With the ending of the third season of “Downton Abbey” — and Season 4 still months away — fans of the PBS megahit are looking for ways to satisfy their cravings for period romance and intrigue.
Watching reruns on DVD or via Netflix is one way to relive the British soap opera. Serving tea and cucumber sandwiches or raspberry meringue pudding — minus the salt from that Season 1 episode — would be a more delicious option.
Food and eating is part of almost every episode of “Downtown Abbey,” whether it’s a lavish spread served in the Crawley family’s formal dining room, or the hectic meal prep led by Mrs. Patmore, and her assistant, Daisy, in the service kitchen below.
“I’m always amazed at what Mrs. Patmore and Daisy put on the trays to go upstairs,” said Diane Sheya, a instructor at Salt Lake City’s Viking Cooking School. “They always seem beautifully presented.”
An avid “Downtown Abbey” fan, Sheya decided to use the 19th-century England theme for a two-part cooking class on March 15 and 16.
On the first day, participants will learn how to make the opulent foods enjoyed by the aristocrats, including cream of lamb with mint sauce, potatoes Lyonnaise and steamed pudding. The second day the focus will be on the rustic foods that the service staff eat such, as Toad in the Hole, mushy peas and Tom Branson’s colannon, a nod to the Irishman who is the family’s former chauffeur and now son-in-law.
Utah love • “Downton Abbey” has become more than just a show, with many viewers throwing parties and dressing in costume as their favorite character.
In January, KUED, which airs the show, invited Utah fans to a costume-party fundraiser to celebrate the kickoff of Season 3. The four-course menu included food from the era: cream of barley soup with Irish whiskey, a grilled asparagus and watercress salad with roasted squab, prime rib with Yorkshire pudding and dessert petit fours.
Utahns are especially enamoured with the show. The Season 3 finale, which aired on Sunday, Feb. 17, earned a 7.6 rating and a 13 share, which means it was watched by about 70,000 households, said Mary Dickson, KUED’s director of creative services. “They have been our highest numbers ever,” she said, adding: “people here just love a good drama.”
It’s the period details that draw in viewers, said Ronni Kennedy, owner of Elizabeth’s English Bakery, at 439 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City. “The characters are beautifully flushed out and there are gorgeous costumes and scenery,” she said. “And the writing is so good.”
While it’s mostly a drama, there’s plenty of comedy relief, especially when it comes to Dame Maggie Smith, who plays the Dowager Countess of Grantham. “Her lines make me laugh,” Kennedy said.
Despite its popularity, Kennedy hasn’t noticed an influx of customers to her Salt Lake City shop. “I’m sure it’s because we sell pasties and meat pies, working man foods,” she said. “I don’t think you’ll catch the Dowager eating pasties.”
For foodies • It’s no surprise that the food served at the opulent Crawley estate has inspired at least two cookbooks: The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, by Emily Ansara Baines; and Abbey Cook Entertains, by Pamela Foster, who also writes the Downton Abbey Cooks recipe blog.
Baines, who also authored The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, said as she watched “Downtown Abbey” she was compelled by all the food scenes.
“I was fascinated by the food they served and a lot of the intrigue that happens over dinner table,” she said during a recent telephone interview from her home in California.
For the cookbook, Baines watched the first and second season on DVD and “whenever there was any mention of food, I would pause it and write down what I thought I saw,” she said. Then it was off to the library to research what kind of food it could be, taking into consideration the ingredients that were available in England at that time.
While Baines said she enjoyed testing the more elegant recipes, the meat pies and the stews that the staff would likely have eaten are her favorite.
“These were warm foods that could be thrown into a pot,” she said. “They weren’t fancy, but I thought they tasted better.”
The Dowager would probably not agree.
Raspberry meringue pudding
16 fluid ounces of milk
1 vanilla pod, split or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
31/2 ounces caster sugar (super fine sugar or sugar substitute)
4 egg yolks (freeze the whites if you aren’t making your own meringues)
5 ounces fresh bread crumbs
Zests from two lemons
7 ounces raspberry jam
4 ounces caster sugar (super fine sugar or sugar substitute)
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 pint fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons caster sugar for garnish (not salt!)
