Considering the staggering number of hours the Crawleys must have spent eating each week — by one estimate, the typical Downton Abbey dinner consisted of anywhere from eight to 13 courses — it’s a wonder Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess ever had enough moments when her mouth was free to unleash all that withering condescension.
According to “The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” by Emily Ansara Baines, dinners served by Carson and the footmen would have included: various hors d’oeuvres (often oysters or caviar), two soups (one thick, one clear), two kinds of fish (one boiled, one fried), an entrée, the “joint” (a large piece of meat cooked in one piece), a sorbet, a roast and salad, vegetables, a hot dessert, ice cream and wafers, fresh and dry fruits and, finally, coffee and liqueurs.
Having grown up with that sort of extravagance, it’s astonishing that Lady Sybil would have run away with the chauffeur. Given the accompanying caloric intake, it’s surprising she could move at all.
With “Downton Abbey” opening in theaters Friday, it’s a perfect time to channel your inner Mrs. Patmore and whip up some classic British foods — along with, possibly, some less traditional ones. Take the book’s Lord Grantham’s American Italian Risotto alla Milanese. An American take on an Italian dish prepared by a British cook. What could possibly go wrong?
The cookbook shines a light on the stark disparity between what the members of the staff would serve and what they’d eat themselves. For every Lobster with Mornay Sauce or Stuffed Leg of Lamb with Almond Fig Sauce consumed upstairs, the downstairs table would be lined with the likes of mock turtle soup — featuring “brains, organs or scrap meat such as from a calf’s head” — or the Kipper, Fried Egg and Rosemary Potatoes Surprise, the surprise probably being that you were eating herring for breakfast.
Some of the recipes are quite involved, while others can be prepared faster than Lady Mary was widowed when actor Dan Stevens wanted out of his contract.
Or, if you’re more of a fan of eating than cooking, you could always just sit around and giggle at the names of some of the dishes, such as Downstairs Toad in the Hole or the Bubble and Squeak.