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The Weekly Downton Dish: Downton Distressed

The Weekly Downton Dish: Banbury Tarts by Pamela Foster, DowntonAbbeyCooks.com

by Pamela Foster, DowntonAbbeyCooks.com

Culinary Historian Pamela Foster - DowntonAbbeyCooks.com

Culinary Historian Pamela Foster

The war certainly has changed Downton Abbey. We fondly remember the days when Carson took great pride in maintaining order and decorum in the running of Downton, but the war has engulfed our favorite house in chaos. Many aristocratic families were affected in similar ways. Their ancestors were valiant soldiers, granted vast tracts of land by grateful Kings and Queens, so there was no question that this generation would volunteer for service to their country. Some heirs came home wounded, others did not return at all, and the combination of death and land taxes forced many families to sell their beloved country homes. What fate awaits Downton?

A quick recap: Downton now serves as a convalescent home for wounded officers, the Crawley family relinquishing their grand rooms for patient care. Able-bodied men have left Downton for the battlefields of France, and The Crawley House opens a soup kitchen now that the house is empty. Matthew and William go missing for a time, but to everyone’s relief they turn up safe and sound.

This past episode required at least two hankies for diehard fans. It seems that everyone was embroiled in crisis. Tipped off that Bates is back at Downton, Vera is back to cause trouble. She threatens to sell the Pamuk story to the papers to spite Bates and Anna. Anna quickly tells Mary, who asks Sir Richard to squelch the story, saving the Crawley family from scandal. Sir Richard seems to delight in gaining the upper hand over his fiancé. He does her bidding and seals the deal by publishing their wedding announcement in the papers. Vera is furious that she has been duped. We can only imagine what will come next.

Downton Abbey S2E4: The despicable Vera Bates (Maria Doyle Kennedy)

The despicable Vera Bates (Maria Doyle Kennedy)

Downton Abbey S2E3: Daisy and William after he asks her to be his girl

Daisy (Sophie McShera) and William (Thomas Howes) after he asks her to be his girl

Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes has been feeding Ethel and her illegitimate son from Downton’s pantry, and reluctantly acts as a messenger when Major Bryant returns to Downton for a visit. She is unable to persuade the mustached menace to take responsibility for his actions.

Most of our distress surrounds the plight of Matthew and William. Dutiful William protects Matthew from a shell blast which resulted in severe damage to his lungs, and paralysis for Matthew. The Dowager calls in a favour from Cousin Shrimpy to have William moved closer to home, and then to Downton where he can be made comfortable. After William successfully convinces Daisy as his dying wish to marry him, Violet is able to persuade Travis (he lives on the Crawley dole after all) to perform the wedding ceremony. Poor Daisy is guilted into the marriage, but stays with William in his last few hours.

Downton Abbey S2E4: Lady Mary and Lady Sybil prepare for injured Matthew to arrive

Lady Mary and Lady Sybil prepare for injured Matthew to arrive

(l to r) Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery)

Matthew’s fate is no less tragic. Dr. Clarkson’s prognosis is that his spine has been severed, which will leave him paralyzed and unable to father children. While Mary cares for the man she cannot have, Matthew breaks his engagement with Lavinia to save her from a sexless/childless marriage. The unspoken question remains: what will become of the future of Downton if Matthew is not able to father an heir.

Coming up this week, a Canadian patient with an incredible story. This week’s Downton Dish is Banbury Tarts, with great similarity to our beloved butter tarts.

This Week’s Downton Dish: Banbury Tarts

This Week's Downton Dish: Banbury Tarts by Pamela Foster, DowntonAbbeyCooks.comBanbury Tarts are a traditional tea treat named after the town of Banbury, Oxfordshire in England. There are regional variations of this classic tart, some calling for raisins, others with figs, candied peel or currants and walnuts. These tarts remind Canadians of our beloved butter tarts. Considering Canada was a British colony, it is not surprising we created a similar tart, using raisins instead of currants or other dried fruit.

Makes 24 tartlets perfect for tea, or 12 larger muffin sized tarts for snacking.


  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • 1½ cups raisins (you may wish to rough chop if you are making tartlets)
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • ½ portion, my never fail pie pastry recipe*


  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Roll dough out to 1/8″ thickness.  Use a 2″ biscuit/scone cutter (or empty tomato paste can) to make the mini tarts, a 4″ cutter (or empty tuna can) for the larger muffin size.
  3. Combine butter, brown sugar, honey, salt and vanilla. Heat over low heat.
  4. Whip up eggs until foamy and add to the butter mixture, along with raisins.
  5. Fill shells ½ full so the shells do not overflow, but Lord D loves the sticky bits that bubble over so I often indulge him on his point.
  6. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes.
  7. The tarts freeze really well.

*Never Fail Pie Pastry:

This is an old family recipe which makes enough pie crust for 5 double crusts. I typically make a batch and freeze what I don’t use to be ready for the next time I want to make pie or tarts.


  • 5 ½ cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 lb. shortening (Crisco)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp. vinegar


  1. Sift dry ingredients
  2. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or two forks
  3. Put egg and vinegar in a measuring cup and fill to ¾ with cold water.
  4. Mix into dry ingredients and make a dough. It isn’t particularly fussy to work with and you will end up with a flaky crust.

Downton Abbey Season 3 premieres April 10 at 9pm ET/6pm PT. Watch for our special Downton Abbey microsite to launch Monday, March 25. With photos, videos, character profiles and much more, it’ll be your online domain for all things Downton!

Watch Downton Abbey Wednesdays at 9pm ET/6pm PT. Plus, check out our Downton Abbey Series 2 landing page for new photos and polls often.

Abbey Cooks Entertain by Pamela Foster - CoverPamela 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

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