By JUNE E. PRANCE
Her memory lingers on, long after her death more than two decades ago. But had she lived, Princess Diana would be celebrating her 58yh birthday on July 1st. No doubt she would have her chief prepare one of her favorite dishes if her birthday was going to be a family affair at home in Kensington Palace. Or, if it was to be a broader occasion with both family and friends, she may have chosen to dine at London’s Savoy Hotel where I think she may have requested Maitre chef des Cuisine, Anton Edelman’s mango dessert that he created especially for her. Again, if one believes in the rumors that were circulating shortly before her death, she may well be celebrating at the Ritz Hotel in Parish, had she lived. In that case, I don’t have a clue about what her choice of food would have been there.
How do I know, or surmise, where the princess may have dined, or what she may possibly have chosen to eat on her 58th birthday, had she lived? Because I was fortunate to have spoken with her informally on a number of occasions between 1979 and 1997, and being the foodie that I am, I always took the opportunity to ask celebrities questions about their favorite things to eat, Princess Diana included.
I first met her in 1979 at her step-grandmother’s home in Hertfordshire. I was interviewing Barbara Cartland, the world’s most prolific author, for both the Tampa Tribune and British Digest Illustrated. Barbara’s daughter, Raine, Countess Spencer, and a young girl that I was introduced to as “Lady Diana,” were there for lunch and I was invited to dine with them. Raine had married Diana’s father, Earl Spencer, in 1976, it appeared.
We were served a light meal of salmon pie, topped with rounds of pastry, together with a side salad. The quiet teenager had a second helping, exclaiming how good it was, and how she’d have to try making it for her flatmates in London. Later, over a macaroon dessert, I asked Lady Diana if she had read any of Barbara’s romantic love novels, and she sadi, “Oh, yes, every on, I think.” I commented that she must be reading 24 hours a day considering that there were over 300 of those novels in print. Diana laughed and said, “Oh, so many? Well, I’ve read dozens of them, at least.”
Little did I know that just two years later, this teenager who had been working as a nanny when I met her, would become the Princess of Wales in a wedding ceremony that was watched by millions of people around the world. And as I watched it myself, I thought back to the young girl’s appetite for that salmon pie, and wondered if she had actually ever made it for her friends.
I’ve made it though, for many pot luck occasions, having asked Barbara Cartland’s chef, Nigel Gordon, for the recipe back in 1979.
Three years after meeting Lady Diana, my daughter, Cathy, and I met the now Princess of Wales in Northampton. It was 1982, and Diana was on one of her first solo engagements, opening a new wing for mental health at St. Andrew’s Hospital. While Cathy waited with the other photographers for the royal helicopter to arrive, I took the opportunity to chat with her father, Earl Spencer, and her stepmother, Countess Spencer.
He told me that his daughter was coping well with her new royal duties, in spite of not getting much help from palace officials. “I’m very proud of her,” he said. “Fortunately she’s a hard worker and she’s always loved children and children love her. Any child born to Diana will be fortunate indeed.” He also told me that he was the eighth Earl Spencer to serve as president of th Board of Govenors for St. Andrew’s Hospital, a position that went back 150 years.
Raine, Countess Spencer, commented that Diana had a great sense of fun and a wonderful gift of communication with people. She said, “When we were married, her father told me to watch out for Diana. She’s only a gawky little girl now, but she’s going to be a great beauty one day. She’s really amazed all of us.”
Over the years, especially during the summertime, I was part of the Royal Rota assigned to Diana’s, and other royal engagements, covering charity events, walkabouts, and grand openings, and a few overseas tours. I watched Diana as she matured, gradually got her own sense of style, and grew in confidence as she stepped out on her own more and more. In earlier stories I commented on how, single-handedly, she took the stigma away from AIDS victims, because she wasn’t afraid to hug them and hold their hands while she talked to them.
I remember her tour of the Fisher Price Toy Factory in 1984, and her visit to Chatsworth Park with the Duchess of Devonshire in 1987. By this time, she was very much at ease among the crowds of people who lined up to see her. Too, the arranged meeting by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, for leukemia victim Jessica Finster, was a tearjerker. Jessica had asked to see her heroine, Princess Diana, and she got her wish when Diana agreed to see her in Wolverhampton. It was typical Diana, showing love and compassion for a five-year-old f rom Florida.
But one of my favorite meetings with the Princess of Wales was a two-for-the-price-of-one occasion in 1993 when she got together with First Lady Barbara Bush. They were visiting AIDS victims at Middlesex Hospital, and after nearly two hours of talking to dozens of patients and staff members, we got to sit down for a hospital prepared brunch. Because Diana knew me, and because I was from America, she had requested that I be seated across the table with hospital dignitaries. Thus, I was able to talk to Mrs. Bush.
It was one of the small, kind deeds, that was, again, typical Diana. The First Lady told me that she had several opportunities to keep busy while she was in the U.K. but this engagement with Diana was at the top of her list. Naturally, I asked about the Bush family’s favorite foods and she promised to have her secretary mail me some recipes when she got back stateside. Diana mostly talked about her sons, the Royal Rascals, as she called them, and she mentioned that Prince Harry was into pestering the palace kitchen staff and craving sausage rolls for breakfast.
