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The kitchens of Madrid’s Royal Palace are unique amongst those in European capitals. London may have Hampton Court Palace’s sixteenth century kitchens from the time of Henry VIII and Versailles elegant eighteenth century versions, but neither come close to Madrid’s which have preserved practically every bit of equipment used over the centuries until 1931.
Their uniqueness is partly because the kitchens are out of bounds to visitors. We had the chance of being part of a handful of journalists exclusively allowed in as part of the Madrid Fusion gastronomic event earlier in the year.
Welcome to the Royal Palace
Although today the Royal family spend most of their time at the much more modest Palacio de Zarzuela, at the official Royal residence in Madrid there are extensive security checks to get through, before crossing the vast, elegant courtyards of the palace.
The site has held fortresses since the 9th century era of Muslim rule, but today’s enormous white palace was built between 1738 and 1755. Down stone stairways sit the vast kitchens, notably cooler than upstairs. The kitchens originally came under the ‘oficios de boca’ and included a bakehouse, cellar, fruitery, confectionery, pastry, saucery, potagerie for vegetables and guardamangier. There were then three distinct kitchens for the household, ladies and the King (or Queen) themselves.
Incredible Royal Stoves
A doorman control everything – and everyone – who goes in or out. The wooden shelves and dressers, as well as two large coal-fired stoves connected to ‘hot cupboards’, date from the reign of Isabel II in the mid 19th century, while the extraordinary collection of copper pots and pans – made in France – came from Alfonso XIII. They were coated inside in silver to protect diners from potential poisoning. A beautiful decorated hot plate heater also dated from this era.
Royal paella pans show the historic popularity of an iconic Spanish dish, while there are also rooms full of moulds, piping and decoration tools for elaborate chocolate, desserts and pastry that would have graced royal tables at banquets.
The ‘lys’ flower emblem on many of them show that they were the Royal Family’s property.
The enormous wooden ‘frescaria’ or ice boxes, a forerunner to modern refrigeration, show how the kitchens were cutting edge. They would have been used partly to hold ice creams and ice deserts made in elegant churns with a wheel.
Rooms full of beautiful trays were the final prep rooms for last touches before dishes were carried upstairs.
The Largest Royal Household in Europe
Huge amounts of food were produced by the kitchens. Privileged people were able to eat what wasn't consumed by the royal household that, numbering more than 3,400 rooms, was the largest in Europe. All of which meant that very little went to waste - but rather sadly, at least in the 18th Century, the monarch would eat alone.
Of course, no meal would be complete without wine, labels and remainders of the cellar show what was consumed. Maybe a 1905 Lafite or the 1878 Latour?