by Pamela Foster, DowntonAbbeyCooks.comThere is much happening in the WWI world of Downton Abbey. As you may recall, Downton has been converted into a convalescent home for officers, bringing Sybil and Thomas back home, and creating a turf war between Cora and Isobel over the running of the house. Anna learned that Mr. Bates had returned to the area and was working at a local pub, determined to make a clean break from Vera before returning to Downton. And poor Daisy is pressured to play along with William’s imagined romance.
This week there was a flurry of activity at the Abbey. According to the Dowager Downton was like “a second-rate hotel where the guests keep arriving and no one seems to leave.” But there are departures. Along with recovered officers, both Ethel and Isobel are discharged from the Abbey. Ethel gets her wish to leave service when she is discovered with Major Bryant in a compromising position. Cora maintained her home field advantage and Isobel leaves in a huff to help the war effort in France. Lord Grantham fetches Mr. Bates and returns to be with his beloved Anna. In the process poor Mr. Molesley is caught both coming and going, left without a new job and his shoe horn.
On the battlefield Matthew and William go missing while playing hide and seek with the Hun. Miracles occur when the Crawley sisters perform a rare duet for the officers: the missing men appear right on cue to finish the song. Branson continues to secretly pursue Sybil, and yet the wise Dowager suspects something might be up.
Mrs. Bird finds herself running a soup kitchen after a war veteran knocks on the door asking for food. Mrs. Patmore and Daisy discover the enterprise and begin to bring food from Downton to help the cause. O’Brien, quick to sniff a scandal, drags Cora to the Crawley house to catch thieves in the act. To O’Brien’s dismay, Lady Cora not only applauds their initiative, but forces her to help serve.
While he was hardly the first person to come up with the idea to feed the poor, American born Count Rumford has been credited with establishing the first soup kitchens in the late 1700s. Born Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford is famed as a scientist, a diplomat, military administrator, inventor, culinary expert, philanthropist and social philosopher. He fled to Britain during the American Revolution, labeled as a British Loyalist. There are a few different accounts as to how his soup kitchen evolved. One version tells that in a plan to rid Munich of beggars, he had the army round up beggars and their children, putting them into workhouses to make military uniforms. The workers needed to be fed and Rumford created a nutrient rich soup make of peas, barley and broken white bread (the invention of the crouton). Soup houses were soon established throughout Europe, England and the United States to feed the poor. In London, as many as sixty thousand people were fed daily from Rumford’s soup kitchens.
With St. Patrick’s Day on the horizon and a two tissue episode coming up this week, take comfort in some colcannon, a traditional Irish dish which likely was served at Mr. Bates’ Red Lion.
This Week’s Downton Dish: Colcannon
Colcannon is a lovely Irish comfort food combining potatoes and cabbage, all mashed together. It can be served as side dish, or sausages added to make a main course feast. Traditionally made with cream, I have lightened this version by using non fat plain yoghurt. Leftovers are great fried up as Colcannon Cakes.
- 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 4-6 yukon gold potatoes, cubed
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 whole cabbage, shredded
- Optional: 6 sausages (lower fat preferred) but purists would use Irish banger sausages
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, optional
- 1 bottle of beer
- 1-2 cups nonfat plain yoghurt
- salt and pepper to taste
1, Heat the oil and butter in a large dutch oven. If you are making a main dish colcannon, brown the sausages then remove.
2. Add potatoes and onions to the pan and stir to coat.
3. Add cabbage and parsley and mix well.
4. Return sausages on top of mixture (or go to the next step if this is the veggie version).
5. Cover with tight fitting lid and simmer, stirring occasionally until potatoes and cabbage are soft, about 45 minutes.
6. Add as much beer as needed to keep colcannon moist.
7. As soon as the potatoes and cabbage are soft, remove the sausages, if using.
8. Add enough yoghurt to the mixture and mix until it resembles mashed potatoes.
9. Add salt and white pepper to taste and sprinkle with the parsley if you want a splash of color.
10. Chop up the sausages and add to the mix and serve.
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