Have you fallen under the spell of Downton Abbey yet? Judging from my Twitter and Facebook feeds, it seems as though more people are passionate about the fashions and scandals of the Grantham family and their servants than about the upcoming Superbowl. I certainly am. My Sunday nights are devoted to Downton Abbey, and when the baby cries later that night, it takes me longer than usual to realize that my arm is not draped in sleek, silky black gown, and that I cannot summon a servant to deal with the child.
Much of the drama of Downton Abbey takes place over dinner, usually over the soup course and often even during the drinks preceding dinner. I’m not sure I have ever seen the family consume dessert. But if you’re wondering what types of desserts the Grantham sisters are skipping to remain so languidly thin, you’ll find the recipes, along with recipes for every other possible course, in the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Baines.
The recipes span not only what Mrs. Patmore would prepare for the Grantham family, but also what the servants would eat downstairs. This well-researched, and entertainingly written cookbook is filled with anecdotes about the characters as well as wonderful background information on etiquette and culinary trends in England at that time.
- In the decade preceding WWI, a young socialite and self-proclaimed modern woman named Lady Jeune, Baroness St. Helier, rebelled against extravagance and outdated dinner customs. She declared, “No dinner should consist of more than eight dishes: soup, fish, entree, joint, game, sweet, hors d’oeuvres and perhaps an ice; but each dish should be perfect of its kind.”
- There were normally two types of fish served at a formal dinner party: one broiled and one lightly fried.
- When eating soup, it is proper to hold your soup spoon in your right hand while scooping the soup away from yourself. The spoon should never be placed directly in the mouth, rather the soup should be gently tipped from the side of the spoon and poured into the mouth through an opening in the lips.
- While it is common in America for the host to take the first bite of food, a tradition likely passed on from medival times to prove that the food is not poisoned, most leaders of etiquette, especially those frequenting Downton Abey – would be horrified at such an act of rudeness. Instead the guest of honor should be served and should eat first.
Watching Downton Abbey is a delicious treat, like falling down a rabbit hole into a grown up pretend world, filled with sleek dress up clothes, evil villains, and dazzling damsels in distress. I’m not sure what’s more alluring: their leisure time, where a long walk with joyful labradors along green rolling hills constitutes a day’s work, or the spectacle of dressing for dinner.
After last night’s heart-wrenching episode, I imagine that many of the upstairs and downstairs residents of Downton Abbey drowned their sorrow in a warm bowl of Classic Vanilla Rice Pudding. Emily Baines notes that this very literary dessert is mentioned by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, T.S. Eliot, and A.A. Milne, and would have been eaten by everyone at Downton Abbey at least once in their life although it would be considered a common dessert, not fancy enough for dinner upstairs.
Recipe Adapted from the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook
- 1 1/2 Cups of Water
- 3/4 Cups Basmati Rice
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 3 Cups Whole Milk
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream
- 1/4 Cups Sugar
- 2 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Paste
- Nutmeg for garnish
- In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring water, rice and salt to simmer. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until water is absorbed.
- Add milk, cream, and sugar to mixture. Stir in vanilla paste. Increase heat to medium and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for at least 35 minutes or until rice is tender and mixture thickens to a soft, creamy texture.
- Remove rice pudding from heat and divide among small bowls. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.