You’re just in time to join us for some freshly baked rock cakes and a bracing cup of Downton Abbey® Grantham Breakfast Blend. Would you like yours with a splash of honey and almond milk?
Better to stay indoors and chat about Downton than brave the winter of our discontent, which just keeps “gifting us” with more snow, ice, bitter winds, traffic snarls, school closings and slushy messes. We are definitely NOT amused.
Tea and Downton, Downton and tea, what would we do without you?
So, what do you think of Season 4 now that we’re about half way through?
I know some Downton fans have jumped ship — angry and disappointed with Julian Fellowes for the shocking storyline about Anna. Words like “exploitative,” “gratuitous,” “implausible,” and “manipulative” have been bandied about.
For those who have viewed Downton as a means of gentle escapism, this was simply the last straw, some saying the attack on Anna was an assault on the series itself, definitely marking a turning point for better or worse. A devastating turn of events to be sure, with Joanne Froggatt turning in a brilliant performance. It’s interesting how this plotline is unfolding — Bates must temper his smoldering rage with genuine care and concern for Anna. What repercussions? Will justice be served?
Meanwhile, I’m loving Mrs. Hughes for putting scheming Edna in her place and for how she handled telling Bates about Anna. So relieved Nanny West was sacked (weirdo).
I’m irritated with Jimmy at this point, and weary of sad sack Molesley, but you have to admit he provides welcome comic relief. Nice exchanges between frenemies Violet and Isobel, a little too convenient that Napier shows up right after Mary turns down Gillingham, I’m worried about Edith, always interesting to guess at Barrow’s mischief, and (gasp!) Rose carrying on with a black jazz singer! As usual, really loving what’s cookin’ in the kitchen. Lots going on in this time of great change for upstairs and down.
Did you notice the first food to appear in Episode 1 was a cup of tea? Mrs. Hughes serves a good morning cuppa to Robert in bed as a dismayed Cora talks about O’Brien’s sudden departure.
Love how Lady Mary instinctively rings for tea when suitors Lord Gillingham and Evelyn Napier come calling, how Tom Branson hands her a nice cuppa while encouraging her to take up a hobby, and there’s also Rose convincing Anna to accompany her to a tea dance in York. And how about that wonderful scene in the Great Hall with all the dinner guests chit chatting, cups and saucers in hand?
It’s been wonderful seeing Alfred prepare for his Ritz cooking test (hooray for béchamel and pâte à choux, c’est dommage about the vichyssoise). Lovely to see Mrs. Patmore, Carson and Mrs. Hughes all encouraging him, Daisy helping him out — but poor girl, he’s leaving after all. I really feel for her and only wish it had been possible back then for her to pursue a chef’s career too. Imagine the fun she and Alfred could have in London — as fellow apprentice chefs and friends, then maybe something more? Sigh.
Though it might be fun to be served a fancy meal upstairs, I can better picture myself in the servant’s hall, helping myself to a piece of cheese and a thick slice of bread, sipping tea from a white cup and saucer. I’d reassure Mrs. Patmore that an electric mixer and refrigerator are godsends that don’t replace cooks but make their jobs so much easier.
Behind the Scenes
Love reading in the Season 4 companion book about how food economist Lisa Heathcote prepares her works of edible art for the series. All the beautiful still photos allow me to pore over the fascinating set details and props (wonderful mixing bowls, egg rack, copper pots, salt cellars, gorgeous silver trays, crystal, Spode bone china).
Lisa has to make sure everything will stand up to hours of filming under hot lights, and she has to prepare massive quantities of food for repeated takes. It’s also crucial to maintain a sense of continuity with what’s being cooked downstairs and what appears on the table upstairs, and when scenes are filmed weeks apart, she must recreate the dishes to look exactly the same.
If the Crawleys have lamb chops, says Heathcote, ‘I’ll probably cook 80, because they’ll have to eat them and push them around the plate, and then they start to look a bit sad.’
I am reminded of how hard servants worked in the kitchen back then (long 12-14 hour days) to produce 8(!) meals a day. Even more hectic when there’s a big dinner party (no wonder Mrs. Patmore succumbed to the stress). Just scrubbing all those pots and washing the crystal and china by hand would be a huge amount of work!
* * *
ROCK CAKES FOR ROCKY ROADS
Do you like rock cakes?
I remember having them in a few tea shops when I lived in London ages ago, so happy to find a box mix so I could make them in my tiny kitchen.
I made them from scratch for the first time the other day, using Pamela Foster’s recipe at Downton Abbey Cooks. What’s lovely about these traditional scone-like cakes is you can control the overall sweetness by the type(s) of dried fruit you add, and whether you choose to sprinkle or not sprinkle Demerara (dark brown) sugar on top before baking.
Contrary to their name, they may look like craggy rocks, but they aren’t hard or heavy in the least (sorry, Hagrid). Mine turned out nice and light with a velvety crumb — I’m sure this had something to do with how I rubbed the butter and flour together with my dancing fingertips. Did I mention I have the magic of fairies and hummingbirds in my thumbs?
My dried fruits of choice were a combination of golden raisins and Newman’s Own Organic Cranberries. Regular raisins are always too sweet for me, and I was too lazy to dice apricots. It worked out very well as my cakes were absolutely heavenly eaten warm from the oven. Gobbled up the few that were left for breakfast the next morning ( I think Harry Potter would approve).
I imagine Mrs. Patmore or Daisy could whip up a big batch of these in her sleep. They’d better stock up on currants now that Mary is attracting handsome suitors like flies, and poor Edith will be eating for two.
* * *
- 1 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) soft butter or margarine
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup mixed dried fruits (i.e., currants, raisins, diced apricots)
- 1 medium egg
- 1-3 tablespoons milk
- dark brown sugar for sprinkling
- oil for greasing
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Mix flour and baking powder into a large baking bowl, add the softened butter or margarine, and lightly rub together with fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
3. Add the sugar and the dried fruit and mix so all ingredients are well incorporated.
4. Add the egg and 1 tablespoon of the milk and mix to create a stiff dough. If the mixture is still dry add milk a tablespoon at a time until required consistency.
5. Lightly grease two baking sheets or line with parchment paper.
6. Using a tablespoon divide the mixture into 12 mounds evenly spaced on the 2 baking sheets (you can also use a small ice cream scoop).
7. Sprinkle with dark brown sugar.
8. Bake in the preheated oven for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and well risen.
~Adapted from Downton Abbey Cooks by Pamela Foster. Click here to see the original recipe + fabulous tea time tips.
*A recipe for Rock Cakes can also be found in Pamela’s eCookbook, Abbey Cooks Entertain.
* * *
Have you had a chance to sample today’s Downton Abbey® Grantham Breakfast Blend?
Full-bodied, malty, organic Assam black tea is infused with the spicy flavor of organic ginger root. Try with a splash of warm milk and sweetener for a flavor reminiscent of traditional sticky ginger pudding. This energizing tea is perfect for an early morning foxhunt or preparing for the dramas of the day.
The Republic of Tea actually produces three Limited Edition Downton teas. We’ll try the English Rose next time. The Estate Blend is only available via Cost Plus World Market. The GBB and ER can be ordered via The Republic of Tea or the PBS Shop (beware the sellers on Amazon who have listed them for twice the retail price).
Would love to chat more, but need to go polish my tiara. Have a lovely week!
* * *
This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Check out all the delicious recipes, reviews, musings and photos!
Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.