Rather than letting it serve as mere eye candy, creator and writer Julian Fellowes has worked crepes, puddings, roast chicken and other edible props into some of the series’s most memorable plots.
‘Downton Abbey’: What to eat while you’re watching
Who can forget Mrs. Patmore’s disastrously salty raspberry meringue pudding? How many fans fell hook, line and sinker for the implication that Branson the chauffeur would off the famous British general with a poison-laden soup?
The lavish spreads enjoyed by the aristocratic Crawley family in early-20th-century England are enough to inspire envy in those who might be watching with a microwave dinner in their laps. The show has revived an interest in British food, particularly that of the 1910s and 1920s, that could easily fall prey to stereotypes: Aspic! Haggis! Puddings! Instead, viewers have embraced the comestibles they’ve seen on the small screen, with spinoffs including Pinterest boards, blogs and a recently released unofficial cookbook.
“Because they love the show, it makes them more interested in the history of the food that was on the show,” says Pamela Foster, a Toronto marketing professional who has put her history degree to good use on her Downton Abbey Cooks blog. “It’s sort of a teaching point to connect people to history.”
There’s no getting around the fact that there were lots of jellied molds, some of which were very attractive, and, we dare say, tasty. The cuisine received an extra surge of elegance thanks to the influence of King Edward VII, who had an affinity for French food.
“He loved a good time and a good laugh and a good meal,” says Foster, who just released a self-published e-cookbook, “Abbey Cooks Entertain,” with plenty of dishes inspired by France.
Some noble families employed French cooks on the weekend — “What is a weekend?” as the Dowager Countess of Grantham might say — when they did a lot of entertaining, according to the Countess of Carnarvon, who, with her husband, the Earl of Carnarvon, lives at the 50-plus-bedroom Highclere Castle, where “Downton Abbey” is filmed.
“There might be a Mrs. Patmore perhaps, but over the top of her there might be a more highly paid chef to impress the guests,” the Countess says. Even without today’s technology, “they produced absolutely beautiful food, beautifully set up.”
At Highclere Castle, the downstairs area once included marble tops in a pastry area and separate preparation spaces for different types of food to avoid cross-contamination, says the Countess, who is also addressed as Lady Carnarvon.
Replicating that setting for the show requires a tremendous amount of research and logistics. Because the downstairs portion of Highclere couldn’t stand in for the servants’ quarters on “Downton Abbey,” the production team built a kitchen set at London’s Ealing Studios, about 60 miles from the castle.