I am very sad Downton Abbey is ending, but I have learned so much from watching it. I’ve been curious about every aspect of the time period, from fashion to the political situation of the day. I am also very interested in the food they served, because as a writer, I’ve found including details about food, tastes and dining habits is a good way to draw a reader into a story.
So for the last show, and for future viewings on DVD, I’ve posted some recipes that can be used for a Downton Abbey viewing party. I have been perusing cookbooks published during the time in which Downton Abbey is set to get an idea of the food, and to consider what I could cook that would be something the Crawleys themselves might have tasted, particularly at a late night supper (Downton Abbey viewing time where I live.) The lack of footmen and a butler at our house caused me to focus on relatively simple dishes, as my husband is not amenable to put on a tailcoat to pretend to be Mr. Carson serving dinner.
“Oh I’m so sorry, I thought you were a waiter…”
Below, I’ve posted recipes for buffet-style dishes and desserts often served in the evening during that time at balls, as well as light supper ideas, which you can pick and choose from to put together your own feast. All the recipes are reproduced as they were written in the cookbooks published between 1900 and 1920. I’ve added some further explanation in italics of terms which were unfamiliar to me. You can also take modern shortcuts to get something close to these dishes if you want to cut preparation time. I don’t have a kitchen helper, so I take all the shortcuts I can.
It was a time when cooking schools began to flourish and polytechnic programs were turning out trained chefs for restaurants and wealthy families. Still the most famous school, Le Cordon Bleu, begin in Paris in 1895, and its graduates were the most widely sought after chefs. I can imagine Sir Richard Carlisle wanting a Cordon Bleu chef for his household, but since the Crawleys relied on the traditional British cooking of Mrs. Patmore, I decided to focus on what she would likely have cooked. Mrs. Patmore wouldn’t have had any formal training; she would have started out in a lowly position in a kitchen as a young girl and learned on the job, much like Daisy tries to learn. To figure out what she would have cooked, I found several cookbooks published at the time which were used by the cooking schools in England, such as Battersea Polytechnic.
Suppers at a ball, often served at midnight, often contained items no longer appealing to modern tastes, such as aspics, cold dishes in which meat or vegetables is encased in clear gelatin. Oysters, when in season, were very popular as well, sometimes cooked right at the table in a chafing dish. I wondered why oysters were so often mentioned in late night menus and found the answer in a cookbook entitled SALADS, SANDWICHES AND CHAFING DISH DAINTIES (1914) by Janet M. Hill:
In a section called “Are Midnight Suppers Hygienic?” Miss Hill writes,
“In regard to the chafing dish and its most prominent use, some one may fittingly ask, Is it hygienic to eat at midnight? Can one keep one’s health and eat late suppers? As in all things pertaining to food, no set rules can be given to meet every case; much depends upon constitutional traits, individual habits and idiosyncrasies. But if we must eat at midnight, the question may well be asked, What shall we eat? That which can be digested and assimilated with the least effort on the part of the digestive organs. And among such things we may note oysters, eggs and game when these have been properly – that is, delicately – cooked.”
So late night meals would not have included things like beef or lamb. Chicken was quite popular, as was lobster. Suppers at these events were often served buffet style, so that attendees could eat as much or as little as they wanted without waiting for the various courses of a more formal dinner to be served.
Small sandwiches were often served as part of the buffet, but they are not the sandwiches of today. Instead they were more like modern canapé size portions, cut into decorative shapes or served in small rolls.
Sandwiches a la Romaine
From MRS. A.B. MARSHALL’S LARGER COOKERY BOOK OF EXTRA RECIPES by Agnes B. Marshall:
Take half a pound of cold cooked chicken
two ounces of grated Gruyere cheese
a teaspoonful of French mustard
a saltspoonful of mixed English mustard*
three ounces of butter
a pinch of salt and coralline pepper
two large tablespoonfuls of thick cream
Pound till smooth, then rub through a wire sieve and spread on some thinly cut bread that is thinly spread with Anchovy butter (vol i) stamp out with a plain round cutter and then dish up en couronno** on a dish paper or napkin. Use for ball supper, evening parties etc.
*saltspoonful – 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon
**‘En couronne’ means to place the sandwiches around the outside of a plate, literally in a ‘crown’ shape, so that the interior of the plate can be filled with something else.
