Eat like the lords and ladies of 'Downton Abbey'

Jan. 17, 2012 at 12:25 PM ET

Carnival Film & Television /

“Downton Abbey” won a Golden Globe for best mini-series on Sunday. If you’re a fan of the show, or just jumping on the bandwagon now (as well as being an unabashed TV food nerd), here’s a guide for eats to truly immerse yourself in the program.

Set during the 1910s, the British mini-series “Downton Abbey” depicts the day-to-day occurrences in the life of the English elite as well as their servants during the tumultuous time before the start of World War I. Despite the dawning of radical political and technological change, very little seems altered in the household of the upper-crust earl, Lord Grantham, including the family's lifestyle which, of course, features extravagant feasts.

In Edwardian times, food was meant to impress guests and symbolize the wealth and social status of the family. From the multiple footmen serving dinner and the crystal and china used to the dramatic arrangements of exotic flowers, each component of the dinner party was meant to showcase the family’s wealth. French luxuries like champagne, oysters, game and truffles were expected by guests.

A formal dinner for which diners arrived turned out in all their finery — evening gowns for women and tails for men — was also the scene where young women aimed to impress potential suitors. For instance, the Earl of Grantham, hoping that his eldest daughter could soon be married off, threw an elaborate feast when the Duke of Crowborough came to visit the estate. From the precise placement of the cutlery to the dishes served and the proper table etiquette, a meal was planned to perfection and lasted for hours, often including at least eight courses (if not more). 

If two things can be said about Edwardian eating habits, it would have to be that they ate a lot (a lot) and much of it was meat. Now, the thought of a six- to eight-course meal on a nightly basis is enough to give heartburn to most people, but it wouldn’t be uncommon for a dinner to begin with oysters, a foie gras terrine, a soup, a rabbit or veal dish and then a main course of boiled ham or stewed beef, with a jelly dish thrown in there somewhere.

But mealtimes were also an important part of the servants’ lives as well. During midday, the staff would gather together to gossip and eat their largest meal of the day (consuming much plainer food, of course). The show goes to great lengths to capture this specific time period by recreating the servants' downstairs work areas and the type of cookery they used to prepare the meals.

In an interview for the Daily Mail, creator Julian Fellowes said that for the show's dinner scenes, producers used recipes from the famed Victorian-era cookbook, “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management,” which was still widely used around the turn of the century. Below, we’ve adapted the recipes from that cookbook so you too can eat like the lords and ladies of the manor by serving these dishes (or just see how they were made). 

Lay your eyes upon this delectable recipe of veal to follow the first course in an Edwardian- or Victorian-era feast, adapted from "Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management," an authoritative guide to domestic matters published in 1861. Your guests will surely 

express their delight and satisfaction with your hospitality should this emerge from your illustrious kitchen. 

Stewed breast of veal and peas (makes 5 servings)

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 pounds veal breast, deboned, halved, and cut into chunks
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 2 blades mace, pounded
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 5-6 small onions
  • 1 strip lemon zest
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 2 tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons mushroom ketchup*
  • 1 pound green peas

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. 

Put 2 tablespoons of the butter into a frying pan over medium heat, lay in the pieces of veal, and fry until of a nice brown color. Now place these in a stewpan with the herbs, mace, cloves, onions, lemon zest, allspice, salt and pepper. 

Pour enough boiling water to just sufficiently cover the meat. (Keep the remaining water on boil for the peas.) Close the lid, and let the whole thing simmer very gently for about 2 hours.

Strain off as much gravy as is required, thicken it with the remaining butter and flour, add the remaining ingredients, skim well, let it simmer for about 10 minutes, then pour it over the meat. 

Meanwhile, blanch the peas in the boiling water for about 5 minutes or until done. Sprinkle these over the veal, and serve. 

*Note: Ketchup isn’t just made from tomatoes. Look for mushroom ketchup online or at specialty gourmet stores. 

To get recipes for additional courses including boiled ham, French-style green beans and apple charlotte, head to The Daily Meal. 

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