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Jubilee Jelly and Coronation Chicken

So the Jubilee celebrations are over, and whatever your opinion on the subject, there’s lots to discuss.  We thought comparing Jubilee party food through the ages might be revealing on the nutrition front. 

Silver Jubilees have been common, Gold few and far between, and Diamond being reached by just Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.  The changes in diet and lifestyle from one Diamond celebration to another are significant, but some elements of the party food aren’t as different as you might think.

The Party Food of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (1897)

Ordinary people watching the procession in London snacked on jellied eels, whelks and soup from the street vendors.  A cup of hot soup would have been a huge treat in those days with most people not having cooking facilities and the bulk of the diet being cold food. For the wealthy, it was picnic hampers with game pie, bread, cheese, butter and cake.

For the very poor of the capital, the Princess of Wales's Fund provided a dinner of roast beef, two vegetables, jelly, plum pudding, dates and oranges. Other less wealthy charities gave the poor bread, cheese, tea and plum pudding.   In Manchester, 100,000 children were given breakfast.  Further afield 5000 beggars in Calcutta received a meal, as did the very poor of Sydney Australia.

Across the rest of the UK, just as in our recent jubilee, there were street parties, the food enjoyed was simple.  Chunks of cheese, beef and ham were typical - protein rich and low carb! Cakes would really only have been seen in the hampers of the wealthy.

For Queen Victoria and her guests it was a lavish affair even by today’s standards. 24 French chefs prepared Normandy sole, roast beef, venison, quail, tongue, asparagus tips and green beans.  Dessert included rice cream and cherry sauce, pineapple fritters and meringue. 

Whilst jelly was not on the Diamond banquet menu, it was found a week later at a Jubilee ball – no surprise considering that the Victorians loved Jelly – the famous Mrs Beeton had four pages of Jelly recipes! Lemon jelly was Queen Victoria’s favourite and she even had a recipe for jelly in her diary. 

So from rich to poor, Jelly and Jubilees have always gone hand in hand.

General Dietary Points From 1897

  • “Eat, drink and be merry” was the philosophy of the rich Victorian
  • Food costs had fallen by 30% - nutritional status of the poor improving
  • Mass production of cakes began around this time (but they weren't seen at the Jubilee parties of the ordinary Victorian)


Coronation Chicken

At the time of the Coronation in 1953, the country celebrated with great joy - no surprise considering the extreme austerity following the war.  The food was incredibly plain compared to today; but very special indeed at the time.  Spam, paste sandwiches, jelly and blancmange were the order of the day, (sandwiches were not everyday foods). Coronation Chicken was a new recipe, but was in fact a development of the Jubilee Chicken recipe designed for George V in 1935. It is a dish still found at celebrations and sandwich shops today. 

Rationing was still in place (until 1954), but each household was given an extra pound of sugar and 4oz of margarine for the Coronotation.   (Butter was far more precious at the time, and the margarine market was given a huge boost during rationing. You may be interested in our Butter v Margarine Article).

The Coronation banquet included salmon, grilled steaks, artichoke hearts and cocotte potatoes, lavish during rationing of course, but for royalty, it was a fairly simple state banquet.

General Dietary Points From 1953

  • “Meat and two veg” was the mainstay of the British diet
  • Wholegrain bread called “national bread” eaten by all
  • All meals home cooked
  • Typical daily calories consumed 1000, typical calories burned 1000
  • 1.4 million allotments (now 200,000)


The Party Food of the Silver Jubilee 1977

By now the big food companies, many of American origin were finding their way onto the British menu.  The days of specialist shopping at independent food stores were on the decline, and supermarkets were booming. The soft drinks companies however were not yet quite at full strength, and the drink of the day was orange squash for the children. For the adults, it was beer or Liebfraumilch. 

Jelly was once again in full force at this jubilee, but also a greater profusion of other desserts such as trifle and cakes.  Sandwiches were the main savoury, but a quick glance at pictures from 1977 shows that convenience foods such as crisps were starting to appear on the party tables.  A key point from 1977 is that the savouries will have been home prepared and baked.

