) baker, is that you can certainly make your Victoria Sponge with a boxed yellow cake mix, such as good old Duncan Hines.
- 1 cup butter at room temperature
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 ¾ cup self-rising flour
- Baking spray with flour for the pans
- ½-1 cup cherry preserves or raspberry jam
- 1 (4-ounce) bar bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao,) chopped, grated or cut into chocolate curls with a vegetable peeler
- 2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Powdered sugar
- Fresh cherries or raspberries
- Additional chocolate curls
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2 nine-inch round cake pans, parchment, large mixing bowl, medium mixing bowl, hand-held electric mixer, rubber spatula, table knife or offset spatula, food processor or vegetable peeler, wire cooling racks, wooden skewer, sieve, decorative platter or cake stand
Serves: approximately 12 servings
- Spray the cake pans with baking spray with flour. Cover the bottoms of both pans with two layers of parchment cut to fit, and spray again.
- Measure the self-rising flour into a medium sized mixing bowl and set aside. Beat the butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, on high speed until creamy and smooth, about 1 minute scraping the sides as needed. Turn the mixer speed to medium low and add the super-fine sugar and vanilla until thoroughly mixed. Then turn the speed to medium high and beat the mixture until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl often.
- Turn the mixer speed back to low and add the eggs, 1 at a time, and beat just until incorporated, scraping the bowl after each addition.
- Add one third of the flour mixture and mix on low just until no flour is visible. Add the remaining flour in two additions, just until incorporated each time, scraping the bowl. The batter will be thick.
- Divide the batter equally between the 2 prepared pans, and carefully smooth the tops of the batter with a kitchen knife or an offset spatula. Gently tap the pans on the counter to release air bubbles. Bake for about 20 minutes until the cakes are golden and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on wire racks for 15 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans, peel off the parchment and allow the cake layers to cool completely on wire racks, about 30-60 minutes.
- While the cakes cool, prepare the whipped cream or alternate butter cream filling. Wash the large mixing bowl and the electric mixer beaters, dry them carefully and chill them for a few minutes in the freezer. Add the chilled heavy cream to the mixing bowl and beat on medium speed until soft peaks start to form. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and continue beating until the cream becomes firm and holds it shape, 2 or 3 minutes. Refrigerate immediately.
- To make the alternate butter cream filling, add the butter and powdered sugar to the medium sized mixing bowl and beat until fluffy and well combined. Add the vanilla and 1 tablespoon of cream. If the mixture is too thick to spread, add 1 or more additional tablespoons of cream until the filling is a good spreading consistency. Set aside until ready to assemble the Victoria Sponge Cake.
- Assemble the cake shortly before serving time. Save the best shaped of the 2 cake layers for the top and place the other layer, top side down on a decorative platter or cake pedestal. If using whipped cream, stir the cherry preserves or raspberry jam and spread a layer evenly over the top and to the edges of the cake. Sprinkle some of the chopped chocolate (or chocolate curls) over the jam, saving some for garnish. Spread a one-inch layer of whipped cream over the jam and chocolate layer and carefully place the second cake layer over the top of the whipped cream, aligning the sides of the two cake layers. Press very gently to adhere. Using a sieve, sift a generous layer of powdered sugar over the top, sprinkle the remaining chocolate curls in the center, scatter fresh cherries (or raspberries) around the cake, and serve immediately with any remaining whipped cream, berries or cherries.
- If using the butter cream filling, spread the butter cream over the top of the bottom cake layer first, and then spread the jam and chocolate curls carefully over the butter cream. Proceed as described above by adding the top layer, sifting powdered sugar over the top of the cake and garnishing with the remaining chocolate curls. Scatter fresh cherries and or raspberries around the cake and serve immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers.