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.
Spinach and Feta Salad with Fresh Beetroot
The unique addition of fresh beets — known as beetroot in London — mixed with these ingredients makes for a surprising, but delicious salad that everyone at Downton Abbey would enjoy. The festive mix of sweet flavors (such as maple syrup and orange juice) would provide guests at any garden party or luncheon with an extra excuse to smile.
Yields 4–6 Servings
4 medium beets, scrubbed, trimmed, and cut in half
½ cup walnuts, chopped
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
10 ounces fresh spinach, washed and dried
½ cup frozen orange juice concentrate
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 oranges, sliced
1. Place beets in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then cook for 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool, then cut beets into cubes.
2. Place walnuts in a skillet and briefly heat over medium-low heat. Add maple syrup and butter. Cook and stir until walnuts are evenly coated, then remove from heat and let cool.
3. In a small bowl whisk together orange juice concentrate, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil, and set aside.
4. Place a large helping of spinach leaves on plates, then divide candied walnuts among plates over greens. Place equal amount of beets over greens, then top with feta cheese. Drizzle each plate with some of the dressing, followed by orange slices.
Crunchy Fig and Bleu Cheese Tarts
As any experienced chef would know, bleu cheese brings out the sweet taste of figs like no other ingredient. Thus, Mrs. Patmore would bake these delicious hors d’oeuvres that are simultaneously sweet and tart. Eaters beware, however: Nothing is as tart as the Crawley sense of humor!
Yields 4–6 Servings
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
For Walnut Crunch
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon heavy cream
¼ cup toasted walnuts, chopped
⅔ cup sugar
1 tablespoon lukewarm water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 fresh figs, halved lengthwise and stems removed
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup sweet port
6 ounces Stilton bleu cheese, crumbled, room temperature
Honey to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Roll out puff pastry sheet on a clean, lightly-floured surface. Place puff pastry sheet in a well-greased baking pan and then place another sheet pan on top of puff pastry to prevent it from rising too much.
3. Bake puff pastry in preheated oven (with sheet pan still on top) for 5–8 minutes or until beginning to turn golden. Remove and set aside.
4. To make walnut crunch: In a medium-sized skillet, stir honey, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and salt over medium heat until butter melts. Cook mixture until it boils and reaches a deep golden brown, about 3–5 minutes. Stir in cream, followed by walnuts. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, then pour out over a sheet of heavy foil. Let cool completely, then chop walnut crunch into small pieces.
5. To prepare figs: Mix sugar, water, and salt in a heavy skillet over medium heat until sugar is evenly moist, adding more water if needed. Cook mixture until sugar turns golden, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Place figs cut-side down in sugar mixture. Cook figs until they begin to release juice. Immediately add butter, swirling skillet to melt. Remove from heat and add port. Let figs marinate in port mixture for 5–10 minutes before removing figs to a plate to cool. Once again bring syrup to a boil, whisking until smooth. Cool completely.
6. Using a 2- to 3-inch pastry cutter, cut out rounds of semi-baked puff pastry. Divide walnut mixture among rounds, then top with fig halves, cut-side up.
7. Bake tartlets in preheated oven (still at 350° F.) for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
8. Artfully arrange cheese on top of tartlets, followed by the sweet port syrup. Drizzle with honey and serve.
If you choose to serve this dish as a dessert rather than as an appetizer, try pairing these pastries with a delicious yet full-bodied dessert wine such as a Riesling, Moscato, or Chianti. Be careful, however, Moscato can be an especially sweet wine, and depending on the brand can easily overpower, rather than complement, the bleu cheese.
Crawley Family Chicken Breasts with Caper Cream Sauce
This dish combines the Edwardian love for capers/salty appetizers in a fancy entrée. As this is a relatively inexpensive yet still elegant dish to offer, this would be a staple for Downton Abbey dinners when no guests are present.
Yields 4 Servings
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons lemon pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh dill
1½ teaspoons garlic powder
½ cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, diced
½ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons dry white wine
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
1. Thoroughly season chicken breasts with lemon pepper, sea salt, black pepper, dill, and garlic powder. Then marinate chicken breasts for at least 2 hours in lemon juice.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sugar, and sauté for 5 minutes. Then place breasts in skillet and increase heat to medium-high. Turn chicken frequently until brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook breasts for 5–7 minutes or until breasts are cooked through. Remove chicken, cover with foil, and keep warm.
3. Increase heat to high, and whisk in wine and heavy cream. Whisk until mixture is reduced to a sauce like consistency, about 2–3 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in capers. Pour sauce over chicken breasts and serve.
Mrs. Patmore’s Perfect Pork Roast
Considering the healthy appetites attached to the unhealthy soldiers entering Downton Abbey, Mrs. Patmore couldn’t go wrong serving this large, delicious roast! This large, filling dish requires sparse ingredients and, more importantly, little time to concoct, thus making it perfect for when Mrs. Patmore was trying to find the time to feed the wounded, the family, and her staff.
