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Sizzle and Steam, Edwardian Style

By Becky Krystal
Washington Post

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  • Frankfurter, Lentil Soup
  • Green curry pork
  • What to eat while you’re watching

    Looking to throw a “Downton Abbey” viewing party? In addition to the accompanying recipes, here are some dishes that would be appropriate.

    • French 75. A champagne cocktail created during World War I, with sparkling wine, gin, simple syrup and lemon juice.

    • Deviled eggs. A staple on Edwardian appetizer platters, according to blogger Pamela Foster.

    • Roast chicken. Mrs. Patmore, the cook, saw hers fall on the floor.

    • Beef and Guinness stew. Fitting for the downstairs staff.

    • Shepherd’s pie. Something else that might be enjoyed in the servants’ hall.

    • Irish Whiskey cake. Show solidarity with Branson the chauffeur’s advocacy for Irish independence. Becky Krystal, Washington Post

  • Raspberry Meringue Pudding

    Adapted from “Abbey Cooks Entertain,” by Pamela Foster (Pamela Powered, 2012). The meringues must be made at least 2 hours and up to 2 weeks in advance. They can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. The pudding needs to chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.


    4 large egg whites, room temperature

    1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

    1 cup superfine sugar

    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


    Unsalted butter, for the casserole dish

    2 cups nonfat milk

    2/3 cup superfine sugar

    4 large egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg

    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    1 1/4 cups plain fresh bread crumbs

    Finely grated zest of 2 lemons (about 2 tablespoons)

    3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam

    1 pint raspberries

    Superfine sugar, for sprinkling

    PLACE racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

    BEAT the egg whites on high speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Once the egg whites are foamy, add the cream of tartar and beat until the whites hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar a little at a time, beating until the meringue is shiny and holds very stiff peaks, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract. (Make sure the meringue is ready by rubbing a little between your thumb and finger. It should no longer feel gritty.)

    CREATE six equal-size mounds of meringue on each baking sheet. Swirl the tops with a spoon or pipe the meringue through a bag fitted with a large star tip.

    TRANSFER the baking sheets to the oven, reduce the heat to 275 degrees and bake 1 hour, rotating the baking sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through. The meringues are done when they are pale and fairly crisp and sound hollow when gently tapped on the bottom.

    TURN off the oven, open the door a crack and leave the meringues in the oven for at least an hour to dry. (Can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.)

    BOIL a kettle of water. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease a large casserole dish with butter.

    POUR the milk into a medium saucepan and slowly bring it to a boil over medium heat.

    COMBINE sugar, 4 egg yolks and 1 whole egg in a medium bowl, whisking until the mixture is light and creamy. Temper the egg-sugar mixture by adding a little bit of the hot milk while whisking constantly, to keep the eggs from scrambling. Gradually whisk that egg-sugar mixture into the hot milk. Strain the hot milk mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding any solids. Stir in the vanilla extract, fresh bread crumbs and lemon zest, and combine well.

    POUR the pudding mixture into the casserole dish, place in a roasting pan and transfer to the oven. Fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Keep checking until the pudding is almost set, yet still slightly wobbly in the center. Remove from the water bath and place it on a wire rack to cool. Cover the cooled custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours and preferably overnight.

    MELT the jam in a small saucepan over low heat. (Or place the jam in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave on medium for 30 seconds. Stir well. Continue to microwave on medium at 10-second intervals until it has reached a fluid consistency.)

    PLACE scoops of the pudding on six serving plates. (You can use a ring mold or biscuit cutter for a cleaner round shape.) Top each serving with melted jam, a meringue and fresh raspberries. Sprinkle with superfine sugar.

    Yield: 6 servings

  • Potato Puffs

    Adapted from “Kitchen Essays,” by Agnes Jekyll (first published in 1922 by Thomas Nelson & Sons, reprinted in 2008 by Persephone Books). The potato mixture can be covered and refrigerated a day in advance; or the balls can be formed and rolled in the crumbs and then refrigerated, loosely covered, a day in advance. Bring to room temperature before baking.

    1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges

    2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters, or into sixths if the potatoes are large

    2 tablespoons unsalted butter

    2 large egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg, divided

    1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper

    2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

    2/3 cup plain dried bread crumbs (may substitute finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for half of the bread crumbs)

    1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

    LINE a work surface with a few layers of paper towels. Fill a large pot with several inches of water, add the onion wedges and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the onion is very soft, about 40 minutes, keeping the water at a low boil.

