While our friends in the UK count the days until this year’s Downton Abbey Christmas Special airs, those of us across the pond still have months of waiting to do. But that doesn’t mean we can’t drum up some Downton-style Christmas fun of our own making in the meantime. We recently asked Emily Ansara Baines, author of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, to share a few recipes from her new book with Flavorwire readers. If you’ve ever fantasized about spending some quality time with the Crawley family, Baines has come up with a menu that even the Dowager Countess herself would approve of!
Here’s the thing: Christmas, for an average American with children to feed, piles of presents to open, and a DVR backlog to watch, is, at most, a five-hour affair. For the average Edwardian Brit, meanwhile, Christmas was only just beginning to become the commercial smorgasbord it is today. The holiday always began early Christmas morning with a trip to church. Middle or Upper class, if you were religious, you went to church Christmas morning. And Church was not a short affair. Also, unlike the average modern American who goes Christmas tree shopping when leftover Thanksgiving turkey sweats in tupperware in your fridge, most Edwardians would never dream of putting up their Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. To do otherwise was to be tacky.
Yet, between the 1910s and 1920s, there was a massive influx in production and subsequent toy-giving for the Christmas holiday, and tree-decorating went from being a fun family holiday to the competition in domesticity it currently holds today. Father Christmas, the Edwardian Santa Claus who originated as the physical embodiment of goodwill, would soon be bringing toys rather than spiritual morale to children everywhere. Thus, it makes sense that for an upper-class Edwardian family like the Crawleys, Christmas would also be a time for them to show off their wealth. That said, as we all saw in the first Christmas Special, the Crawleys were sure to attend the staff party and ball and dance with their underlings. This idea — the merging of the classes on Christmas Eve — originated with Queen Victoria, who made a point of celebrating with her staff, and providing them with practical gifts that even Mr. Carson would approve.
And, of course, the food! There are more traditions than letters for a typical British Christmas feast. Like Americans (like everyone) today, the Edwardians would have a soft spot for sugar. Christmas pudding — made popular by Prince Albert — would be served to both the upper and lower classes, often flamed, meant to represent the passion of Christ.
This Christmas pudding, like “Mrs. Patmore’s Christmas Pudding,” found in The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, would be made the Sunday before Advent, thus known as “Stir Up Sunday.” Each member of the family would be expected to take a turn stirring the pudding mixture and adding good-luck coins to the batter to be found on Christmas Day. Other popular Christmas desserts include fruitcake and the log-shaped Bûche de Noël. When it comes to the more savory dishes, everyone would enjoy a filling roast such as “Mrs. Patmore’s Pork Roast,” and of course tons of liquor. Celebrate your holiday with the following recipes from The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, and download the full holiday sampler here.
Creamy Butternut Squash Soup
Even Downton Abbey has its cold, damp evenings, and with such a large house, one is sure to catch the shivers now and then. Fortunately this thick and creamy soup is sure to warm up the most frigid of guests! Perhaps Daisy, after witnessing the dead body of Pamuk, would see if there were any leftovers of this soup available to warm her chilled spirits.
Yields 4 Servings
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 (32-ounce) container chicken stock
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup sour cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onions, carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, and squash. Cook for 8–10 minutes or until lightly browned. Pour in enough chicken stock to fully cover the vegetables. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover pot and let simmer for 45 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Stir in curry powder and nutmeg.
2. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth. Stir in sour cream, then salt and pepper to taste.
Downton Abbey was actually quite lucky to have Mrs. Patmore and her helper Daisy on staff. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution and World War I, new factory job openings lured many staff members away from their jobs at country estates. This in turn led to a rise in household management books, as many hostesses found themselves with inadequate staff.