Appetizers Food & Dining blog logo

HANDOUT / Cathal MacIlwaine/Carnival Film

Characters like Isobel Crawley (played by Penelope Wilton) drive the plot of “Downton Abbey,” but the food also plays a big role. Two cookbooks, re-issued in paperback, offer insight into those elaborate meals along with hundreds of authentic recipes.

More Information

  • PBS' 'Downton Abbey' begins 4th season Jan. 5
  • Slow-Roasted Pork Belly with Cider

    Serves 6 to 8

    This sort of roast-and-apples combination is a traditional British favorite, especially in the manor houses portrayed in “Downton Abbey.” The original recipe calls for very tart Bramley apples, the most popular cooking apple in England. But Granny Smith apples make a good American substitute. This same technique would work for other large cuts of pork such as a shoulder roast.


    garlic cloves, crushed

    large tart apples, peeled, cored and thickly sliced

    big sprig of fresh rosemary

    sprigs of fresh thyme

    bunch fresh parsley

    12 sage leaves

    Salt and pepper

    5-pound pork belly, the skin well scored

    1-1/2 cups apple cider


    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the garlic, apple slices and herbs on the bottom of a roasting tin. Season the meat-side of the roast with salt and pepper. Lay the pork, skin side up, on top of the apples and herbs, then pour the cider over the roast. Cover with foil and cook in a moderate oven for 2-1/2 hours or until the meat is tender.

    Remove foil. If desired, place the roast under a hot broiler for a few minutes to crisp the skin until crackling, watching all the time in case it starts to burn.

    Adapted from “Recipes from an Edwardian Country House” by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall (Marble Arch Press, $16).

Recipe for a 'Downton Abbey' celebration

Published: Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 - 4:00 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 - 6:17 pm

Sunday night and you’ve got company coming for a celebration of a much-anticipated new season of “Downton Abbey.”

What would Mrs. Patmore do?

Faced with such a gathering, the abbey’s stalwart cook would flip through her closely guarded recipe book to pull out just the right multi-course extravaganza, the kind of meal that would knock the cashmere socks off its lucky diners.

Lesley Nicol, the actress who portrays the kitchen’s squat dynamo, explained her character’s motivation to reporters in anticipation of Sunday’s season premiere. Mrs. Patmore has to be her demanding self because the head cook is “solely responsible for the food in that house. If you go to dinner at Downton, it’s got to be the best you’ve ever had. Sometimes people are harsh because they need things to be right.”

Fan interest in the phenomenally successful British melodrama, which starts its fourth season at 9 p.m. Sunday on KVIE, has prompted publishers to re-issue books that tie into viewers’ thirst for all things Edwardian. That includes cookbooks.

Two examples are re-issues of British cooking classics in paperback: “Margaret Powell’s Cookery Book” (St. Martin’s Griffin, $16.99) and “Recipes from an Edwardian Country House” (Marble Arch Press, $16).

Margaret Powell is best known as the “Downstairs” kitchen maid and cook who wrote “Below Stairs.” That 1968 memoir inspired the original “Upstairs, Downstairs” TV series that premiered in 1971. Its direct dramatic lineage to “Downton Abbey” is unquestionable.

Powell, who died in 1984, offers more than 500 recipes that she used to create elaborate seven-course dinners and five-course luncheons plus the more humble food she fed the staff. Her commentary echoes Mrs. Patmore; it simply to be the best. Some recipes (Roast Chicken Stuffed with Herbs, Shepherd’s Pie) are immediately accessible while others (Compote of Snipe, Queen Mab Pudding) are more like a reading companion to “Downton Abbey.” (So, that’s what they were eating?!)

Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “Recipes from an Edwardian Country House” is a nostalgic look back by a modern cook. As a child during World War II, the author lived in her family’s manor house and became fast friends with the cook, whose recipes dated back to those gilded days. The mother of British celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jane updates some recipes for modern tastes (less salt, more herbs) but stays true to these country classics’ very British roots.

It’s something to chew on while watching “Downton Abbey’s” Season 4.

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington

About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

Appetizers Archives

Note: The Appetizers blog switched blog platforms in August 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

Sacramento Bee Job listing powered by
Quick Job Search
Sacramento Bee Jobs »
Used Cars
Dealer and private-party ads


Price Range:
Search within:
miles of ZIP

Advanced Search | 1982 & Older