Also in 1993, I heard her speak passionately at a three-day conference on eating disorders. It was a subject that she was well qualified to talk about, but she didn’t specifically mention her own battle with bulimia as she spoke to an audience of 400 doctors from around the world. However, she wanted to pass her knowledge along to millions of women who suffered from bulimia or anorexia, more than two million in Britain alone.
Later, at a Glasgow conference on drug dependency, she launched a heavy attack on the alcohol and tobacco industries, telling 700 delegates that drugs permitted by law could be just as devastating as those that are banned. Diana’s 30 minute speech received a standing ovation.
The last time I saw Diana was in June, 1997, about six weeks before she died. It was in Bournemouth, where she spent about three hours meeting and greeting officials in the area for charity events. She also spent considerable time walking through the crowds, stopping to chat now and then if a child waved at her. She was wearing an aqua-green dress and looked radiant, on top of the world. In fact, she had mentioned that she was expecting to be named an Ambassador to the World and continue with her fight against the production and use of land mines. But it was not to be.
It is said that 68 percent of people worldwide still remember where they were when they heard the news about her death. That doesn’t surpise me. I witnessed firsthand how her magnetic charm and extraordinary skills as a true humanitarian earned her the title of The People’s Princess. And in retrospect, it wasn’t surprising, that having spent her teenage years reading so many of her step-grandmother’s romantic novels; with “handsome prince meets naive young girl, falls in love and lives happily ever after” themes, that she would fall hook, line and sinker when Prince Charles came courting in 1980.
But that was real life, not a novel, and it wasn’t happily ever after for Diana. As she famously stated on a worldwide television program, “From the beginning, there were three of us in this marriage…” And we all know how the story ended. Too, according to some royal insiders, Prince Charles’ current wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, may well someday be the next queen,if proposed constitutional manipulations get passed. Regardless, Diana will always be the Queen of Hearts for millions of people around the world. Nothing will change that.
Happy 58th birthday, Diana. Rest in peace.
Here are three of the late Princess of Wales’ favorite things to eat. The recipe from the Savoy Hotel has been simplified for the home cook, but no taste appeal has been lost, and I think Diana would approve of this version of Mango with Ice Cream. Barbara Cartland’s Salmon Pie won approval from the teenaged Lady Diana, and the Seared Steak with Mushrooms was a favorite from Kensington Palace, a meal that she frequently requested.
MANGO DIANE WITH ICE CREAM
(Savoy Hotel) Serves 4
2 medium-size, ripe mangoes
2 cups vanilla ice cream
1/4 cup raspberry sauce (recipe below)
16 fresh raspberries
4 sprigs of mint (optional)
Wash and dry the mangoes, then cut them in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds carefully with a spoon. Scoop out most of the flesh and chill the skins. Puree the mango in a blender or food processor and pass through a fine strainer. Add the mango puree to the vanilla ice cream in a medium size bowl. Quickly mix well then freeze to a piping consistency. Using a large star tip, pipe the ice cream into the chilled mango skins, then drizzle a little raspberry sauce over the top of each one . Top the ice cream with four fresh raspberries and a sprig of mint. Serve immediately.
2 pints fresh raspberries
2 tsps lemon juice
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (or more to taste)
First, pick out 16 of the largest raspberries and set aside to decorate the dessert. Puree the remaining raspberries in a blender, add lemon juice and sugar, blend. Pass through a small strainer and chill until ready to use.
BARBARA CARTLAND’S SALMON PIE
Serves 6 for Brunch
1 medium sweet green pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2-1/2 cups salmon, flaked
1 cup green peas, cooked
2 Tsp butter
2 cups whole milk
1 Tsp lemon juice
1 Pkg flaky pastry (store bought)
Saute green peppers and onions in the butter, using a heavy skillet over low heat, stirring for 5 minutes or until tender but not browned. Stir in the salt and flour, then slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Add the salmon, peas, and lemon juice, stir well. Pour into a 9” x 12” casserole dish and set aside. Roll the pastry out onto a lightly floured surface, and if necessary roll to 1/4” thick. Use a 3” biscuit cutter or glass to cut out rounds, then lay the pieces on top of the salmon mixture, leaving 1/4” space between them. Bake in a preheated 400° oven for 25 minutes, or until pastry is golden and salmon is bubbling.
NOTE: Dame Barbara prefered fresh salmon, but stated that canned salmon can be used if all bones and skin are picked out.
SEARED STEAK WITH MUSHROOM SAUCE
2 ribeye steaks (8 – 10 oz. each)
2 tsps olive oil
1 tsp ground pepper
2 Tsps unsalted butter, plus 1 Tsp
8 oz choice of mushrooms, sliced
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 Tsp fresh basil or thyme, chopped
Sprinkle steak with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat oil over medium heat in a heavy skillet and cook the steaks to desired doneness. Put the steaks aside and keep warm, tenting with foil. Put the mushrooms, onions and butter in same skillet (don’t clean it out), and saute for 4 minutes, stirring. Add basil and one tablespoon of butter, stirring. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste and serve over steaks. Kensington Palace chefs suggest you serve this with your choice of a side salad.