Since I don’t have Volume 1 of Mrs. Marshall’s cookbook, here’s a recipe for anchovy butter from another contemporaneous cookbook, COOKING, MENUS, AND SERVICE by Ida C. Bailey Allen:
Anchovy, Sardine, Lobster, or Salmon Butter
To a half pound of butter add a third cupful of sardines, lobster meat, anchovies or smoked salmon pounded to a paste, with two teaspoonfuls of lemon juice, a tablespoonful of water, and a little paprika.
And more sandwiches:
Sandwiches with Watercress and Eggs
Cut some thin slices of white bread and butter, the bread being a day old. Sprinkle on the bread some crisp fresh leaves of watercress, a little salt and if liked a little finely chopped eschalot. (shallot) Have some hard boiled yolk of egg, rubbed through a wire sieve, and put a thick layer on the cress, close over it another piece of the bread and butter and press together, then cut up into small squares and dish up en couronne on a paper or folded napkin, and fill up the centre with a bunch of fresh crisp watercress that is seasoned with a little salad oil and salt, and serve for ball supper, etc.
‘En couronne’ means to place the sandwiches around the outside of a plate, literally in a ‘crown’ shape, so that the interior of the plate can be filled with something else.
Another Chicken recipe:
Little Brioches a la Vienne
From MRS. A.B. MARSHALL’S LARGER COOKERY BOOK OF EXTRA RECIPES by Agnes B. Marshall:
Take, for ten to twelve persons, half a pound of Brioche paste (see vol i page 332) roll it up into balls about the size of a small chicken’s egg, using a little flour for the purpose; then put them on a lightly greased baking-tin, and brush each over with raw beaten-up whole eggs to which has been added a little cold milk, put them into a moderate oven, bake till a nice brown colour which will take from twenty five to thirty minutes, then remove the brioches from the tin and put them on a pastry rack till cold. Take a small pointed knife and carefully cut open each brioche at the side about half way, fill up the bottom side with a puree of meat as below, fill in the top side with a salad of lettuce, close up the brioches again into their original form and serve in a pile on a dish on a paper or napkin. The gilt papers, either gold or silver, are very effective in this service. Serve for ball suppers, race luncheons or shooting parties.
Puree of Meat for Little Brioches A la Vienne
Take half a pound of (cooked) white meat chicken, or pheasant, freed from bone and skin, pound till smooth with two tablespoonfuls of thick cream, a pinch of salt, one ounce of butter, two tablespoonfuls of thick Bechamel sauce (vol i); then rub through a fine sieve and use.
Since I don’t have Volume 1 of Mrs. Marshall’s cookbook, here’s a recipe for a béchamel sauce from another contemporaneous cookbook, COOKING, MENUS, AND SERVICE by Ida C. Bailey Allen:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 cupful chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
3/4 cupful thin cream or top milk
1 teaspoonful lemon juice
Cream the butter and flour together without browning, add the stock, stir until boiling, then add the cream or top milk and the seasonings, and again bring to boiling point. Cook over hot water (double boiler) for five minutes and stir in the lemon juice just before serving.
More casual main course dishes are given after the desserts section.
Descriptions of suppers at balls often include mention of cakes and ices. The cakes were often cooked to individual portions, either in tins similar to our muffin tins of today, or once baked, cut and frosted into small squares, like the petit fours above. Some recipes which were labeled as cakes were more like cookies. An “ice” was a broad term that included not on ices, but also ice cream, sherbet, sorbet, and other frozen or chilled desserts. Many recipes call for using uncooked egg whites. Since that could be chancy these days, I haven’t included any of these.
From THE TREASURE COOKERY BOOK by M.M. Mitchell:
7 ozs of flour
1/2 oz of chopped citron peel***
4 ozs of castor sugar
1 tablespoonful of rose water**
4 ozs of butter
1 teaspoonful of prepared flour
2 ozs of currants
3 large eggs
Cream the butter and sugar together in a basin, add the yolks of the eggs, stirring between each, lightly stir in the powder flour, peel and flavouring. Whip the whites of eggs and stir in gently. Well grease about fifteen small tins, sprinkle a few currants on the bottoms, half fill them with the mixture, sprinkle more currants on top Bake them from fifteen to twenty minutes in a moderately hot oven.*
*Moderately hot oven – at that time was considered to be 350 to 375 degrees
**Rosewater – can sometimes be hard to find in the U.S. It is used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, so you can find it at specialty grocery stores or organic grocery stories if it isn’t available in your regular shopping habitats.
***Citron peel – also hard to find, at least in the U.S., you can substitute a mix of lemon and orange zest
Cooking note – I assume the 1 teaspoonful of flour is for the bottoms of the tins. No other information was given.
