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The Weekly Downton Dish: Life is a Game

The Weekly Downton Dish: Life is a Game - Treacle Tart by Pamela Foster, DowntonAbbeyCooks.comby Pamela Foster, DowntonAbbeyCooks.com

Culinary Historian Pamela Foster - DowntonAbbeyCooks.com

Culinary Historian Pamela Foster

The final episode of Season 2 has arrived, our last stop before Season 3 and the latest chapter following the lives connected to Downton Abbey, the grand house in the English countryside.

When we last visited Downton, Lavinia had succumbed to the Spanish Flu leaving the door open for the Matthew and Mary romance to reignite. Downstairs, Thomas manages to weasel his way into a job during the Spanish Flu crisis, while Bates is arrested for the murder of his wife.

In this latest episode we join the Crawleys at Christmas. Christmas was just becoming a commercial celebration in the Edwardian era, even though its roots date back to feudal society. It was the Victorians (Granny’s era) who started the trend: Charles Dickens helped popularize Christmas, and Prince Albert was a big fan who helped promote the holiday in the press. By 1910 Father Christmas was universally recognized in Europe, and exchanging Christmas cards was a well established custom. While the aristocracy lived in London during The Season when parliament was in session, everyone retreated to their country estates for the holiday. Violet makes an interesting observation during a game of charades: “Life is a game in which the player must appear ridiculous.” And so the stage is set for many of the plot lines in this episode.

Downton Abbey S2E7: The Crawleys and staff at Christmas time

The Crawleys and staff at Christmas time

Downton Abbey S2E7: Lady Rosamund and the Dowager Countess enjoy playing charades after Christmas dinner

Lady Rosamund and the Dowager Countess enjoy playing charades after Christmas dinner

In downstairs drama, Daisy realizes that her marriage brought a father figure into her life, who loves and wants the best for her. The visiting maid’s meddling prompts Daisy to stand up to Mrs. Patmore, which may help land her a promotion in the new season. Thomas’ latest scheme to gain Lord Grantham’s trust by finding the family pet (which he hides), backfires when Isis really does go missing. Thomas’ look of disheveled despair is misread as genuine concern for the animal, and is rewarded with Bates’ job as valet. Meanwhile, the testimony by his fellow employees and employer contributes to a death sentence for Bates. Matthew is quick to counsel Anna (and us) that all is not lost. The death sentence is a mere technicality.

Upstairs, Sybil is missing from the festivities but writes that she is pregnant. Lonely Edith tries to rekindle her romance with a reluctant Sir Anthony Strallan. Rosamund, also tired of being alone, doesn’t mind marrying a fortune hunter as long as he is not sleeping with her maid. Sir Richard is also unlucky in love, but will happily make a profit from the sale of Haxby. If that wasn’t enough excitement, the worlds of upstairs and down collide with the annual servants ball where dance partners are matched up by their respective rank. Crikey!

Downton Abbey S2E7: Mrs. Hughes testifies at Bates' murder trial

Mrs. Hughes testifies at Bates’ murder trial

Downton Abbey S2E7: Matthew and Mary take part in the New Year's Day hunt

Matthew and Mary take part in the New Year’s Day hunt

The secret of the Pamuk affair from Season 1 has now been revealed to Robert who gives Mary permission to drop Sir Richard, perchance to bring home a “cowboy” from America. Mary tells Matthew about Pamuk, who takes the news rather well, likely tempered by his own guilt of how he treated Lavinia. Finally, the moment we have all been waiting for arrives, and what Canadian would not be touched by a marriage proposal accented with gently falling snowflakes. Will we finally see wedding bells in Season 3?

To celebrate the arrival of Season 3, this week’s Downton Dish is Treacle Tart, the first dish served by Mrs. Patmore in the new season.

This Week’s Downton Dish: Treacle Tart

The Weekly Downton Dish: Treacle Tarts by Pamela Foster, DowntonAbbeyCooks.comTreacle simply refers to molasses. The most famous manufacturer of treacle is Lyle’s Golden Syrup, a light treacle or golden syrup. It was recently declared Britain’s oldest brand, registering its trademark in 1904 and granted a Royal Warrant in 1911.

Treacle Tart is a simple blend of golden syrup and bread crumbs in a short crust pastry. To Canadians they look similar to our butter tarts, but I think these are easier to make and with less fat since there is no butter in the filling.

Golden syrup is the key ingredient for Treacle Tarts. It is widely available in Canada, but if you can’t find golden syrup you can substitute in a few ways: Combine two parts light corn syrup plus one part molasses OR equal parts honey and corn syrup OR maple syrup (This is thinner, and not as sweet). However, there is nothing quite like the taste of treacle tarts with golden syrup, sweet with the lovely flavoring of lemon. I love making small tartlets, perfect for serving with tea.


Shortcrust pastry

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 tbsp. sugar (or sugar substitute)
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
  • 2 large egg yolks (I freeze the whites for future baking)
  • ½ tsp. vanilla
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons cold water


  • 1½ cups golden syrup
  • 1 large lemon, finely grated zest
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

Makes one 9 inch tart or 12 smaller tarts


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Combine the flour, salt, sugar. Work in butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (if you must you may use a food processor). Add the egg yolks, vanilla and water until a smooth dough is formed. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
  3. Unwrap the chilled pastry and roll out as thin as you can (cuts the calories) to fit a 9 inch fluted pan, or you can cut into circles and press into muffin tins. Work the dough into the crevices of the pan.
  4. Line with tin foil, fill with baking beans, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for 5 minutes.
  5. Heat the Golden Syrup with the lemon. Add the ginger. Sprinkle the bread crumbs in the tart shell or distribute amongst the muffin tins. Pour in the syrup. Note, the syrup may bubble when cooking so the mixture should be not fill more than half way up the sides of your container…unless you are like me and love a crispy toffee crust from the overflow. Not great for your teeth, but yummy.
  6. Use the dough trimmings to make a lattice top on the large tart if you like.
  7. Bake the larger tart for 20–30 minutes, individual sized tarts for 10 – 15 minutes.


Downton Abbey Season 3 premieres this Wednesday, April 10 at 9pm ET/6pm PT and our special Downton Abbey mini-site has launched featuring photos, videos, character profiles and much more. It’s your online domain for all things Downton!

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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