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The Times
  • Food of ‘Downton Abbey’ reflects social classes of early 20th century England

  • As we approach the two-hour television debut Sunday of Season 3 of “Downton Abbey” - the lavish soap opera about the aristocracy and their servants in Edwardian England -- consider this minor character: the food.

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  • What: “Masterpiece: Downton Abbey”
    When: Season 3 starts at 8 p.m. Sunday
    Where: WILL-TV (Comcast Channel 12) and WSEC-TV (Comcast Channel 8)
    As we approach the two-hour television debut Sunday of Season 3 of “Downton Abbey” - the lavish soap opera about the aristocracy and their servants in Edwardian England -- consider this minor character: the food.
    From preparation to service, the victuals in the PBS series reflect the British social hierarchy of the early 20th century. The upper crust was served upstairs in the French version of “service a la Russe,” which required the butler and footmen to serve each course in sequence, rather than all at once. The workers at the Grantham estate, meanwhile, dined downstairs family-style – when they could find the time.
    “I prefer the food downstairs to the food upstairs. I’m a big fan of cheese and potatoes,” said Emily Ansara Baines, the Los Angeles-based author of “The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” (Adams Media, 2012).
    Baines, who created the book’s recipes based on historical research, said the nobles would be served an eight- to 13-course menu that typically included oysters or caviar, two soups (one thick, one clear), two kinds of fish (one boiled, one fried), an entrée, a large piece of meat (such as wild game), salad, vegetables, a hot dessert, ice cream, wafers, fresh and dried fruits, coffee and liqueurs.
    Refreshers, such as sorbets, were sometimes added between heavier courses and cheese was often served with the fruits.
    In the TV series, the sumptuous meals are prepared by head cook Mrs. Patmore and kitchen maid Daisy, served by Mr. Carson and the footmen and enjoyed by the Crawley family and their guests.
    Dishes for the lower class, meanwhile, were more filling and less elegant than those for the silk-and-pearls crowd.
    “The servants always had to figure out when to eat: Very early before the nobles were up and whenever they had a chance to eat at night. They sometimes ate in shifts,” Baines said.
    “They would typically have stews, soups, heartier meats and leftovers from the meals served upstairs. But what Mrs. Patmore cooked up would really depend on the amount of time and energy required for the upstairs inhabitants. A servant’s life revolved around her master’s,” she said.
    As Season 3 of “Downton Abbey” moves into the 1920s, Baines expects dining to become simpler.
    “World War I is over and there is not as much food. The Roaring ’20s are coming. The extravagant way of life is fading out and the food will reflect that. It will be a big shock to the older Crawleys,” she predicted.
    No doubt that Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, will not be pleased.
    Page 2 of 2 - Recipes are from “The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook.”
    Split Pea Soup
    In classic English literature, eating pea soup would be considered a form of poverty. Thus, this would be a dish that the manor’s staff would eat, but not the lords and ladies.
    4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
    4 cups water
    1 pound ham bone
    2 1/2 cups green split peas
    1 cup diced onions
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1 large clove of garlic, chopped
    2 bay leaves
    1 pinch thyme
    2 cups chopped celery stalks
    2 cups chopped carrots
    1 cup diced potato
    Pour stock and water into large stockpot and bring to a boil. Add ham bone, then lower heat to simmer stock for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
    Add peas to stockpot and allow to soak, with liquid still simmering, for 15 minutes. Add onions, salt, pepper, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Cover, bringing soup to a boil, then simmer 1 ½ to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
    Remove bone from soup and cut off meat. Dice meat into bite-sized pieces and return to soup. Discard the bone. Add celery, carrots and potato to soup. Then cook slowly, uncovered, 30 to 45 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
    Makes 6 to 8 servings.
    Lobster with Mornay Sauce
    This is a rich dish, fit for the aristocracy. Its extravagance would render it appropriate for a celebration, perhaps when the Dowager Countess wins the flower show. . . again.
    1/2 cup unsalted butter
    1 pound lobster meat, diced
    1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
    1 1/2 cup heavy cream
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon white ground pepper
    2 teaspoons sugar
    1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese
    1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
    Melt butter in medium-large saucepan over medium heat. Mix in lobster meat, cooking until opaque. Remove lobster from saucepan and set aside.
    Reduce heat to low. Sprinkle flour in pan. Cook and stir 3 to 5 minutes, making sure not to boil. Slowly stir in chicken broth, cream, salt, pepper and sugar. Simmer 7 to 10 minutes or until sauce thickens.
    Stir in lobster and Gruyere and parmesan cheeses. Continue cooking an additional 5 to 7 minutes.
    Makes 4 servings.
    Kathryn Rem can be reached at 788-1520.

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