Cook Like Mrs. Patmore With The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook
By Anthony Todd in Food on Sep 24, 2012 3:00PM
If you're biting your nails and having fits over the fact that the Brits get Downton Abbey Season 3 before we do (it doesn't premiere here until January 2013) this might just tide you over: The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook was released last week. It's filled with classic English recipes inspired by the show, tidbits about the denizens of Downton and tons of asides guaranteed to make a true fan smile and nod knowingly. We sat down with author (and fangirl) Emily Ansara Baines to learn more.
Baines has been a somewhat obsessive fan since she was a kid. "When I was in 8th grade," she remembered, "I had a newsletter I wrote about The X-Files. Every one thought I was a 40-year-old, and I got a cease and desist letter from Fox." She is also the author of The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, so this wasn't her first foray into food writing.
Why a cookbook? "I really like Mrs. Patmore and Daisy, so I was always following their storyline," she said. "Originally, I was thinking of doing an etiquette guide, but I realize that it would be more interesting if there were recipes. I became fascinated by the fact that it really sucked to be a woman back then. They eat all of these decadent meals, but they are so thin, and I realized it was because they never had time to eat any of this food! They were so worried about appearances and behavior."
To write the book, Baines watched every episode of Downton Abbey and noted every time any food showed up on the screen. Sometimes, things were easy—the characters would mention a dish, and Baines could find a number of different possible variations on the recipe. Other times, a dish would appear on screen for a split second and Baines had to try to figure it out. "I was overwhelmed at first. The creators make an effort to be historically accurate and I didn't want to upset the fans, so I was very nervous. I went to the LA library and checked out as many menus and etiquette guides as I could."
After going through every variation on the possible recipe that she could find, she would test, modify and modernize them into a final version. "I had to modernize the recipes—a lot of old recipes and menu books are just paragraphs that say things like 'take a handful of peas and half a serving of water.' That doesn't make any sense!"
Baines developed or adapted recipes for banquet classics like Green Turtle Soup, Lobster Thermidor, Beef Wellington, Apple Cider Veal and "Mrs. Patmore's Dropped Roasted Chicken."
Some of the recipes in the book are inspired by the show more indirectly. "It's a lot of guesses, because they don't always talk about the food - there's too much intrigue! They talk about it in certain episodes where they drop the chicken or there's salt in the meringues." In those cases, Baines found dishes that would have been common at the time and inserted them into the Downton universe, pointing out particular occasions or episodes where they may have been served.
Possibly the best part about the cookbook? It showcases the upstairs and the downstairs, just like the show. If you're interested in cooking an upper-class banquet with 14 courses (or a formal high tea with the Dowager Countess), you'll be all set. If you're more likely to sit down with the servants, turn to the "Sustenance for the Staff" section of the book for recipes like Bubble and Squeak, Tom Branson's Guinness Corned Beef and Mushy Peas.
Even if you're not a Downton Abbey fan, this is a great general English cookbook to have on the shelf. If you are a Downton fan, it's probably a must buy - or an easy holiday gift for a fellow fan. And don't worry if you aren't a great cook. Baines isn't an expert, though she has worked in the food industry. "Anyone can cook. I was super embarrassed at first—and I burned everything. But that's normal."