February 26, 2015

Highclere’s kitchens

From poring over old maps and outlines, I would guess that the kitchens have stood in the same spot at Highclere for several hundred years. Originally, they would have been separated from the house to help contain the risk of fire. The older house seems to have been L-shaped with a medieval church to the west and the kitchens lying slightly to the south west. There are water wells on either side.

At the back of the kitchen was a great hearth, the fire for cooking which in later centuries became the first cooking range and today a modern set of ovens. Above the range, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, are the smoking cupboards. I am not sure how tall the domed ceiling is in the kitchen, but I do know we have to put up scaffolding to paint it and in the winter it is jolly cold and all the chefs wear beanie hats.


domed ceiling

Three of the corners in the kitchen lead to other areas. In the north corner are a series of rooms used for washing up, for a large walk-in fridge for dairy, salads and vegetables and a cool vegetable storage area. In another corner, a small staircase leads up to Chef’s office, which is always wonderfully neat and tidy. It has a great view across the courtyard to the rear of the Castle. Sometimes I throw up (small) stones to rattle against Paul’s window as it saves going up to find if he is there or not.

Opposite the range is a hallway from which leads a narrow room – the patisserie with marble tops perfect for baking. I also happen to know where the truffles are kept in case of a hunger pang. Opposite this is another huge walk in fridge and freezer. Those rooms were, I think, used to hang meat and game in past times.  We still have a game larder at the Castle but it is now situated in another outbuilding.

the patisserie

Lastly, there are two further rooms which are for dry storage, as they have been for possibly hundreds of years. We have realised that there are old rooms above, probably bedrooms once upon a time, but they are currently unused and unexplored.

Highclere has always prided itself on delicious cuisine. I have been looking back to recipes from Escoffier’s time or Alfred Duglière, and it is fascinating how the basics remain the same: good stock, planning and preparation. However, at Highclere we also have to work within what we know we can deliver given the corridor and stair run between the kitchens and the Dining Room. As usual, it becomes the art of the possible, but what remains the same is the huge pleasure gained from sharing a good lunch or dinner with friends.