Red Grouse

Downton Dish: Casseroled Grouse with Marmalade

Like just about every member of the upper class, the Downtonians are heading north to start shooting some grouse. The 12 August–The Glorious Twelfth–was and still is the official start of grouse-hunting season, when eager sportsmen (and women) hit the heather moors of Scotland and the north of England to hunt this delicious bird which, as it flies low to the ground at up to 80 mph, also offers sportsmen a significant challenge. Red grouse is the type most commonly hunted in Britain (of the four species of grouse to be found here, one is protected, one so rare that most sportsmen avoid shooting them, and one lives in areas so inhospitable hardly anyone seeks them out), and its meat is flavoured by its diet of heather, blueberry, cranberry, and bog myrtle. All the grouse you find for sale is wild: attempts to rear it in captivity have all failed.

Wealthy people like the Sinderbys and the Crawleys would often rent shooting estates in the north from hard-up aristocrats, or buy one of their own and host lavish shooting parties that saw astonishing numbers of birds killed over just a few days. King Edward VII was a keen sportsman and made the rounds of the great shooting estates along with his son, George, who was known for his rather distinctive shooting style: one arm straight along the barrel, turning to shoot birds behind him with a quick, jumpy step. Shooting weekends were highly formal: after the morning drive the guns would meet up with the ladies somewhere on the estate for a multi-course lunch. After that, the ladies would sometimes join the drive, typically as observers, before returning to the house to change into gowns for tea. At the end of the day came dinner–tails and tiaras were de rigeur, and there was usually a ball the first evening. On other evenings, non-shooting guests would stage amateur theatrical performances rehearsed while the men were out on the morning drives.

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Image: Clemens v. Vogelsang via Flickr Creative Commons

Downton Dish: Scouse

Because her sexual encounters always end so happily, Mary has decided to embark on a weekend-long bonkfest (sorry, ‘sketching trip’) with Gil. And apparently she let him make all the plans, because he chose the romantic city of…Liverpool. Oh, Gil. You sweet idiot. Well, while they’re there, they might as well enjoy a hearty bowl of scouse, Liverpool’s well-loved local dish. Scouse, originally called Labskause, was brought to the city by Northern European sailors. The dish was mostly eaten by Liverpudlian sailors and their families, so gradually the sailors themselves came to be known as ‘scousers’ and over time the term came to refer to anyone from Liverpool. Typically, scouse consists of meat (beef, lamb, or a combination of the two), vegetables, and potatoes, though a vegetarian version, known as blind scouse, is also fairly common. Whichever way you make it, it’s a hearty, filling dish, perfect for cold winter nights or multiple days of erotic gymnastics. Girl’s gotta keep her strength up, you know.

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Image courtesy Rev Stan, via Flickr Creative Commons

Downton Dish: Cinder Toffee

Welcome back, American friends! Time for you to get caught up on Downton, and this first episode’s a doozy. You get scheming, illicit sex, fireworks over the dinner table, and an honest-to-god bonfire. So what could be more appropriate to snack on this episode than that Bonfire Night favourite, cinder toffee?

Also known as honeycomb, puff candy, and hokey pokey (for reasons unknown), cinder toffee is a sweeter, more widely appealing Bonfire Night treat than bonfire toffee, which is made with treacle and can be a bit bitter. Either one can be part of the menu as people gather around to watch the fireworks and burn Guy Fawkes in effigy every 5 November.

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Downton Dish: Posh Popcorn

It’s summertime at Downton, which means it must be time for some sort of sporting event/fair/celebration that’s terribly important, despite the fact we’ve never heard anything about it prior to now. This year, it’s the annual bazaar, which has fallen into Cora’s lap while her husband’s away keeping her brother’s ass out of a witness box. Everyone else at Downton is dealing with serious issues, … Continue reading Downton Dish: Posh Popcorn

Downton Dish: Ham and Eggs

Ahh, the Downton pigs. Who knew they’d be so good as a matchmaking tool? And, of course, the person hired to take care of them is completely incompetent because the Crawleys actually really suck at this whole landowning thing. How are these people still rich? Oh, right, numerous lucky inheritances. Anyway, it’s a good thing Blake’s on hand this episode to whip out his surprising … Continue reading Downton Dish: Ham and Eggs

Downton Dish: Molten Toffee Puddings

Surprises come in all shapes and sizes this episode. There’s Robert’s surprise birthday party, with Rose’s ‘gift’ to him (which turns out to be more of a gift to herself), and a few other things, good and bad. Since I’ve been skewing savoury on these blogs the past few weeks, I thought I’d go the sweet route and serve up some cake with a surprise … Continue reading Downton Dish: Molten Toffee Puddings

Downton Dish: Vichyssoise

At last, Alfred’s oft-mentioned interest in cooking is about to pay off…maybe. Our tall footman friend is off to London to embark on a slightly less ridiculous and profanity-laden version of Hell’s Kitchen. The prize? A place at the Ritz, which was (and is) no joke. They don’t just hire anyone, so you’d better know your French classics. Classics like Vichyssoise, or posh potato soup, … Continue reading Downton Dish: Vichyssoise

Downton Dish: Filo-Wrapped Asparagus

Things are heating up a bit for a few characters (in both good and bad ways), so it’s not hugely surprising that one of Ivy’s tasks this week is to make a classic aphrodisiac: asparagus.

Nobody’s really sure if asparagus enhances the libido. It’s status as an aphrodisiac goes back to the Doctrine of Signatures, an ancient theory that holds that plants and herbs which look like a part of the body will enhance or heal the functions of that part. Not too many people believe in the Doctrine of Signatures anymore, but there are plenty who hold that asparagus is best shared with a lover. And really, when it comes to aphrodisiacs, a lot of the power lies in belief and suggestion, right? So whip some of these together, share ‘em with your honey, and enjoy tonight’s (significantly less scarring) episode.

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Downton Dish: Peach Melba

Dame Nellie Melba is in the house! To put that in perspective, for this crowd and this time, it’s roughly like Niles and Frasier Crane getting Pavarotti to sing at one of their dinner parties. Or having Kanye West or Katie Perry play at your birthday party (depending on your musical tastes). It was a pretty big deal—after all, this is a woman that had … Continue reading Downton Dish: Peach Melba