What is the essence of the book?
The Downton Abbey Cookbook explores the dishes eaten by the Crawley family and their servants during the period 1912-1926. It features recipes for dishes made or eluded to in the television series of the same name. As you would expect it covers breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner as well as things like picnics, shoots and race meets and festive food.
About the author
Annie Gray is one of Britain’s leading food historians and author of Queen Victoria’s culinary biography, The Greedy Queen (you can read my review of this book here).She is the resident food historian on the Kitchen Cabinet on BBC Radio 4 as well as appearing of television programmes like The Victorian Bakers.
Who will like it?
If you’ve followed the exploits of the Crawley clan since Downton Abbey first aired in 2010 and enjoy dabbling in the kitchen then you’ll undoubtedly love this book. It would make a fab Christmas present for anyone who meets this description. That said, I would even go as far to say that you don’t need to be a fan of the show to appreciate the book.
Who won’t like it?
If you’re hoping for an in-depth analysis of the social and political influences on the culinary scene during the period, the book will probably leave you wanting. However, there’s no pretence that it offer this. It is primarily a cookbook and so long as you accept this there’s no reason not to like it (unless of course you hate the idea of any form of historical cooking).
What do I like about the book?
Despite what I’ve said above, Gray does provide an insight into the culinary landscape of the period in the introductions to the chapters and individual dishes, covering the salient points in a very readable fashion. Crucially for me the book avoids the tweeness of the movie.
The book contains a good range fo recipes to reflect what the different echelons of society ate. So whilst some cooks may balk at buying lobster (even one) to make the lobster cutlets the upper class recipes are off set by the more down to earth offerings like toad-in-the-hole and jam and custard tarts. One of the main issues for anyone cooking historical recipes is knowing what the final result should look like. The sumptuous photography in this book will hopefully allay any concerns about tackling the food from our past. I have to agree with Gray and say that anything that gets people into history, and more particularly food history, is fantastic and I think this book does this very well.
Is there anything I’m not so keen on?
Now I am a history geek so I would have liked to have seen a reference for where each recipe was sourced. Fortunately, Gray has written this blog post on this issue if you would also like to fill in the blanks (she explains this information was omitted due to space and to avoid the book appearing too nerdy).
Would I cook from it?
I thought the answer to this question would be ‘no’ only because I have a lot of books from this period in my collection. However, I’ve already contradicted myself by making the Pineapple and Walnut Cake (and very good it was too – check out my Instagram feed) and will undoubtedly try more of these recipes. It’s always nice when somebody else has done the hard work of converting old recipes to work in the 21st century kitchen. Plus there are some genuinely enticing recipes in the book.
Where can you buy it?
The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook by Annie Gray (White Lion Publishing, £25) or take Gray’s advice and buy it from your local independent bookstore.