As Americans try desperately to avoid online spoilers ahead of the Downton Abbey season three premiere on Sunday, the web is abuzz with Crawley mania. Fans of the addictive series are on pins and crumpets about the fates of Lady Mary, Matthew, Anna, Bates, and all the other characters in the dining rooms, kitchens, and stables of everyone's favorite (fictional) British mansion.
And if there's one thing they did a lot of in Edwardian times, it's eat. The upper crust often sat down to five meals a day (generally undergoing wardrobe changes for several). How did they survive without stretch pants?
So for those who want to celebrate the show's premiere with some period eats, we spoke to Pamela Foster, founder of DowntonAbbeyCooks.com and the newly released cookbook Abbey Cooks Entertain, about season three dirt, treacle tarts, and creating an Abbey-style masterpiece at home.
Short Order: Without any plot spoilers, do we have any new culinary delights to look forward to in season three?
Pamela Foster: Times were not easy for the English aristocracy after the end of the war. High death and land taxes forced many to sell their land to the noveau riche. Regardless, those who remained, like the Crawley family, did their best to keep up appearances. Food continues to be part of the rich tapestry of the show, but there are a few dishes which make are given star treatment. Treacle tart is the first dish mentioned in season 3, served in the Servants Hall. In another episode the servants unexpectedly are invited to dine on some classic French dishes which were also served on the RMS Titanic.The Dowager Countess lingers over a pleasing pudding at a luncheon.
What are the key differences between upstairs and downstairs dining in the house?
Food in the servants hall is what we could consider pub or even bistro food. Servants ate tougher cuts of meat which were made tender with long simmering. Stews were commonly served, as you recall Ethel snubbed her nose at the lamb stew Mrs. Patmore was cooking one evening. While upstairs vegetables were sniffed at with disdain, they were most welcomed in the servants hall. The food did have to be substantial and nutritious to help give the servants energy for the 14+ hours of service they provided each day.
In contrast, upstairs meals consisted of the more expensive and tender cuts of meat, and plenty of fish. The norm in the Edwardian era was dinners consisting of 10 to 15 courses, but you didn't have to eat each course. French cuisine was very much in vogue in the age of Downton.
How did that generation eat four times a day and stay slim?
They actually ate five times a day, and quite hearty meals at that. The Crawley sisters are not representative of the Edwardian figure, which was more rounded. As I mentioned before, you didn't have to eat every course, and you chose your own portion. The trend for huge meals did take its toll so that by the end of the season, many took a monthlong trip to the Continent for a slimming retreat where the lords and ladies were put on strict diets and forced to exercise daily. Of course they returned only to start the five-meal ritual all over again.
Is there a recipe you recommend for a viewing party?
My smoked salmon pinwheels are quite popular, as are my Yorkshire pudding canapés (recipes below).
1 cup whipped cream cheese (look for lower-fat versions to save calories)
1 tbsp. vodka (you can omit)
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill,
1 tbsp. lemon juice
freshly ground pepper
8 oz. thin slices of cold smoked salmon
4 x 7″ flour tortillas (try spinach or other colored tortillas to add more color to your table); Mrs. Patmore may also have used leftover crêpes, dill, or chive sprigs to garnish)
- Combine cream cheese, vodka, red onion, dill and lemon juice.
- Spread 1/4 cup of the cheese mixture on each tortilla then top with a layer of smoked salmon.
- Tightly roll up the tortillas and trim the ends (for the cook to taste).
- Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. The cream cheese seals the end.
- Slice into 8 pieces (or thicker if you like) and garnish with dill sprigs or chives.
Ingredients for the Yorkshire puddings
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
Ingredients for the horseradish cream
1/2 cup non fat greek yoghurt or non fat sour cream
2 tbsp. prepared horseradish (we love extra hot to give a burst of flavour)
salt and pepper
Ingredients for the mustard cream
1/2 cup non fat greek yoghurt or nonfat sour cream
2 - 3 tbsp. Dijon mustard (we love grainy and spicy)
salt and pepper
For the filling
12 slices of thinly shaved roast beef
flat leaf parsley, to garnish
Makes at least 24
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- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Add a very thin layer of vegetable oil in each cup of a 24 mini muffin tins and heat in the oven.
- To make the Yorkshire puddings, blend the four and salt, gradually whisk in the milk to ensure no lumps, then add the eggs.
- When the tray is hot, spoon in the batter in each muffin tin and return to the oven. Watch carefully, and cook for about 8-10 minutes until the mixture has puffed up and has browned. Then let cool on a wire rack.
- To the make horseradish cream, simply mix the ingredients together. To make the mustard cream do the same.
- Tear each slice of roast beef in half. Loosely wrap into a rose shape and pile on each of the baby Yorkshire pudding. Add a dollop of horseradish cream to half of the canapés, mustard cream to the other. Decorate all with a sprig of flat leaf parsley, tray and serve at room temperature.
You can purchase Foster's Abbey Cooks Entertains cookbook on her site, or through Amazon. Inspired by the food served at Downton Abbey and other English country homes at the turn of the century, it covers food, history and healthy eating. So while you may not be able to live like an Earl, at least you can eat like one.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahalexs.