Image: Carnival Films
Inspired by the extravagances and luxuries of the feasts in Downton Abbey? This British period drama has taken Australian television viewers by storm. Follow our guide to replicating the Crawley family's lavish dinner parties with your own candlelit Edwardian feast.
What it takes to host an Edwardian dinner party
Meals were a big part of life in Edwardian times, and the dining experience was of particular importance to the noble classes, like the Earl and Countess of Grantham, as it denoted wealth and social status.
Dinners could range from six to 22 courses, depending on the occasion, complete with the finest crockery, table linens, silverware and antique adornments money could buy.
GALLERY: TV and movie inspired dinner party
A typical gut-busting Edwardian dinner usually started with hors d'oeuvres; soup; then a fish course such as oysters; followed by two courses of veal or poultry as an entrée perhaps fois gras terrine; a game course for the main; three mini courses (called entremets) and finally dessert usually a luxury pudding or a jelly. And the meal would be finished with cheese. Remember, this was all prepared in the days before electricity.
To create the lavish dinners hosted by the Crawley family, Downton Abbey producers turned to recipes from the famed Victorian-era cookbook, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, published in 1861, which was still widely used around the turn of the century. Mrs. Beeton's book included tips on all aspects of running a household from how to deal with servants' pay, children's health issues, and a wealth of cooking advice, instructions and recipes. It was a bestseller, running to millions of copies within just a few years. The complete text of Beeton's book, including many of her recipes, is available online.
If you plan to have a Downton Abbey dinner party, don't fret about having to recreate such a massive menu (unless, of course, you already have kitchen staff or caterers).
Keep the food simple and bring out the nice linen table clothes, clean silverware and the unchipped plates. True British formality is all in the details a perfectly placed knife here, a salad fork there.
Head to your nearest Vinnies and look for silver candelabras and lots of cut crystal glassware. For a centrepiece, keep it simple with bowls of fruit, candles and clusters of small vases filled with posies of roses. Pink, yellow and white roses were among the era's most popular flowers, and they would have come directly from the stately home's gardens. If you are good at calligraphy, write out the menu cards in French, as they did in the Edwardian era.
For added authenticity, ask everyone to dress up in their best Downton Abbey attire. You could also hire a butler for the evening or ask an obliging male friend to serve as footman.
We suggest a smaller menu than the extravagant Edwardian feast. Start with watercress and stilton soup, followed by poached salmon (nothing so vulgar as smoked) and asparagus, and a main course of roast duck. Dessert could be meringues with fresh fruit or jelly.
Don't forget drinks. Each course was usually served with a different drink French champagne, sherry, wine, port and brandy. Madeira was very popular at any time of day.
Extract from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (published 1861)
Mrs. Beeton's roast wild duck recipe
Wild duck, flour, butter.
Carefully pluck and draw them; Cut off the heads close to the necks, leaving sufficient skin to turn over, and do not cut off the feet; some twist each leg at the knuckle, and rest the claws on each side of the breast; others truss them as shown in our Illustration. Roast the birds before a quick fire, and, when they are first put down, let them remain for five minutes without basting (this will keep the gravy in); afterwards baste plentifully with butter, and a few minutes before serving dredge them lightly with flour; baste well, and send them to table nicely frothed, and full of gravy. If overdone, the birds will lose their flavour. Serve with a good gravy in the dish, or orange gravy, and send to table with them a cut lemon. To take off the fishy taste which wild fowl sometimes have, baste them for a few minutes with hot water to which have been added an onion and a little salt; then take away the pan, and baste with butter.
When liked underdressed, 20 to 25 minutes; well done, 25 to 35 minutes.
4s. to 5s. the couple.
Two for a dish.
Seasonable from November to February.