In keeping with our television theme, this month saw the publication of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook. (This book is unofficial and unauthorized. It is not authorized, approved, licensed, or endorsed by Carnival Film and Television Ltd., its writers or producers, of any of its licensees.) Here is my question – with all the “Downton Abbey” books coming out by Jessica Fellows and with all the research they did for the show, why is there no “official” cookbook?
Emily Ansara Baines has provided the unofficial version. Baines is a bit of an “unofficial” cookbook writer having penned The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook.
The first thing one notices about this cookbook versus the “official” True Blood Cookbook is the lack of glossy photos of the cast and set. Frankly, those pictures would have sold me more on the cookbook and make a great case for “official” cookbooks based on television shows. It is unusual in this day and age to find a cookbook that is merely text. Not one recipe has a finished picture. A small signature of photographs would have greatly enhanced the book. My other criticism would be that many of the recipes seem similar to the old Upstairs/Downstairs cookbook, though both cookbooks deal with a period when cooking was basically the same.
I do love that each recipe in The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook has a small historical blurb about the dish or related issues of etiquette or language of the period. While some of the recipes seem a bit too modern, the vintage throwback style abounds. From tea sandwiches to digestive biscuits, from quail to Shepard’s pie this cookbook will give the reader a sense of what the meals might have been like during the Edwardian era.
Part One of the book features recipes set up to follow the courses of the popular service à la Russe. It is said that Alexander Kurakin introduced the Russian style of serving a table to Pairs while he served as the Russian Ambassador. From there it became popular throughout Europe. A service à la Russe sets each place with a cover. Each course is brought to the table by servers. Each course is finished before the next course is served. There were often as many as fourteen courses at a dinner.
Tea holds a special place in the hearts of the English and there is a special chapter for tea at Downton Abbey. Part Two of the cookbook deals with meals for the staff.
Here is a favorite old-timey, definitely “downstairs” recipe. It is a quite proper recipe for mushy peas. Baines reminds us that the would have been a popular accompaniment to fish and chips and one that, “Mrs. Patmore might whip this up on nights when the staff is too tired to properly eat after a full day of tending to Downton's regulars and their guests.”
1 ½ cups (12 ounces) dried marrowfat peas
4 cups water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Soak dried peas overnight in a large bowl full of water and baking soda. The baking soda is important because it helps break down the peas. The next day, drain the peas, then place them in a medium-sized saucepan and just cover with water. Simmer for 25 minutes; the peas should break up without mashing.
2. Remove peas from the heat. Stir in the butter until it melts, followed by cream, sugar, salt and black pepper. If desiring a thinner consistency, add more cream.
Mushy peas are making a big comeback in posh London circles. Today shoppers have the luxury of fine, frozen peas and an electric blender! So all one needs to do is give those peas a quick boil, add a touch of milk and mash. How easy and practical can nostalgia be?
Grab a copy of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook and start planning your dinner party for the January return of Crawley girls.