by Pamela Foster
Welcome to Downton Day in Canada
It’s a brand new year, a time for new beginnings, new rituals. I am thrilled that fellow Downton Abbey fans can now claim Wednesdays as Downton Day in Canada. Starting January 2nd, Vision TV will broadcast Downton Abbey episodes from its beginning to the newly released Season 3. This is an excellent opportunity to discover Downton Abbey, or to fall in love all over again with the beautiful English country house, and the people who live there.
Downton Abbey has captured the imaginations of viewers in over 180 countries around the world. The story follows the lives of fictional English aristocrats, the Crawley family, and the servants who tend to their employers and the grand house. The show opens in 1912, travels through World War I in Season 2, and into the 1920s in Season 3.
The critically acclaimed show is beautifully written by Julian Fellowes who won an Oscar for Gosford Park. With an estimated production budget of over £1m per episode it is stunning to watch. The upstairs scenes are shot at Highclere Castle, located two hours west of London.
I am a devoted fan of history, food, and Downton Abbey, but it was my husband, whom I affectionately refer to as Lord D, who was the first Downton fan in our family. He wears his noble English heritage with humble pride and envisions his ancestors travelling in the same social circles as the Crawley family at a time when honor and decorum was the norm. It was the food which captured my imagination. Food is a full sensory experience; to eat the same food as our forefathers connects us to the past.
Great food has a history, and as a culinary historian my curiosity compelled me to explore the food served at Downton, how it was prepared, and the culinary influences of the era. The Edwardian era (1901-1919), named for King Edward VII, was a great time for food. It played an important role in displaying wealth and power in England. Many deals and political alliances were forged across the dining room table as white-gloved footmen served multiple courses of beautiful food to well-appointed diners.
Join me each week as we follow each episode of Downton Abbey, providing a brief overview of the major plotlines from the previous week’s episode. More importantly we will explore the wonderful food served at Downton. We will prepare a recipe which makes a cameo appearance on the show, or which would have been served upstairs or down at Downton. Sometimes a dish plays a key role in the storyline of the show, at other times it just serves as part of the rich tapestry. Most dishes have their own story to share. You may be surprised to learn the history of some of the dishes you regularly enjoy.
English cuisine is more than just pub food. The British Empire was far reaching and brought a variety of influences to houses like Downton. King Edward VII was particularly fond of French cuisine so if you like French food, you will love Downton Dishes.
As a fellow Zoomer I understand the importance of health and nutrition in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We will be choosing dishes which are healthier to begin with. When it comes to desserts we will make them lighter without losing taste.
If you look closely, the first dish we see prepared in the Downton kitchen is Kedgeree, a traditional English breakfast dish. Kedgeree originated in India, based on khishri, brought back to the UK by British Colonials who introduced it as a breakfast/brunch dish in the Victorian era.
Today’s Downton Dish is Kedgeree
It is a simple and practical dish which, before refrigeration, allowed cooks to use cooked ingredients to make a hearty and appealing dish. I am not a fan of the term “left-over” as it has a negative connotation. I prefer to think that we “make over” previously prepared ingredients to give them a new life.
Essentially the ingredients are boiled rice, chopped hard-boiled egg and cold minced fish, fried in one pan, flavored with spices, and garnished with parsley. Kedgeree is often served with softly scrambled eggs but you may prefer mashed potatoes.
– 2 cups cooked long grain basmati rice (or brown rice)
– 2 fillets of smoked haddock (or any other white fish), bones and skin removed
– 2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and chopped finely (use more eggs if you like)
– 1¼ cups milk
– 2 tbsp. of butter
– Small onion, peeled and finely chopped
– 1 tsp. curry powder
– ½ tsp. grated nutmeg
– Ground pepper (to taste)
– Fresh parsley, finely chopped to garnish
1. Using a large frying pan, melt the butter, then sweat the onions on mid/low heat.
2. Add the rice and heat. You don’t want to brown it as it will dry out your dish. You may wish to add some chicken stock if your rice has dried out in the fridge.
3. In the meantime, poach the fish in hot milk for five minutes and drain just before adding to the frying pan.
4. When the rice is ready, stir in the flaked fish, chopped eggs, curry powder, nutmeg and pepper, using a fork to stir the flaked fish (to prevent the rice from breaking up).
Pamela Foster is a culinary historian who resides in the Greater Toronto Area with her husband, affectionately referred to as Lord D. Her popular blog Downton Abbey Cooks explores food, history and health of the Downton era (1912- 1920s). Her ecookbook Abbey Cooks Entertain can be downloaded from her website or through Kobo or Amazon.ca. (Get a sneak peek here.)
all Downton Abbey photos (c) NBC Universal/ITV
photos of Pamela Foster/Abbey Cooks Entertain courtesy Pamela Foster