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