When Hazel Bellamy, bride of the handsome but petulant James Bellamy, has the family cook, Mrs. Bridges, prepare cottage pie for upstairs lunch, James reacts like a spoiled child. To eat such a humble dish is beneath his station. He storms from the table.
I'm speaking, of course, about the classic BBC drama "Upstairs Downstairs," which aired in the 1970s. It has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the wake of the surprising popularity of "Downton Abbey." As fans waited a year for Season 3 — it finally began on Sunday — many have watched or re-watched "Upstairs Downstairs," noting parallels, comparing fashions, choosing favorite characters and basically delighting in the era. Edwardian cocktail party, anyone?
That cottage pie is downstairs food, like the shepherd's pie shared by the "Downton Abbey" staff in Season 2. Both are rustic, humble and thrifty, frequently made with leftovers. (For recipes for traditional and contemporary cottage pie and shepherd's pie from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.)
Upstairs food is refined, with more expensive cuts of meat, elaborate sauces, elegant soups and ingredients — caviar, oysters, crab and saddle of lamb, for example — that would never be served below stairs. When it comes to casual fare upstairs, think sandwiches, like the platterful Mrs. Padmore, the abbey's cook, sends up to Matthew during a late-night visit with Lady Mary.
I'm taking inspiration from those sandwiches, which seem the perfect food to serve during this Sunday's episode. And although we don't dress for dinner these days, I'm dressing for "Downton Abbey." And my silver goblets are already polished.
This recipe is extremely flexible. If you don't have or don't like crab, use chopped bay shrimp. Replace the cream cheese with creme fraiche, use radishes instead of cucumbers, and shredded radish greens if you don't have watercress.
Some Simple Evening Sandwiches
Serves 2 to 3, easily doubled
— Body meat of 1 Dungeness crab
2 tablespoons minced celery
1 tablespoon minced onion
— Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
12 slices of sandwich bread
— Smoked-salmon spread, such as Dave Legro's, available at local farmers markets
2 tablespoons snipped chives or minced Italian parsley
? cup old-fashioned style cream cheese, stirred to loosen
? to 1 teaspoon fennel pollen, optional
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
— Several sprigs of watercress
Put the crab meat into a small bowl, add the celery, onion and lemon zest, toss and stir in the mayonnaise. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Set 2 slices of bread on a clean work surface and spread the crab mixture over both. Top with a second piece of bread, cut in quarters and set on small platter.
Set 2 more slices of bread on the work surface and cover both with smoked-salmon spread. Sprinkle with chives or parsley, top with a second slice of bread, cut in quarters and add to the platter.
Set 2 of the remaining slices of bread on the work surface and spread cream cheese over both slices. Sprinkle fennel pollen on top, if using. Cover the cream cheese with cucumbers, season lightly with salt and pepper, top with watercress, add a second slice of bread, cut in quarters and add to the platter with the other sandwiches.
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