Downton Abbey that is, and not a moment too soon. Fans have been speculating on Mary and Matthew’s wedding and salivating for the arrival of Shirley MacLaine. There should be plenty of scenery chewing between McLaine and and Maggie Smith as battling mothers-in-law, but in case you need something to chew on, turn to The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook.
Among a certain set, the BBC television series Downton Abbey is an obsession on par with chocolate. Within the plot arcs of low behavior in high places and the mysteries of entail, the clothes, the architecture, and the food in the show has been examined and explained.
As with architecture nd style, food was a way of showing power and sophistication and as noted British food historian Ivan Day points out in an online NPR article, “Some of it was very technically dazzling and difficult to do.” Especially when you consider that cooks labored without microwaves, food processors, or even refrigeration. What kitchens lacked in technology they made up for with skilled servants who, in Downton Abbey, are a perfect excuse for more story lines.
This unofficial cookbook is more a work of inspiration than history, anchored in neither the show nor the “real” Dowton Abbey—Highclere Castle. Though Baines does make the sensible division between the elegant and showy recipes for “upstairs” and the simpler fare of “downstairs.” She also instructs readers in service a la Russe, the style of serving dishes sequentially, rather than having them all brought to the table at once, called service a la francaise. In Downton Abbey, service a la Russe is perfect for choreographing the exchanged glances interaction between servants and masters that move the story along.
Some of Baines’ recipes take liberty with history. As she describes in the headnote for Smoked Salmon Mousse, “A more ‘modern’ appetizer that the Dowager Countess would both detest for its modernity and enjoy for its taste…”. There are lots of references to sisters sniping over teacups and speculations about what the characters we love might love to eat.
The recipes reflect British traditional cooking—Yorkshire pudding, Steak and Kidney Pie, and Treacle Tart—usually in the hearty dishes reserved for downstairs. It includes regional Scottish and Welsh recipes like Scottish Partan Bree—a creamy rice soup, Cornish Pasties, and Lancashire Hot Pot. Dishes with royal and foreign provenance, like Regal Brown Windsor Soup, Potatose Lyonnaise, and Crepes Suzette, are reserved for upstairs.
Tomorrow night, on your local PBS station. Don’t call me after nine, I’ll be drooling and watching.