by Pamela Foster, DowntonAbbeyCooks.comSeason 2 brings war to Downton Abbey, and this past week we jump right into the wartime Britain, a full 2 ½ hours covering the period of 1916 to 1917.
With the benefit of hindsight, we know that war was imminent. In the final episode of Season 1, we hear of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (June 28, 1914) so the clock was ticking: war was declared one month later on July 28th. The garden party was certainly an appropriate marker for the announcement that “we are at war with Germany”. In spite of all the personal drama (Cora losing her baby, and Matthew breaking from Mary) war would bring an end to the gentle, leisurely life at Downton.
For the first minute of Season 2 you aren’t quite sure you are watching Downton Abbey. It opens abruptly with a battle scene, stamped “The Somme, 1916”. One of the largest and bloodiest battles of the War, it lasted four months (July to November) near the Somme River in France. As an aside, Canada played a part in that battle which solidified our reputation in battle. David Lloyd George would write that “Canadians played a part of such distinction that thenceforward they were marked out as storm troops; for the remainder of the war they were brought along to head the assault in one great battle after another. Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst.”
In the two years that have passed we learn that Matthew enlisted in the army and is engaged to Lavinia Swire. Mary is being courted by Sir Richard Carlisle, a self-made man in the newspaper business. And just when Anna and Bates seem close to a happy ending, his wife Vera turns up, threatening to expose the Pamuk scandal and Anna’s role in it. Ethel, the new maid, is a big dreamer. She asks for crêpes (our Downton dish from last week) which Mrs. Patmore feeds to Isis, the family dog.
The war touches Downton in a number of ways. Robert is in uniform, although his appointment is ceremonial. With so many young men enlisting, including William, it is hard to find good help. Lang, the new valet, does not last long as he suffers from shell-shock. Thomas has found himself on the front lines, and realizes that the quickest way to be sent home is to be wounded, which is conveniently arranged by a well-placed German bullet.
While Edith learns to drive and flirts with Farmer Drake (he almost died in Season 1), it is Lady Sybil’s actions which stand out. She is encouraged by Isobel to take up nursing. In one of my favorite sequences of the series, she takes cooking lessons from Mrs. Patmore and Daisy. It is her involvement in the hospital with Isobel which leads to the idea that Downton should play its part in the war as a place for convalescing officers.
This week’s Downton Dish is soup. A special soup is prepared for a guest who visits Downton in this week’s episode.
This Week’s Downton Dish: Cream of Barley Soup
This is a traditional barley soup which was served in 1st Class on the ill-fated Titanic. While the servants enjoyed hearty soups in the servants hall, soups upstairs were rich in flavor, but less substantial since there were many, many courses to follow. With no actual cream in the recipe, it is heart healthy.
- 1/3 cup pearl barley
- 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 small carrot, finely chopped
- 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
- 8 cups low sodium chicken stock
- 1 egg yolk (I freeze the white for another purpose)
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- nutmeg, freshly grated
- fresh parsley, chopped for garnish
- nonfat strained yoghurt to drizzle (optional)
- Wash the barley, heat in a pot of cold water to the boil for a few minutes, then drain and let cool.
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, and sauté the vegetables until lightly browned.
- Add the barley and chicken stock and simmer uncovered for an hour or two. The longer the better in my view to give the flavours a chance to full blend.
- Strain into a clean saucepan and season with a touch of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Save the vegetables to add to a servants hall soup, or you can enjoy a nice little snack of flavourful barley vegetable mix.
- To incorporate the egg without it curdling, temper it by spooning a little of the liquid into a separate small bowl, add the egg yolk and mix well. Stir this back into the soup pot.
- Reheat the mixture, but don’t let it boil or the egg with curdle.
- Sprinkle with chopped parsley and bread croutons, and drizzle a little yoghurt if you like before serving.
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). A signed copy of her ecookbook Abbey Cooks Entertain can be downloaded from her website and regular copies from Kobo or Amazon.ca. (Get a sneak peek here.)
all Downton Abbey photos (c) NBC Universal/ITV
photos of Pamela Foster/Abbey Cooks Entertain/recipe dishes courtesy Pamela Foster