By Matthew Cockerill
Food historian Dr Annie Gray is familiar to British audiences as a regular on the BBC Radio 4 panel show ‘The Kitchen Cabinet.’ She is also the author of several historically inspired cookbooks, including English Heritage’s How to Cook the Victorian Way with Mrs Crocombe.
In The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook, newly added to ckbk, Annie’s historical expertise, along with her skill in adapting historic recipes to modern kitchens, combine in a cookbook that offers a fascinating insight into the cooking of the past, as well as a tempting range of dishes to cook today.
The six series of ‘Downton Abbey’ spanned the period from 1912–1926, and the recipes in this cookbook include a number of dishes which featured in particular episodes, along with additional recipes from cookbooks that were popular during the period, providing a real sense of English cooking at the time.
The quintessential breakfast associated with the English upper classes, is of course, Kedgeree, a lightly spiced dish of rice, fish, and hard-boiled eggs.
“No breakfast at Downton would be complete without a dish of kedgeree, kept warm on a burner on the sideboard. The name and the concept come for an Indian recipe called khichri, a mixture of dal and rice that was quickly adopted and altered to suit the British palate,” Gray writes.
The book includes a section with tips on how to host your own Downton-themed dinner party, with plenty of striking options for those wanting to impress their guests. Lobster Cutlets use clever presentation to take a luxurious but boring-looking lobster rissole and transform it into a much more exciting ‘cutlet’. Oysters au Gratin seems extravagant today, but the author reminds us that in Edwardian times oysters were still cheap enough to be common day-to-day fare.
In her introduction, Annie Gray notes that the Edwardian era “was the key period for the codification of French haute cuisine, and many of the dishes and techniques that we still regard as intrinsic to classical French cooking today were developed at this time. Auguste Escoffier, one of the most important figures in French cuisine, was working in London at the Carlton Hotel, having published his immensely influential Le Guide Culinaire in 1903.”
Turbot is one of the most prized fish in French cuisine, and the recipe for Turbot with Hollandaise would make a suitably extravagant centerpiece for a Downton-themed dinner – but if you don’t (yet) own a turbotière, you may need to improvise your cooking arrangements to accommodate the fish’s unusual shape.
As an accompaniment, consider Navy Beans with Maître D’Hôtel Sauce. Those who have brushed up on their Escoffier will know that Maître d’Hôtel refers to a simple and tasty combination of butter, cayenne, parsley, salt, and pepper (a combination that goes well with just about anything!).
Other classical French dishes featured include Pork Chops with Sauce Robert, for which it is helpful to have Sauce Espagnole on hand because Sauce Robert is a composite sauce built from other sauces. Escoffier (of course) includes a recipe for Sauce Robert – in fact, it seems it was so popular that an Escoffier-branded bottled version was sold — such celebrity chef tie-ins are nothing new.
If classic French cuisine seems intimidating, you may prefer the recipes that Annie includes as examples of dishes that would have sustained those below stairs. Hearty appetites would have been sustained with dishes such as Beef Stew with Dumplings, Toad in the Hole, and Macaroni Cheese. We learn that macaroni cheese was popular in England as far back as the 18th century, before it became an all-American classic. The Downton version is notable for adding culinary variety (and drama) with a soufflé topping, soufflés being a regular feature in the Downton kitchen.
Incidentally, if you are looking for something a little different, ckbk’s wide selection of Toad in the Hole recipes ranges from Andy Fenner’s modern Chorizo Toad in the Hole to Victorian versions from Mrs Beeton and Alexis Soyer – who uses steak rather than sausage in his.
When it comes to desserts, The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook includes recipes for Spotted Dick and Trifle, dishes that are associated with the British aristocracy (though Annie herself is known to be something of a trifle sceptic). More adventurous palates will also find a range of upscale options to choose from, such as a Charlotte Russe, created by famed French chef Antonin Carême, or Peaches Melba, one of Escoffier’s most-admired inventions.
Banana Cream Ice, meanwhile, is adapted from an original recipe in Agnes Marshall’s The Book of Ices. Annie Gray describes this work as, “a glorious collection of Victorian flavors for both water- and cream-based ices, the variety of which puts most modern ice cream books to shame.” (You can find all 120 recipes from The Book of Ices on ckbk.)
Afternoon tea, that sneaky additional meal that aristocrats somehow managed to fit in between luncheon and dinner, features prominently in ‘Downton Abbey’ and in the cookbook. In addition to a range of carefully cut sandwiches, scones and cakes are essential. The book has recipes for Dundee Cake, which marries the Scottish city’s famous marmalade with a slug of whisky, and Fairy Cakes – prettily colored miniature precursors to the modern cupcake.
Food photography: John Kernick, © 2019 Weldon Owen