The following recipes for ices were all taken from DESSERTS by Olive M. Hulse. Miss Hulse was an American cookbook author with several cookbooks to her name. From Victorian times, small moulds were available to make ices more decorative. Today, the easiest way to mould an ice would be to use a dixie cup. That’s what I used for the strawberry sorbet on the left below. Angel’s Snow is on the right
Lemon Drop Cakes
Cream a cupful of sugar and four tablespoonfuls of butter, add three well beaten eggs, three cupfuls of sifted flour, a pound of currants, half a teaspoonful of salt, two teaspoonfuls of baking powder and a cupful of milk. Flavor with lemon extract. Stir slowly until thoroughly mixed. Drop a teaspoonful at a time on a well-greased dripping pan and bake five to ten minutes in a quick oven until brown. Quick oven: 375 degrees
Whip a quart of cream, add a cupful of sugar, and a cupful of strawberry juice. Put into a mould and freeze three hours.
Pare, and grate the meat of a cocoanut. Peel and cut a dozen oranges in small pieces, taking out the seeds. Put a layer of orange in the bottom of a pretty glass dish, sprinkle with sugar, then a layer of cocoanut, then a layer of orange, sugar, and so on until the dish is full, having the last layer cocoanut. Let it stand for an hour.
Make a syrup by boiling four cupfuls of water and two cupfuls of sugar for twenty minutes. Add two cupfuls of orange juice, a fourth of a cupful of lemon juice, and the grated rind of two oranges. Cool and strain. Freeze.
Boil two tablespoonfuls of rice until soft, and drain it. Dissolve a tablespoonful of gelatin in the boiling water and add the rice, and three-quarters of a cupful of sugar. Cool, and add a pnch of salt, two cupfuls of pineapple juice, and a cupful of whipped cream. Cool, and servie in dainty glasses with a cherry on the top of each.
Informal Supper Dishes
You may want something more casual for your dining pleasure. Here’s a few more main course dishes that were typically served for smaller parties or in less elaborate situations. All of them are still eaten today.
The following three recipes are all from THE TREASURE COOKERY BOOK by M.M. Mitchell:
Baked Eggs and Tomatoes
4 large tomatoes
4 fresh eggs
1 oz of butter
1/2 teaspoonful of chopped parsley
Pepper, salt and nutmeg
Rounds of fried or toasted bread
Choose tomatoes of the same size and not too ripe. Dip them into boiling water and peel them. Cut a round piece out of the top of each one and scoop out the centres without making them too thin. Break an egg into each of the tomatoes, sprinkle the parsley, pepper, salt and nutmeg on the top of each, cut the butter into pieces and place on the eggs. Stand the tomatoes on a tin or dish put into a hot oven and bake for five or six minutes, until the eggs are set. Dish each tomato on a piece of toast and serve. *Note-I had to cook this about twenty minutes to get the egg to set. It may be because I used an egg at refrigerator temperature instead of room temperature. I also did not peel the tomato.
1 round of toast
1 oz of butter
1/2 mustardpoonful of mixed mustard (1 mustardspoon is equivalent to 1/4 teaspoon.)
3 ozs of Cheddar cheese
Cut the bread rather thick, toast and butter it, and cut across into four. Shred the cheese, make the butter hot in a saucepan add cheese, mustard, and cayenne, stir it
over the fire until the cheese melts, then pour it over the pieces of toast, brown them quickly by putting them under a gas griller or using a salamander or hot shovel. Serve quickly. Note-A salamander is like a small electric broiler. Broiling them in a modern oven would work the same.
Curried Rice with Eggs
1/2 lb Patna rice (I assume you can use any type of rice. Patna rice is a long-grain Indian rice.)
1 1/2 ozs butter or bacon fat
Dessertspoonful of curry powder (1 dessertspoonful equals 2 teaspoons)
2 large onions
Rind and Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Well wash and dry the rice. Finely mince the onion. Melt the fat in the saucepan, add the onion. Fry without letting it take much colour. Put in the curry powder and rice and fry it for three minutes. Season with salt and lemon juice. Just cover the rice with cold water and cook it very slowly until the rice is quite soft and dry. Add more water if necessary, and keep the lid on the whole time. Stir with a fork not to mash the rice. More curry can be added if required hotter. Dish up in a pile and garnish with hard-boiled egg cut into sections. or fried croutons of bread.
Enjoy! And as always, pizza is great for any kind of viewing party.