'Downton Abbey' cookbook mixes traditional British fare with modern ingredients

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Imagine this: A long table, stretching from one side of the room to the other. It is lit by a high chandelier and candles low enough that they don’t hide the person seated across from Everyone is bathed in the candlelight’s golden glow, which bounces off the taffeta, metallic lace, and satin of the women guests, adding to the magic of the evening.

White pearls look golden, a blue necklace suggests the night sky, and conversation flows as smoothly and engagingly as the vintage wines that fill the array of glasses set in front of you.

Ahh, what a fantasy, a Downton Abbey dinner.

And, with a bit of effort, you can do it. Maybe the table won’t be as long as the one in the grand room, but you can, with enough notice, encourage your guests to dress in Edwardian attire and set a beautiful table. On the other hand, maybe downstairs appeals to you more than upstairs. The food served at the servants’ table is typically lustier, more robust, and, arguably, more delicious.

The “Downton Abbey” movie opens nationwide on September 20. If you need inspiration before then, a new book, “The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” (Adams Media, 2019) by Emily Ansara Baines was released last month. It is an expanded edition, complete with color photographs, of a book first published in 2012.

Don’t get too excited about the photographs, though. If you’re expecting Lady Mary in her beautiful blue necklace, for example, or Sybil in her frighteningly modern attire, you won’t find those things here. The book is not a part of the series and is not sanctioned by it; photography focuses on the book’s dishes.

It is a fun read, with little historical notes and etiquette lessons following most of the recipes. Dishes are identified as being served upstairs or downstairs and, honestly, it’s the downstairs recipes that are most appealing to me. Deviled kidneys, spicy kedgeree, boiled beef tongue and steak and kidney pie make me long for a meal prepared by Mrs. Padmore, Downton Abbey’s head cook.

The book is not strictly historical. Instead, the recipes are a combination of traditional British fare punctuated, now and then, with modern ingredients, some of which grate on this English literature major. Balsamic vinegar and truffle oil in an Edwardian kitchen? I’ve found no evidence that these ingredients were used that early.

But that’s a minor quibble, and the book is written to be used now, with ingredients most of us have in our pantries. All you need to do is have fun with it and decide where you want to enjoy dinner before or following the film, upstairs or downstairs.

And if you don’t have any Edwardian clothing in your closet, check out thrift shops and vintage clothing stores, such as Hot Couture in Railroad Square.

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The author of the Downton Abbey cookbook imagines Mrs. Padmore serving this soup upstairs, to the delight of the Dowager Countess. Mussels were considered a prestigious delicacy then, not something likely to be enjoyed downstairs. This recipe is adapted from the one in the book, to fit the format used in Seasonal Pantry.

Marvelous Mussel Soup

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 pounds mussels in their shells, picked over and cleaned

¼ cup butter

½ teaspoon paprika

6 medium green onions, very thinly sliced

6 medium celery stalks, cut into small dice

— Kosher salt

4 sprigs Italian parsley

1 cup dry white wine

1 ¼ fish stock, plus more as needed

2 cups heavy cream

— Chopped fresh Italian parsley

Make sure each of the mussels close when tapped. Set them aside.

Put the butter into a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Add the paprika, green onions, and celery, and sauté, stirring frequently, until they are soft; do not let them brown. Season with salt, add the mussels, parsley sprigs, wine, and fish stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the mussels open, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard any mussels that have not opened.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mussels to a plate or bowl. Strain the liquid into a large measuring cup, pressing to remove as much liquid as possible from the vegetables before discarding them. If you do not have four cups of liquid, add more fish stock.

Return the liquid to a clean saucepan and add the cream. Bring to a boil over high heat and immediately reduce the heat so that the mixture simmers gently until it is reduced by about one quarter. Taste and correct for salt.

Remove the mussels from their shells and add the mussels to the cream mixture. Heat through and ladle into soup plates. Sprinkle with parsley and enjoy right away.

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This recipe, adapted to Seasonal Pantry’s style, features veal, which is not a particularly popular meat, especially on the West Coast, these days, because of humane considerations. It is, however, possible to find range veal; you can also use pork instead. The dish is perfect for the North Bay, with our abundant apples and popular cideries. Side dishes, both then and now, should include sweet potatoes and apple sauce. And to drink? A local dry cider, of course.

Traditional Apple Cider Veal

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons lard or butter

1 pound veal, cut into 4 equal pieces (see Note below)

— Kosher salt

4 tablespoons brandy

4 shallots, minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar

1 clove

1 bay leaf

2 thyme sprigs

2 parsley sprigs

1 garlic clove, crushed

— Black pepper in a mill

Put the butter or lard in a heavy skillet set over medium high heat, add the lard or fat, and, when it is melted, add the veal. Season with salt, brown, turn, season with salt again, and cook the second side until lightly browned.

Carefully pour the brandy over the veal; it will likely flame, which is fine. When the alcohol burns off, transfer the veal to a plate and add the shallots to the pan. Cooking, stirring frequently, until they are soft and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Season with salt.

Sprinkle the flour over the shallots and cooking, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes, until the flour just begins to take on a bit of color. Slowly drizzle in the vinegar, whisking all the while.

Return the veal and any juices that have collected to the pan, stir, and add the clove, bay, thyme, parsley and garlic.

Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the meat is very tender, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Transfer the meat to a platter. Use tongs to remove and discard the bay leaf, sprigs of herbs, and garlic clove; if you can find it, remove the clove, too. Taste the sauce and, if it seems a bit flat, add a pinch of two of sugar and a pinch of two of salt. Add several turns of black pepper.

Spoon the sauce over the meat and enjoy right away, with suggested accompaniments (see headnote) alongside.

Note: If you do not eat veal, you can use pork in its place. I suggest shoulder chops, as loin chops do not have enough fat to do well with lengthy cooking; they can become as hard as hockey pucks.

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These luscious potatoes are similar to a dish served at Rustic, the restaurant at Francis Coppola Winery in Geyserville.

Pommes de Terre Sarladaise (Potatoes Cooked in Duck Fat)

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes

4 tablespoons duck fat, plus more as needed

1 small bunch Italian parsley, large stems removed and discarded

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

Peel, rinse, and dry the potatoes and cut them into ¼-inch thick slices. Set aside briefly.

Put the duck fat into a heavy skillet set over high heat. When it is melted, add the potatoes, cover the skillet, and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 30 minutes.

While the potatoes cook, use a sharp chef’s knife to chop the parsley and garlic, together.

Use a thin metal spatula to turn over the potatoes, making sure to turn the crisp parts on the bottom of the pan to the top. If the pan seems too dry, add a bit more duck fat, positioning it at the side of the pan and lifting up the potatoes so the fat can spread. Season generously with salt and several turns of pepper and spread the parsley-garlic mixture on top. Cover and cook for 15 minutes more.

Transfer the potatoes to a platter and enjoy right away.

Michele Anna Jordan is a fan of “Downton Abbey” and its precursor, the original “Upstairs Downstairs.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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