LONDON.- Visitors to Windsor Castle can take a guided tour behind the scenes to the Castles Great Kitchen, the oldest working kitchen in the country. Dating back to the reign of Edward III, the Great Kitchen has remained in constant use for over 650 years and has served 32 British monarchs. The tour introduces the history of royal dining, past and present, and gives a fascinating insight into Windsor Castle as a working royal palace. Today, the staff of the Royal Household use the Great Kitchen to prepare food for both grand ceremonial occasions, such as State Banquets, and more informal events in the royal diary. To date the Great Kitchen Tour has been only available to pre-booked groups, but individual tickets can now be purchased by Castle ticket-holders for selected dates in 2010.
After the devastating fire of 1992, restoration work at the Castle uncovered the Great Kitchens original medieval structure. At the same time, the space was refitted to 21st-century standards, and new lifts were installed to deliver food for State Banquets to St Georges Hall above. Previously all five courses for the 161 guests had to be walked up the stairs, so an extra 20 plates were prepared in case of a disaster. The traditional copper pots from reign of George IV (1820-30) stand alongside modern high-tech equipment, such as the huge walk-in fridge and giant food mixer, capable of whisking hundreds of eggs at once.
The style of royal dining has changed considerably over the centuries. In the course of one year, the court of Henry VIII (r.1509-47) consumed over 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar, as well as larks, swans, peacocks, chickens, sparrows, quails and 600,000 gallons of ale. In the field of entertaining, no monarch matched George IV. When Prince Regent, he famously entertained 3,000 guests at his private residence, Carlton House, at a table that extended the length of the house and incorporated a stream with goldfish. George IV would often take his guests on tours to the Great Kitchen. The tables, workbenches, and shelving all date back to his reign and have been in use since the 1820s.
Queen Victoria (r.1837-1901) introduced the occasion known as Dine and Sleep, at which ministers, ambassadors and those prominent in public life were entertained at Windsor Castle. This tradition is maintained by Her Majesty The Queen today. Dine and Sleeps are held every Easter at Windsor, where guests include politicians, diplomats and church leaders.
The Great Kitchen Tour is available on selected dates in January, February, August and September 2010.