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.”
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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.