    USE a slotted spoon to transfer the onion to a colander and drain for several minutes, then transfer to the paper towels. Use more paper towels to press on the onion, extracting as much of the moisture as possible. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.

    PREHEAT the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with nonstick cooking oil spray.

    ADD the potatoes to the water in the pot; add water if needed to cover the potatoes by 1 inch. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook uncovered for 12 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain in a colander.

    RETURN the empty pot to the stove over medium heat. Return the potatoes to the pot and cook, tossing, for 1 to 2 minutes or until their moisture has evaporated.

    USE a potato ricer to shred the potatoes into a large mixing bowl, or place the potato pieces in the mixing bowl and mash with a potato masher.

    ADD the pureed onion to the potatoes and combine, then quickly beat in the butter and egg yolks. Add the salt and pepper. Beat in 1 to 2 tablespoons cream, keeping the mixture thick enough to hold its shape; if it is too thin, return to the pot over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, to dry it out a little.

    USE a fork to beat the remaining whole egg in a small bowl. Spread the bread crumbs on a small plate. Use your hands to form the potato mixture into 21 golf-ball-size balls (about 1 1/2 ounces each). Brush the balls with the beaten egg and sprinkle with a little parsley, then dip them in the crumbs, rolling to coat evenly. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

    BAKE for 20 minutes, until heated through and browned slightly. Serve hot.

    Yield: About 21 small puffs (5 to 7 servings).

  • Sauteed Chicken Lyonnaise

    The first episode of “Downton Abbey” opens just as the Titanic has just gone down at sea, taking the heir of the elegant Yorkshire estate. Perhaps he had recently eaten this dish, served to the ship’s first-class passengers. Adapted from “Abbey Cooks Entertain” by Pamela Foster (Pamela Powered Inc., 2012).

    1/3 cup all-purpose flour

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced, or 1 tablespoon dried thyme; divided

    6 (about 2 1/2 pounds) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (tenderloins removed), patted dry

    1 large egg

    3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

    2 onions, thinly sliced

    1 large clove garlic, minced

    1/3 cup white wine

    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

    2 teaspoons tomato paste

    1 cup homemade or no-salt-added chicken broth

    Pinch sugar

    PREHEAT the oven to 170 degrees or to the lowest possible temperature.

    PLACE the flour, salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme (1 1/2 teaspoons dried) in a sturdy plastic food storage bag, seal and shake to combine. Beat the egg in a medium bowl. One at a time, dip the chicken pieces into the beaten egg, letting the excess drip back into the bowl, then transfer to the bag. Seal and shake to coat the chicken in the flour mixture. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

    HEAT 2 tablespoons oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, place the chicken pieces in the pan, smooth side down, working in batches if necessary. Cook for 5 minutes, until golden brown, then turn the pieces over and cook for 5 minutes, until golden brown on the second side. (The chicken will not be cooked through.) Transfer to an ovenproof platter and place in the oven to keep warm. (If the oven can’t be set as low as 170, place the platter in the oven, turn the oven off and keep the oven door closed.)

    REDUCE the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Stir in the onions, garlic and remaining thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 to 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until a light golden brown.

    ADD the wine and vinegar; cook, stirring to scrape up any browned bits, for about 3 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the tomato paste, then the broth and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes or until the sauce is slightly reduced. Return the chicken to the skillet, along with any accumulated juices. Turn the chicken pieces to coat them, then cover, reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes or until the temperature of the thickest part of a chicken piece registers 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

    SERVE with the sauce spooned over the chicken.

    Yield: 6 servings

The romance. The intrigue. The big, beautiful country house.

We can analyze the recipe for the success of “Downton Abbey,” the British TV import that launched its third season Sunday on PBS, until our cups of tea go cold. But one element that can’t be overlooked is the food.

Rather than letting it serve as mere eye candy, creator and writer Julian Fellowes has worked crepes, puddings, roast chicken and other edible props into some of the series’ most memorable plots.

Who can forget Mrs. Patmore’s disastrously salty raspberry meringue pudding? How many fans fell for the implication that Branson the chauffeur would off a famous British general with a poison-laden soup?

The lavish spreads enjoyed by the aristocratic Crawley family in early 20th-century England are enough to inspire envy in those who might be watching with a microwave dinner in their laps. Viewers have embraced the comestibles they’ve seen on the small screen, with spinoffs including Pinterest boards, blogs and a recently released unofficial cookbook.

“Because they love the show, it makes them more interested in the history of the food that was on the show,” says Pamela Foster, a Toronto marketing professional who puts her history degree to use on her Downton Abbey Cooks blog ( “It’s sort of a teaching point to connect people to history.”

