Why do we love Downton Abbey?

It’s a television show that follows the lives of the aristocratic Grantham family,  set in Edwardian England. The costumes are beautiful to look at, the settings are gorgeous (Highclere Castle stands in for the fictional Downton), and of course the acting is top-notch. Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville lead the cast, and stars like Shirley Maclaine and Paul Giamatti have recurring roles.

And then there’s the food! Savories. Pheasants. Trifle! And of course crumpets, tea and scones.

The food is probably one of the biggest attractions of the show, not only because it’s always fun to eat, but also because it seems that some of the most quaint English traditions revolve around food.

Did you know for instance that unmarried women had to eat breakfast in the dining room with the men, while their married counterparts were served breakfast in bed?

At breakfast, everyone serves themselves from the food on the sideboard while footmen stand by. Only at dinner are the household and guests served individually.

Servants have a hierarchy of their own when they dine – the scullery maids and cooks serve the butler, housekeeper, footmen and valets, and then have their meal separately in the kitchen.

Afternoon tea is another tradition-filled meal. You are not supposed to just drop in unannounced for tea – you wait for an invitation. When stirring the tea, you never let the spoon touch the sides of the cup. And if you’re the hostess, you never ask your guests if they want more tea. You simply continue to pour tea for everyone until they tell you they don’t want any more.

I learned all this and more from watching the show, and also from reading the Unofficial Downton Abbey cookbook.

The book has recipes of traditional English food that would probably be served at Downton,  from hors d’oeuvres to desserts. And next to the recipes are bits of information about English etiquette, which is always interesting.

The first recipe we tried from the cookbook, Decadent Duchess Potatoes

And to complete the whole Downton theme, there’s the Ritz London Book Of Cocktails & Drinks. It lists numerous recipes for all the cocktails you could possibly want, along with background stories of the drinks and a history of the iconic hotel.

All in all, with these two books you’ve got all you need to throw a lavish banquet worthy of the Dowager Countess.

And the Downton love continues.

(Many thanks to my friend Cathy for giving me the Ritz book as a present, and for sharing the lowdown on the existence of the unofficial Downton cookbook. 🙂 )