Food has the ability to illustrate the division of classes and nowhere is that more evident than in early 20th century England. Are you as big of fan of Downton Abbey as I am? Ever since I purchased the DVD’s they have not spent one moment out of my DVD player…they’re on a permanent state of repeat. And for that I am not ashamed.
When Foodbuzz sent out their requests for this month’s 24×24 – I knew that a Downton Abbey dinner party was where it was at. Though saying, “where it’s at” would not meet the strict oratorical parameters of what the Dowager Countess would consider suitable. Ever the stickler is she.
If you’re not familiar with the show, Downton Abbey focuses on the inner workings of the Grantham household in the Edwardian period of England. Pomp and circumstance flourished in the act of a nightly multi-course dinner, meant to lavish the family and impress the guests with finely fixed meals, rich foods and wine for every dish.
But for the servants of the household dinner was a much less grand affair. The two systems (upstairs and downstairs) led two completely different ways of life side by side and their food was one of the deepest divisions of their lives. Downstairs members of the household, the servants, ate comparatively bland food utilizing the the remnants and cheapest cuts of what was left behind from the upstairs nobility.
To illustrate the class divide I prepared a basic lamb stew and rustic sourdough bread for the servants portion of the dinner . Nourishing but far from fancy, stews were a standard meal meant to fill the void, but not provide much else in the way of imagination.
Upstairs, multi-course meals were set out, time was taken and meals were an event performed nightly. For the dinner I wanted to show off multiple courses, from soup to vegetables to game birds that were commonly served in a country home such as Downton. Everything on the estate was utilized and when game was hunted it was consumed. Everything local, everything fine and all of it utterly delicious.
For the Soup Course, a Creamy Watercress Soup was served. Topped with toasted bread and blue cheese crumbles.
For the vegetable course, I prepared Steam Asparagus with a Shallot and Caper Vinaigrette. (This and the soup were the crowd favorites of the night in the dinner category.)
And last, but certainly not least was the dessert course. As a true sweet tooth, I prepared two. An Apple Charlotte, as referenced in the TV show itself and a delicate Meringue with Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce. Both knew how to impress. We simply couldn’t pick a favorite of the two.
With all of the rich food around, it amazed me and my guests how anyone could wear a corset whilst eating all of the rich and tasty food. We were positively stuffed despite taking half portions of each to ensure we could consume bits of everything. And if the full-factor wasn’t enough, we had a side of TUMS just to temper the heartburn. Edwardian dinners were a serious affair all I can say to conclude this is bless the cooks for their tireless efforts. It’s a daily feat of sheer talent and resisliance. I am exhausted after just one night!
Lots of food, fabulous wine and Downton Abbey on DVD for my dinner party’s entertainment. It was a wonderful night to say the least.
Asparagus with Shallot and Caper Vinaigrette
½ cup Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
½ cup Shallots, roughly chopped
⅓ cup Capers, drained
¼ tsp Salt
½ tsp Pepper
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 tsp Lemon Zest
2 bunches Asparagus, trimmed
In food processor combine all ingredients, except asparagus. Pulse ingredients together until uniformly combined and mixed together. About 7 pulses.
Don’t mix until completely smooth, but small pieces are formed.
In a pan with a steamer basket, heat 2/3 cup water until boiling and add in asparagus spears into the steamer basked. Steam until tender, about 7 minutes. Plate and top with prepared vinegarette.