Edwardian cuisine received an extra surge of elegance thanks to the influence of King Edward VII, who had an affinity for French food.

“He loved a good time and a good laugh and a good meal,” says Foster, who just released a self-published e-cookbook, “Abbey Cooks Entertain.”

Some noble families employed French cooks on the weekend – “What is a weekend?” as the Dowager Countess of Grantham might say – when they did a lot of entertaining, according to the Countess of Carnarvon, who, with her husband, the Earl of Carnarvon, lives at the 50-plus-bedroom Highclere Castle, where “Downton Abbey” is filmed.

“There might be a Mrs. Patmore perhaps, but above her there might be a more highly paid chef to impress the guests,” the Countess says.

At Highclere, the downstairs area once included marble tops in a pastry area and separate preparation spaces for different types of food to avoid cross-contamination, says Lady Carnarvon.

Replicating that setting for the show requires research and logistics. Because the downstairs portion of Highclere couldn’t stand in for the servants’ quarters on “Downton Abbey,” the production team built a kitchen set at London’s Ealing Studios, about 60 miles from the castle.

Production designer Donal Woods says research included visits to nearly 40 English country houses and their kitchens. The cast-iron range, which in its heyday would have run on coal, is modeled after one in Leeds.

“You can actually cook on top of the range,” Woods says. “It can sizzle and steam.”

While the range may be the centerpiece, a host of other equipment is needed to fully bring to life a working kitchen. Thanks in large part to eBay, Woods helped acquire original tools such as copper molds, bowls, mixing machines and stone-glazed sinks.

“Probably about 60 to 70 percent of the stuff in there is from that period,” he says.

Fellow production designer Charmian Adams says one of her favorite antique pieces is a wall-mounted board with flaps that fold back to indicate what supplies need to be restocked. She was initially perplexed by a tab for bricks, until she learned about Bridgwater bricks. They served as a sort of kitchen scouring pad, and Adams was able to get one from a building that had started to collapse.

The “Downton Abbey” crew does a lot of that kind of creative sourcing. Food economist Lisa Heathcote consults her library of historical cookbooks as well as her own knowledge of period food to decide which comestibles will appear. “Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management” is an important guide.

Of course, the food has to be cooked and plated – twice, in some instances. A dish may be shown in the kitchen in one scene, then in the dining room in the next scene. Filming on each set occurs miles and weeks apart, so Heathcote takes many photographs and tries not to make the dishes overly complicated.

Long shoots can wreak havoc on food, so certain ingredients, particularly fish, are off-limits.

“We don’t use fish ever,” Heathcote says.

“I won’t name any names, but a couple of the actors didn’t feel brilliant with the smell of fish and mentioned it,” Adams says.

Heathcote’s tricks include dying cream cheese pinkish-red to resemble salmon mousse and serving “chicken fish,” or poultry prepared to look like fish with sauce on top.

All that results in a very elegant-looking dinner party on the set. In reality, though, it would have been even more over the top, says Lady Carnarvon.

“There were a lot more courses,” anywhere from five to seven, she says. Home cooks may soon be able try some of those courses: The Countess suggests she may publish a cookbook of Highclere recipes next year.

Also, “the table was set differently then and the decorations were more elaborate,” she says. The problem is that large centerpieces aren’t very photogenic. Imagine would-be lovers Mary and Matthew trying to make eyes at each other with a massive, ornate piece of silver.

Lady Carnarvon understands the compromises that need to be made for the purposes of television.

“It’s a fun costume drama. It’s not a social documentary,” she says. “Because it’s so popular, I think some people take it as historical fact.”

Still, the film crew does go to extreme lengths to convey authenticity. Designers created a family crest for the Crawleys, which is printed on menus and baked onto the china, Adams says. The crest had to pass muster with a heraldry authority to ensure it didn’t resemble the coat of arms of a real family.

And when there are slip-ups, the audience is bound to notice. In Season 1, an identifying mark on the bottom of a cup held by the Dowager Countess gave away the anachronism that the piece had been manufactured after 1912, when the action is supposed to be taking place.

Adams says the crew will even scrub off the lion icon stamped onto most British eggs.

Lady Carnarvon says she and Highclere’s head chef and two sous-chefs don’t live under the same kind of pressure felt by the characters of “Downton Abbey,” now that she’s been living at Highclere for 13 years.

“I think as you become more at home,” she says, “you actually become more relaxed, so if something did go wrong, I’d simply ask the staff to go get a load of pizzas.”

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