Dishing up the flavors of ‘Downton Abbey’
By Kathy Stephenson
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Feb 26 2013 08:04AM
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.