Yields 8–10 Servings
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons marjoram
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (4-pound) boneless pork loin
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. In a small bowl, combine minced garlic, marjoram, salt, sage, and olive oil.
3. Rub spice mixture all over roast, then place roast in a shallow roasting pan.
4. Bake roast uncovered in preheated oven for 1 hour or until the meat thermometer reads 150° F. Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.
While modern parties might suggest serving this pork roast with pineapple and oranges (à la Hawaiian luau), such would not be the case during Victorian and Edwardian times. In fact, one Victorian etiquette guide advised, “Never embark on an orange,” as it was considered rude to use your fingers to peel fruit, and there wasn’t another way to get to an orange’s juicy interior.
Mixed Berry Scones
This dish would be a favorite of Countess Cora’s to offer to her younger guests with their tea. While visitors such as the Dowager Countess might prefer less flavorful options, these scones would give a needed variety — not to mention flavor — to a meal that most of Cora’s guests would have experienced on a daily basis.
Makes 10–12 Scones
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup turbinado sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into ¼- to ½-inch pieces
½ cup fresh blueberries
½ cup fresh blackberries
½ cup fresh raspberries
½ cup hulled and quartered fresh strawberries
1¼ cups buttermilk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup heavy cream (for brushing)
½ cup sugar (for sprinkling)
1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.
2. In a large bowl and using a wooden spoon, mix together the flour, both sugars, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
3. Using your bare hands, work the butter into the flour mixture until it has the consistency of bread crumbs. Add berries, mixing well, so that the berries are evenly distributed.
4. In a small bowl, mix together the buttermilk and vanilla extract with a fork.
5. Once again using your hands, dig a well in the center of the dry mixture and pour the buttermilk mixture into the well. Still using your hands, combine the ingredients until the entire mixture appears wet. Do not over knead.
6. Turn the mixture onto a lightly- floured surface. Gently pat down the dough to make a disk about 1½–2 inches thick. Using a biscuit cutter (or a knife if you don’t have a biscuit cutter), cut out as many scones as possible and lay them on the baking sheet. Gather together the remaining dough to cut out more scones… but once again, don’t knead the dough too much.
7. Liberally brush heavy cream over the top of each scone, then sprinkle them with sugar. Bake the scones for 10–12 minutes or until they are lightly browned.
Contrary to popular belief, a lady should never hold her tea cup with her pinkie finger extended. Instead, a woman should place her index finger into the handle of the cup up to the knuckle while placing her thumb on the top of the handle to secure the cup. The bottom of the handle should then rest on her middle finger. The third and fourth fingers should curve back toward the wrist.
Mrs. Patmore’s Christmas Pudding
This pudding didn’t become a traditional Christmas dish until the Victorian era, when Prince Albert introduced it to his followers. The only difference between this traditional Christmas pudding and a Christmas cake is that this pudding contains a suet and is steamed rather than baked. During the Downton Abbey Christmas Special, note how much the upper crust enjoyed this treat, especially when it is flamed (another tradition, meant to represent the passion of Christ).
Yields 8–10 Servings
1 pound dried mixed fruit (golden raisins, regular raisins, and currants)
1 ounce mixed candied peel, finely chopped
1 small apple, peeled and finely chopped
1 large orange, juiced and peel used for zest
½ lemon, juiced and peel used for zest
¼ cup brandy, plus extra for topping
2 ounces self-rising flour, sifted
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 ounces shredded suet
⅔ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
¼ cup ground almonds
½ cup chopped walnuts
2 large eggs
1. Lightly grease a 1.4-liter (1½-quart) pudding pan. Place the dried fruits, candied peel, apple, orange zest, and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Add the brandy and stir well. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and marinate overnight.
2. In another large mixing bowl, stir together the self-rising flour, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon. Add the suet, brown sugar, bread crumbs, almonds, and walnuts one ingredient at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add the marinated dried fruits and stir well.
3. In a small bowl, beat together the large eggs. Then stir into the dry ingredients. The mixture by now should have a fairly soft consistency.
4. Now each member of your family should drop in coins and take a turn stirring the pudding.
5. Using a wooden spoon, spoon the pudding into the pudding pan, pressing the mixture down with the back of the spoon. Cover with two layers of parchment paper, followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Tie with a string.
6. Place the pudding in a steamer over simmering water and steam the pudding for at least 7 hours. Make sure you check the water frequently so that it doesn’t boil dry. The pudding should become a dark brown. This is a recipe for a dark, sticky, and dense pudding.
7. Remove the pudding from the steamer and let it cool completely. This may take a while. Remove aluminum foil and parchment paper, then prick the pudding with a skewer and pour in a little extra brandy. Cover with another set of parchment paper and tie again with string. Store until Christmas, then reheat. Note: The pudding should not be served immediately after baking. It needs to be stored and rest for at least 48 hours. Eating the pudding immediately will not only cause it to collapse but will stop the flavors from officially ripening.