by Pamela Foster, DowntonAbbeyCooks.comAs we settle into Season 2 of Downton Abbey, it is clear that no one is left untouched by World War I, even those living in grand country homes like Downton. Many able bodied young men, including William, are eager to leave home to serve their country. Thomas, on the other hand, arranges to be wounded in action in order to be sent home from the front, and O’Brien schemes to have him placed at the local hospital where he now works with Dr. Clarkson, Isobel and Lady Sybil. A suicide prompts a determined Isobel to campaign for the use of Downton as a convalescent home for officers. The Dowager was not a fan: “What if there are relapses? What then? Amputation in the dining room? Resuscitation in the pantry?”
In spite of Violet’s protests, this week’s episode opens with last minute preparations for Downton to assume its wartime role as a convalescent home. As you may know Downton Abbey is filmed at Highclere Castle. It is likely that Highclere’s past inspired this part of the storyline. The extravagant Lady Almina decided to transform her beloved Highclere into a military hospital during World War I, and with panache. She recruited pretty young nurses, outfitted in fuchsia uniforms, to help build morale of the officers. Like Violet, she was not prepared to mix ranks, and actually welcomed only the most well-connected officers to her hospital. Her husband echoed the same complaints as Lord Grantham, annoyed that he had to share his home. Grand salons were transformed into casualty wards, bedrooms converted into operating theatres. As casualty levels rose, Almina moved the hospital to London in order to be closer to specialists. She went as far as providing butlers and footmen to attend to every need of the officers. The cost of her extravagance nearly bankrupted Highclere.Back to Downton, the changes create a political struggle between Isobel and Cora. O’Brien campaigns to have Thomas brought over to manage operations. That move delights the Crawleys (“better the creature we know”) but does not sit well with Carson who nearly dismissed Thomas for thievery before the war. Matthew arranges to have commander, General Herbert Stutt, inspect Downton. Branson decides to prepare a special soup for the visiting general. His recipe for disaster was a simple blend of “oil and ink and a bit of a cow pat, all mixed with sour milk”. I think you might prefer last week’s Downton Dish, which was a lovely cream of barley soup.
In matters of love, Violet and Rosamund scheme to discredit Lavinia, but Mary seems resigned that Matthew’s chance at happiness may lie with the sweet Lavinia. Anna tracks down Mr. Bates at a local pub, and he is determined to make a clean break from Vera before returning to Downton. William presses his romance with Daisy, and Mrs. Patmore advises her to play along with the pretense in order to send William off to war as a happy man.
We have another soup for this week’s Downton Dish. This barley soup is a servants’ hall version of last week’s soup, a hint at Mrs. Bird and Mrs. Patmore’s secret enterprise in this week’s episode.
This Week’s Downton Dish: Beef and Barley Soup
I often have lots of vegetables in the pantry, but use this list as a guideline and use what you have on hand. To add deeper flavor, add a beef soup bone to the pot. Butchers will sell them to you at a very cheap price or will give them to you for free if you are really nice.
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 1 cup chopped peeled turnip
- 1 cup cauliflower florets
- 1 cup broccoli florets
- 1 cup chopped peeled yams (red-skinned sweet potatoes)
- 1 cup chopped peeled potatoes
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 5 cups low sodium beef broth
- 5 cups low sodium chicken stock
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
- 1 1/2 pounds stewing beef, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat.
- Add vegetables; sauté 10 minutes. (you can add your beef bone at this stage, if you like)
- Add both stocks; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, skimming fat if you have added the bone. At this point I will simmer for a few hours.
- Add barley, thyme and oregano.
- Simmer until barley is tender, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes. This can be made 1 day ahead.
- Add beef to soup and simmer until cooked. I like to let the soup simmer on the stove for a few hours to let the flavours meld.
- Mix in parsley and season with salt and pepper 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