Meringue cookies (bought or homemade)
Heat oven to 300 degrees. For pudding base, pour the milk into a pan and add split vanilla pod. Bring slowly to the boil over a medium heat.
Separate eggs, and reserve the whites to make the meringues.
Place sugar into a large bowl with the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture is light and creamy.
Slowly pour egg mixture into the hot milk, whisking all the time, then add the bread crumbs and lemon zest.
Half-fill a roasting tin with boiling water to make a bain-marie (water bath). Pour the pudding mixture into 4 (4 ounce) individual ramekins, or one large oven-proof baking dish. Place them into the bain-marie.
Place the bain-marie in the centre of the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes for the individual molds, 30 to 40 minutes for the larger version, or until the pudding or puddings are almost set, but still slightly wobbly in the centre.
Place the jam into a small pan over a low heat and gently melt. Spread jam over the top of the pudding when it has finished baking and cooled.
To serve, gently remove the pudding from the molds, and transfer to a serving platter(s), garnish with raspberries and meringues, and sprinkle with some extra caster sugar.
Servings • 1 large pudding or 4 individual servings in cups
4 large egg whites at room temperature.
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (or a 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice)
1 cup superfine or caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Heat oven to 300 degrees, place the rack in the center of your oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites on medium speed with an electric whisk until foamy.
Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites until they hold soft peaks.
Add the sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks.
Beat in the vanilla extract.
Test to make sure the meringue is ready by rubbing a little between your thumb and finger. When it’s no longer gritty, you are ready to go.
Place at least 10 equal sized mounds of meringue onto the prepared baking sheet. You can use a tablespoon and make a swirl, or put into a piping bag with a star for a more decorative cookie. (Meringue can be piped into any size of cookie or into nests to hold other goodies.)
Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees and bake for 60 minutes. You may wish to rotate the pan halfway through to ensure even heating.
The meringues are done when they are pale in color and fairly crisp.
Turn off the oven, open the door a crack, and leave the meringues in the oven for at least another 60 minutes to dry out.
Meringue cookies can be stored in an airtight container for several days.
Tom Branson’s colcannon
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed
1 cup butter, chopped into tablespoons
1/2 cup heavy cream, heated
3/4 cup whole milk, heated
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 head green cabbage, cored and finely shredded
1 pound ham, cooked
1 clove garlic, minced
4 green onions, sliced, white parts and green tops separated
In a large pot, steam the potatoes in their skins for 30 minutes. Peel using a fork, then chop with a knife before mashing. Mash until all lumps are removed. Add 1/2 cup (4 tablespoons) butter, then gradually pour in heated cream and heated milk, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper.
In a large pot with a lid, cover the cabbage with water and boil until it turns a darker shade. Add 2 tablespoons butter to help tenderize it. Cover and let cook 3 to 5 minutes. Drain cabbage thoroughly. Chop into small pieces.
In a large saucepan, cover the ham with water. Bring to a boil and let simmer 45 minutes or until tender. Drain and chop into small pieces.
In a medium-size skilled, heat remaining butter over medium-high heat. Stir in garlic and white parts of the green onions. Cook until garlic has softened and mellowed. Stir in mashed potatoes, ham and cabbage.
Top with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, if desired, and sprinkle with green-onion tops.
Servings • 6
Source: The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, by Emily Ansara Baines
Dining at ‘Downton Abbey’
This two-day cooking class celebrates the food seen in the PBS hit series “Downton Abbey.” On the first day, participants will prepare the opulent foods enjoyed by the aristocrats including cream of asparagus soup, lamb with mint sauce, potatoes Lyonnaise and Mrs. Patmore’s steamed pudding. On the second day, the focus will be on the rustic food that the service staff eat, including Toad in the Hole, colannon, mushy peas and tipsy cake.
When • Friday, March 15, 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, March 16, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where • Viking Cooking School, 2233 S. 300 East, Salt Lake City
Cost • $139; reservations required, at vikingcookingschool.com, or 801-464-0113