General Dietary Points Aspects of 1977

  • Full fat dairy products still predominate
  • Most meals still home cooked, but pre-packed foods on the rise
  • White bread is the bread of choice
  • Foods from other countries soar in popularity
  • Eating out and dinner parties on the increase
  • Cereals now dominate breakfast time


The Party Food of the Golden Jubilee 2002

A quick trawl through the news archives of 2002 shows that there wasn’t much enthusiasm in the media for this Jubilee, and unlike this year, no articles about how to make a street party sizzle.  But despite the lack of media flurry, picnics and parties were popular in 2002. 

Retailers were reporting that the spending boom was over, but beer and champagne sales went through the roof for this jubilee; supermarkets reported a 1000% increase, perhaps we were a nation wanting to forget in 2002?

This year, chefs from the Royal palaces competed to create a new Golden Jubilee chicken. The Queen judged the two finalists, with the winner being cooked by Head Chef Lionel Mann.  Cold chicken was combined with a tangy crème fraîche, ginger and lime.  This recipe was included in the 28,000 hampers given away at the Buckingham palace concerts.

These hampers were indicative of the frivolous times we were in, and certainly represented the new found power of the brand. They included, a plastic champagne flute, half a bottle of Lanson champagne, a smoked salmon wrap, the winning Chicken Jubilee with pasta, strawberries and cream, Walkers shortbread, Duchy Originals organic biscuits, Cadbury's chocolate and a bottle of mineral water.

160,000 cups of tea, 54,000 drop scones and 48,000 slices of chocolate and lemon cake were served at Jubilee Garden Parties at Holyroodhouse, Buckingham Palace, Balmoral and Sandringham

General Dietary Aspects of 2002

  • Typical daily calories consumed 2000, typical calories burned 500
  • Vitamin and mineral content of foods has decreased significantly
  • Low fat diets widely promoted
  • Big brands dominate food retailing
  • The “five a day” campaign was launched the following year


* This was the year the Food Supplements Directive was launched, but with a 7 year transition period, so by and large, it slipped through quietly and unnoticed (a political strategy typically referred to as gradualism).

The Party Food of the Diamond Jubilee 2012

Research by MySupermarket this year priced the 2012 Jubilee party budget from £1.27 a head in 1977 to £7.18 a head this year. 

When we look at the food to be found at the street parties, we can see considerable divergence.  We go from highly processed, to highly healthy!

There was without doubt far more processed, branded food at the street parties this year.  And the supermarkets were not shy of promoting mega deals on mega packs of heavily processed foods. 

With jelly having fallen dramatically out of favour since the mid 90s, this time round it would not be a big feature.  But rather than a time honoured simple dessert with a long history, and one that’s really not that bad as an occasional party treat (vegetarian setting agents are now available), we saw an an array of highly processed, highly coloured, and sugar and multiple additive packed desserts and cakes and sweets.

But on a brighter note, there is a far greater awareness of healthy eating now, and our passion for good food is getting stronger. Many families and local groups incorporated a great deal of fresh, local and home cooked produce into their events.  And there was plenty of healthy and varied food from around the world to be found rather than just the carbohydrate heavy sandwiches and pies that are such a British party staple. 

For the Jubilee state banquet in 2012, guests dined on marinated Uist Island salmon with Lyme Bay crab, saddle of Welsh Mountain lamb, braised shoulder of lamb, Isle of Wight asparagus and Jersey Royal potatoes.  Dessert featured chocolate delice, bread and butter pudding and berry compote with apple sauce

Reflecting today's celebrity chef culture, for 2012's Coronation Chicken, it’s the turn of Heston Blumenthal to devise a new recipe.  This was on the menu for the 13,000 guests at the Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace.

General Dietary Aspects of 2012

  • Continued reliance on processed foods and refined carbohydrates
  • Obesity and degenerative health issues spiralling
  • Big food brands influencing Government food policy
  • BUT local, organic, raw, biodynamic, slow and sustainable food are booming, and we are slowly but surely seeing real positive change


From simple times, we have now found ourselves in a much more complex position on both the party front and food in general. As a nation, we are seeing levels of obesity that simply must be addressed, and Type 2 Diabetes is becoming more and more common in children.  One of the biggest reasons for this is our over-reliance on what always was, and should be "party food".  When it comes to the sandwiches, and pizzas, and crisps and cakes, these should definitely be reserved for special occasions not for every day eating.  But on those special occasions, it's definitely simple jelly and home-made cake and savouries for us not the supermarket alternatives!


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