The One Food Queen Elizabeth Ate Every Day Since Childhood
Queen Elizabeth's afternoon tea featured a childhood favorite you can create at home
Editor’s note: Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, who sat on the throne for 70 years, has died at 96 years old. In a statement on Sept. 8, 2022, the Royal Family website writes, “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.” The Reader’s Digest team sends condolences to the royal family and all of Britain at this time as we honor her life and legacy.
From PB&J sandwiches to tater tots, our favorite childhood foods gave us comfort when we were kids and still do the same decades later. And while we may not have snack time slotted into our schedules anymore, most of us still munch our way through the day or grab some late-afternoon food to tide us over until dinner. Needing a little something to nibble on in the afternoon is such a universal experience that even Queen Elizabeth II herself could relate. But the menu for Queen Elizabeth’s afternoon tea wasn’t quite what you would expect.
After all, if we commoners like to eat carrot sticks and crackers, surely the royal family’s eating habits are a bit more refined. Caviar and foie gras for her majesty, perhaps? Those fancy foods may satisfy other members of the royal family tree, but when it came to afternoon tea they were firmly on the list of foods Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t eat. Turns out, the queen’s preferred afternoon tea was one of her favorite childhood snacks—and she ate it every day since she was a toddler. Hint: It’s not Lunchables.
What food had Queen Elizabeth eaten since childhood?
Every day for more than 90 years, Queen Elizabeth II ate her favorite snack: jam sandwiches, also known as jam pennies. As Darren McGrady, a former chef at Buckingham Palace, explained on his YouTube channel, the young Queen Elizabeth first tried jam pennies in her nursery as a little girl, and she had been a fan ever since.
The recipe for Queen Elizabeth’s afternoon tea snack was simple: Butter two slices of soft, white bread and slather one in strawberry jam—preferably handmade from Scottish strawberries grown in the gardens of Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s summer home in Scotland. Sandwich the bread together and use a small, round cookie cutter to cut out crustless circles.
So why the cutesy name? They’re called jam pennies because they’re the size of old English pennies—around 1.2 inches. With that delicious homemade jam, we could probably eat a pound of pennies.
When did Queen Elizabeth eat her favorite meal?
The queen snacked on her favorite food during afternoon tea, a meal that’s been a United Kingdom tradition since around 1840. That’s when Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, found that she was in need of a snack between lunch at noon and dinner at 9 p.m. (And who can blame her?) The duchess asked that tea, cake, and bread and butter be brought to her room every day at 5 p.m., and the custom soon spread among the upper classes.
Nearly two centuries later, and the trend has spread to hotels and tea shops around the world. (Maybe the desire for cake is why the British drink so much tea.) But perhaps a new trend is in order: After hearing about Queen Elizabeth’s afternoon tea spread, we’re inclined to pair our Earl Grey with a few jam pennies.
What were some of Queen Elizabeth’s other favorite foods?
Imagine having a private chef on hand to make all your favorite foods from scratch, whenever you want them. That’s the reality for royals, and Elizabeth II had been eating professional-made meals since her father, King George VI, was on the throne. It was good to be queen! Included among her majesty’s preferred foods were other afternoon tea favorites, as well as regional delicacies and a classically British dish.
Fish and chips
According to McGrady, everyone in Buckingham Palace looks forward to Friday’s traditional lunch of fish and chips. Staff and royals alike enjoy the meal, but the queen’s fish and chips were a little more refined than what’s served downstairs. The queen prefered her fish baked, not fried—McGrady cooked it in the oven with a panko crust. As for the royal chips, the chef cut them into perfectly sized rectangles before frying them and serving them with a handmade tarragon hollandaise sauce.
Chocolate perfection pie
Considering the queen’s role in government and the fact that she lived in, you know, a palace, Elizabeth II may have seemed like someone with little in common with the common folk. But when it came to food, she was just like us: It turns out she was a bit of a chocoholic.
One of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite desserts was what McGrady calls chocolate perfection pie, a chocolate pie layered with dark and white chocolate and chocolate shavings. Her subjects never saw her shoveling in her desserts, though. The queen favored moderation—she was classy like that.
Scones with jam and clotted cream
English tea scones regularly appeared in Queen Elizabeth’s afternoon tea selection, and they were always served with jam and clotted cream (cream heated rather than whipped to thicken). The queen apparently loved to eat seasonal produce and game from the gardens, rivers and estate of Balmoral. So if you’re hosting an authentic Queen Elizabeth afternoon tea, be sure to make your jam by hand from the best of the summer’s berries.
When it comes to serving, do it the royal way: It was jam first and cream second, according to her majesty. And while you’re acting like you’re from across the pond, remember that the British put milk in their tea.
Salmon from the River Dee
When McGrady described the late queen’s diet and favorite foods, a few things are clear: She had a serious sweet tooth and loved to eat fish and seafood. One of her favorite dishes was fresh-caught salmon from the River Dee, which runs through the estates surrounding beautiful Balmoral. The castle was the site of many a Queen Elizabeth afternoon tea, as it’s the place where the royal family has traditionally spent their summer holidays.
Morecambe Bay potted shrimp
Morecambe Bay in Lancashire, a county in northwest England, is famous for its seafood, including potted shrimp, and Queen Elizabeth was reportedly a huge fan of the snack. In fact, she loved them so much that the supplier, James Baxter & Son, was granted a royal warrant as recognition of its quality as a supplier to the royal family.
The shrimp were served in what McGrady describes as a secret spicy butter, and the queen apparently enjoyed them on warm toast, which allows the butter to melt in. Morecambe Bay potted shrimp is also what the royal family eats on Christmas, but they probably weren’t part of the Christmas gifts Queen Elizabeth gave to her staff.
- Darren McGrady: “Afternoon Tea at Buckingham Palace”
- Darren McGrady: “British Fish and Chips”
- Darren McGrady: “Royalty and Royal-tea”
- Darren McGrady: “Q&A”
- The British Museum: “The tea-rific history of Victorian afternoon tea”