While we are still over three months away until the American premiere of Downton Abbey (*sob*), that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little bit of the charm of the Crawley’s and their loyal servants in our homes until then.
Thanks to this fun cookbook from Emily Ansara Baines, a little bit of that English charm can be found right in your own kitchen.
Let me be upfront about a few things before I get into the book review. My cooking skills would probably be listed at intermediate. I’m not a beginner – I know my way around a kitchen – but I’m also by no means trained in even the slightest way. Unless you call endless hours of watching Food Network training. (I think it should count!) And if you are a beginner, I’m not sure this is the book for you. The recipes are, for the most part, not the easiest and require some knowledge of the culinary world. However this book is about more than just the recipes.
The thing I love most about what Baines did wasn’t her imagination of what Mrs. Patmore would be cooking in the kitchen downstairs – it was her knowledge of the time period and her clear love for the depth of the story of Downton Abbey.
The book is split into two parts. Part 1 deals with the Upstairs – what the Crawley’s would eat. Part 2 has recipes for the Downstairs – what Mrs. Patmore would serve the staff. Each Part is then split into sections. The many courses of a proper meal for the Upstairs, and the basic breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert for the the Downstairs. And with each section Baines gives some insight on what the following meals would have been about at the time.
Each meal has an introduction explaining why Mrs. Patmore (or occasionally, someone else) would have made it, why it was included, and it’s history for the time period. Each recipe also includes a small tidbit such as an ettique lesson for the meal, suggested pairings for the dish or a historical lesson.
Even if you can’t cook at all, the book is a lot of fun for the Downton Abbey fan who is desperate for a little bit of English Countryside while we wait for the show to arrive stateside in January as part of Masterpiece Classic. It gives us something to do as we curse all of our friends across the pond who are about to watch episode 3 tomorrow night!
As for the meals – I obviously haven’t had a chance to make them all. Why? Well for one, there is over 150 recipes in book! I just simply do not have the time or money to do that. Plus, I have two small kids and a relatively picky-eater husband. Oysters and Foie Gras just are not happening in my house. But every recipe is not at that level of… snobbishness isn’t the word I want to use, but let’s stick with it because I have a feeling it’s what you are thinking too.
On this first day of Autumn (YAY!) the book seems even more appropriate with delicious recipes such as a “Rejuvenating Beef Stew,” “Roasted Rosemary Cornish Game Hens” and “Potatoes Lyonnaise” – all of which were very much enjoyed in my home. The beef stew was easily turned into a slow-cooker recipe (a mom’s best friend) and the Cornish Games Hens was also easily made into a roasted chicken recipe. The potatoes were so flavorful and paired very well with that dish.
There were multiple soups I have yet to try, but I look forward to it now that the weather has started to change. But the desserts went over very well. The “Sweet Cream Scones” and the “Sweet Brown Sugar Shortbread” both came out perfectly, a miracle as I’m not much of a baker. The scones were meant to be paired with a provided Clotted Cream recpie, but I just went with some home made whipped cream and berries instead since that was easier. They were that right combination of moist and dry that a good scone manages to maintain. The Shortbread was delicious, but my family is always looking for something a little more exciting, so I may add some chocolate chips into them next time. I don’t think Mrs. Patmore would approve, so don’t tell her.
As we head into the holidays, I will be keeping this book close by. Family always wants something fun from my kitchen, and I hope this book will provide it. Plus, recipes like “Mr. Bates Bread & Butter Pudding” and “Sybil’s Ginger Nut Biscuits” sound perfect for Christmas.
If you enjoy putting time in the kitchen and love the wonder of Downton Abbey (why wouldn’t you??) I recommend investing in this cookbook. It’s hard to find a cookbook that has the right balance of fun and culinary, but this one manages to do just that.
Downton Abbey returns Sunday, January 9th for those of us Stateside, on your local PBS Station.
If you pick up the book, be sure to let us know how it goes for you!
Find Melissa on Twitter @serrae