Prince Charles feels his oats as he bakes a royal treat

June 28, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

London -- Prince Charles wants to peddle his cookies in America.

Actually the prince is unlikely to call his Duchy Originals biscuits "cookies." Cookie is as American as Famous Amos. Even chocolate chip cookies, like stretch limousines, are an American import.

The prince's cookies, uh, biscuits, are hard, crisp and thoroughly British oaten or gingered wafers.

The prince, of course, doesn't personally pop the dough in the oven to make his Duchy Originals. They're a product of his Duchy of Cornwall and his interest in organic farming. Each cookie is impressed with the crest of the duchy.

You're not likely to find them very soon in your local 7-Eleven. Duchy Originals are upmarket cookies sold here at Harrods and Fortnum & Mason, mercantile marts so rarefied they hardly have equivalents in the United States. And you can easily get the prince's cookies on the Concorde, if you fly that supersonic aircraft to London for $4,378.

The Duchy of Cornwall is now engaged in what are called "delicate" negotiations to place them on the shelves of American retailers of the proper sort. Woodward & Lothrop, Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus come to mind as suitable purveyors of the prince's biscuits.

Charles, in addition to being the Prince of Wales, is also the Duke of Cornwall. The duchy provides the prince with his income. It is, in fact, his only source of income, but quite a handsome one. The duchy last year produced a "surplus" of $6 million for the prince.

The duchy is one of the oldest and largest landed estates in Britain and one of the richest in Europe. Edward III created it in 1337 for his son, the Black Prince (whose nickname derived either from his black armor or his "foul Angevin temper").

The duchy today consists of 130,000 acres, mostly agricultural land scattered over 23 counties, little of it, however, in Cornwall.

The duchy also owns some residential property, shops and offices. The duchy is developing a village community called Poundberry, which is to incorporate the prince's vision of the architectural virtues of the traditional English country town. Critics complain that Poundberry is a bit "twee," and not much different from any other well-built housing development.

The duchy was chartered to give the heir to the throne an income independent of the monarch. The Prince of Wales receives no money under the Civil List, which pays the salary, so to speak, of his mom, the queen.

He acceded to the management of the duchy in 1969, when he was 21. He and the officials of the Duchy of Cornwall are said to be canny managers. Between 1979 and 1992, the prince took $30 million in profits from the duchy, and his income rose 700 percent, according to an account by Jonathan Mantle writing in the society magazine Harper & Queen.

The prince is said to need the money because it not only supports him but also his estranged wife, Princess Diana, and their children, William and Harry.

His Duchy Original biscuits are made from oats and wheat organically grown on the Duchy Home Farm, in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire -- 1,112 acres surrounding Highgrove House, the prince's country home.

The home farm is run "in hand" by the estate and not let out to tenants. Highgrove is a handsome, not immodestly large, 18th-century Palladian house said to be the prince's favorite residence.

The prince began his organic experiments with the gardens surrounding the house, which include long vistas through arched roses, a kitchen garden behind boxed hedges and swards of wildflowers, many of which he planted himself. Now all but 23 acres of the home farm are farmed organically.

Even the princely effluent is cleaned "naturally" in the royal sewage garden, passing through a series of bark filters, reed and ozier beds and an aerated pond before emerging pristine.

The organically grown grain from the home farm is stone ground a few miles away at the centuries-old Shipton Mill in Tetbury. The Duchy Originals biscuits are baked by Walkers of Scotland, perhaps the most famous makers of classic "pure butter" shortbread.

The prince likes to say the duchy is run commercially in accordance with the social and environmental principles in which he believes strongly.

With Duchy Originals, he says, he is trying to demonstrate the opportunities for farmers to add value to their raw materials by developing and marketing finished products themselves.

Cynics say, of course, any farmer can do it if he's the Prince of Wales.

Duchy Originals have been fairly successful here, despite their price. At Harrods, Duchy Originals cookies cost 1.70 pounds, about $2.55 for a 300-gram pack of 20 oaten biscuits. The gingered biscuits, with bits of ginger baked in like chocolate chips, cost 1.95 pounds, $2.88.

The oaten cookies taste of oatmeal and molasses and are good with a pot of tea. The gingered biscuits are sprightly and -- dare one say it? -- a bit dry like the prince.

Any profits made by the cookies go to charity and not to help the prince keep his polo ponies or pay the bill for Princess Diana's clothes.

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