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My Life in Food: HRH the Duchess of Cornwall

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Our relationship with food says a lot about who we are. In this new series, celebrity foodies talk to restaurant critic You Tom Parker Bowles about all things cooking, from early memories and favorite foods to things they can’t stand. We start with the woman who nurtured Tom for most of his life – his mother

Tom Parker Bowles and his mother, HRH the Duchess of Cornwall

Tom Parker Bowles and his mother, HRH the Duchess of Cornwall

I grew up in a very happy home, with good food in his heart. I still pretty much remember the rationing, but we grew everything from tomatoes and melons to peas, beans, carrots and new potatoes. One of my earliest memories is shelling those peas and beans with my mom, an accomplished cook.

You always had to finish what was on our plate before we ate pudding. It wasn’t a problem when it was rice pudding because I hated that kind of stuff.

In my first school, Dumbrells in Ditchling, East Sussex, the food was surprisingly excellent. Lots of steamed puddings and we were allowed to help the cook once a week with lunch. I still dream of their potato cheesecake.

Casa Malcovati on the island of Ischia

Casa Malcovati on the island of Ischia

Every year we went on vacation to the island of Ischia, right next to Naples. There were endless lunches of vitello al limone [veal escalope with lemon], fried zucchini, lots of fresh fish and pasta. He instilled a lifelong passion for Italian cuisine.

Findus Frozen Chicken Pot Pie,

Findus Frozen Chicken Pot Pie,

On Friday evening, at home, we had the right to choose our dinner. I always opted for Findus frozen chicken pot pie, much to my mother’s dismay. The food at my grandmother’s was more formal French, which was very smart at the time. What I remembered most there, however, was the brown bread ice cream.

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As for restaurants, there weren’t as many choices in the 60s. London as it is today. But at the time, we didn’t know any better. I’ve always preferred home food anyway. But I remember how excited I was when I first ate prawns and avocado, at Alexander’s in Chelsea. The combination looked incredibly exotic. I had eaten avocados at home and hated them at first. But I now eat them almost every day. Daphne’s was another favourite, along with La Poule au Pot in Pimlico, which still exists. Best of all was the Chat at Claridge’s, where there was a large round table with the most amazing buffet. Everyone dressed up and it looked very glamorous.

I have always cooked for children growing up, and they were good eaters, but I was never the most adventurous of cooks. I was sent on a cooking class in Sussex when I was young but, really, I learned from my mother. I have never followed a recipe in my life.

My cooking relies on good ingredients. Nothing too complicated or difficult or gently. Lots of tarragon chicken, scrambled eggs and bacon and chicken casserole. There were always roasts on Sundays – pork and lamb chops, roast chicken. The kids ate a lot of cheese on toast. We had a vegetable garden and lots of chickens, for eggs, so we ate seasonally before it became fashionable. Because that’s exactly what you were doing in the country back then. We used Love & Sons, the butchers, in Chippenham, Wiltshire. There was also a very good fishmonger but that’s long gone, it’s a shame. Britain has so many amazing products and our farmers are doing a wonderful job. We must always support them.

When Sainsbury’s opened in Chippenham in the early 80s, it was pretty exciting. So many choices. We ate a lot of chicken kievs.

I could fill a book with all my culinary disasters. I’m not a natural baker, to say the least. As for the baked potatoes… many poor and incinerated specimens were found at the bottom of the Aga, put in, then forgotten.

I always cook for myself when at home. Simple things like fish en papillote with butter and herbs. And vegetables from the garden: kale, sprouting purple broccoli, carrots, zucchini, and lots of peas and beans because they freeze so well. I love the vegetable garden, and summer in particular. I am very proud of my white peaches. My husband is an excellent gardener and we are quite competitive with our fruits and vegetables.

These days restaurants are a way to see my kids. They pick the restaurants, I pay the bill. I don’t like the noise too much but we tend to go to the same places.

One of my favorite foods is baked beans on toast. Always Heinz. And freshly cooked fish and chips, wrapped in foil. This smell. You can’t beat real fish and chips.

I can’t stand peppers, raw or cooked. I’m not a fan of offal either, apart from a very good liver. And I also avoid chilli and garlic, unlike my son.

My last supper would probably involve my own asparagus, with lots of butter. Angela Hartnett’s risotto. I love her cooking. Sole meunière from Dover, with fingerling potatoes and fresh broad beans and peas from the garden. A bit of bitter chocolate ice cream. Plus strawberries and raspberries and lots of clotted cream. Accompanied by a very good glass of Bordeaux. And, since it’s my last supper, probably two.

  • Her Royal Highness is patron of UKHarvest, a charity whose mission is to end hunger and reduce food waste through the redistribution of quality food and educating everyone on how to reduce food waste Household. By collecting excess food from suppliers and delivering it directly to charities, they help food-insecure people live well and age well. Their Nourish Hubs also combat social isolation by providing meals and a meeting place for local communities. More details at ukharvest.org.uk

Kitchen It-kit

Charlotte Page serves a fruit salad elegant plates

£26, find.com

Around £34, anna-nina.nl

£45, libertylondon.com

£55 for a set of four, roseandgrey.co.uk

1. £26, find.com, 2. around £34, anna-nina.nl, 3. £45, libertylondon.com, 4. £55 for a set of four, roseandgrey.co.uk


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