Asparagus and Herbed Butter Canape: English Country House Party at Downton Abbey

Lord Gillingham

Hunky Lord Gillingham in the drawing room.
Photo credit:  Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

You are invited to The Abbey for an English Country House Party

(well, vicariously through television anyway)

If you WERE actually invited you would be expected to arrive on time, and according to Emily Post’s Etiquette, Chapter XXV, “The Country House and Its Hospitality,” published in 1922:

“A week-end means from Friday afternoon or from Saturday lunch to Monday morning.

On whichever day the party begins, everyone arrives in the neighborhood of five o’clock, or a day later at lunch time. Many come in their own cars, the others are met at the station—sometimes by the host or a son, or, if it is to be a young party, by a daughter.

The hostess herself rarely, if ever, goes to the station, not because of indifference or discourtesy but because other guests coming by motor might find the house empty.”

English Roadster Dowton 2

Please someone, DO pick me up at the station in this.
Photo credit Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE


Before dinner (for which you will be dressed to the nines by your lady’s maid) you might be served canapé which is a type of hors d’oeuvres: a small, prepared and usually decorative food, held in the fingers and often eaten in one bite.

Or what Mrs. Patmore has referred to as “fiddley bits” in a previous episode. (See Deviled Ham Tea Sandwiches.)

canapé consists of a base (e.g., bread or pancake), a spread, a main item, and a garnish. The spread is traditionally either a compound butter or a flavored cream cheese. Common garnishes include finely chopped vegetables, scallions, chives, herbs and caviar (Source: Wikipedia).

Asparagus and Herb Butter Canape

Asparagus and Herb Butter Canapé


  • 12 asparagus spears (thin spears, stalks trimmed of their woody bottom)
  • 12 slices thin white bread, crusts removed (I use Pepperidge Farm)
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, softened for the compound butter
  • 2 tsp. additional butter for sautéing the shallot
  •  4 T. additional butter for melting and brushing on the asparagus rolls
  • 2 T. chopped shallots
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. salt, to taste
  • Snipped chives for garnish (optional)

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich


  • In a large skillet, bring 1/2 in. of water to a boil. Add asparagus and boil for 3 minutes, until tender. (This will depend on how thick or thin your asparagus spears are.)
  • Drain and immediately plunge asparagus in ice water bath to retain their color. Drain and pat dry. Set aside.
  • Flatten bread with a rolling pin.
  • In a small skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of butter and sauté the shallot until softened, about 2 minutes.  Watch the heat as you do not want the shallot to burn.
  • Combine the softened butter (1 stick) with the cooked shallots, add the chopped parsley and dill, 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice, and the salt to taste.
  • Spread 1 1/2 teaspoons herbed butter on each slice of bread. Top with an asparagus spear. Roll up tightly; place seam side down on a greased baking sheet.  Pinch slightly to seal the edge.
  • Melt the remaining 4 T. of butter and brush the asparagus rolls all over with butter.
  • Bake at 400° for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cut rolls in half to serve.  Sprinkle with snipped chives.

Makes 24 appetizers.

Asparagus rolls toasted

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

The Abbey hosts a house party

When the dinner gong rings, it is time to ‘go through’ to the dining room, where everyone will be seated according to their ‘precedence’ or rank. Countesses before duchesses, everyone. Or is it duchesses before countesses?  Oh dear!  At least we know there will be place cards.
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

Tune in tonight, January 12, 9 pm ET on your local PBS station.

Deviled Ham Tea Sandwiches at Downton

The Dowager Countess has perfect posture, always. Photo credit:  Carnival Films & Television???? fanpop-check

The Dowager Countess always has perfect posture.
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

I watched the Downtown Abbey premiere very carefully on Sunday night (Jan. 5) as I was taking notes on all the costumes, interiors, language and social conventions, and looking for all things food, entertaining, traditions, customs and kitchen-related to post about.

Zoinks, those Crawleys certainly do drink a lot of tea.  Tea in bed in the morning; tea in the breakfast room; tea in the drawing room; they go out for tea; stay in for tea; and indulge in that 1920’s form of entertainment:  thé dansant or tea dance. SPOILER: The tea dance was ruined for Lady Rose and Anna as they fled the dance hall to avoid being arrested in the fist fight over Rose.  She’s trouble, that one.

I don’t know why I find the social norms and conventions of proper entertaining of the past so fascinating, but I do.  I love the gorgeous interiors and table settings in Downton Abbey as much as the drama and intrigue.  I’m so excited to come up with posts for the 8-week Anglophile-Downton Abbey series on Corks & Cake.  It fits so well with what I’m interested in writing about: celebrations, traditions, all manner of serving food and offering hospitality, showing children how it’s done, and bringing little niceties back to our everyday, even those as simple as finding great pleasure in using a special spoon to stir your tea.

So let’s talk tea, shall we?

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

I found an interesting resource in Emily Post’s book, Etiquette, published in 1922 (the same year that the Downton Abbey season 4 story line begins) that outlines all of the proper conventions of the time for hosting various teas in America, including:


“The afternoon tea with dancing is usually given to “bring out” a daughter, or to present a new daughter-in-law.

Guests as they arrive are announced either by the hostess’ own butler or a caterer’s   “announcer.”

The hostess receives everyone as at a ball; if she and her daughter are for the moment standing alone, the new arrival stands talking with them until a newer arrival takes his or her place.

The younger people, as soon as they have shaken hands with the hostess, dance.   The older ones sit about, or talk to friends or take tea.”

Twenties Tea Dance Poster

I read the whole chapter of Mrs Emily Post’s book on “Teas and Other Afternoon Parties.”  Read it if you are so inclined. Even though Mrs. Post is writing about (and for) an American audience, the upper class in America would look to the British aristocrat for their guideline about how to behave in society.

A traditional tea menu for a party would include assorted tea sandwiches, scones, and a rich tart or cake of some kind.  Tea sandwiches could include cucumber, sliced radish, cream cheese, spreads of ground meat and cheese, herbed butter and the like. Scones could be plain or include raisins or fruit and would be served with soft butter, jam, and clotted cream.  The cakes and tarts would most likely be lemon, vanilla sponge, almond or jam-filled.

Inspired, I tested this recipe for Dreamy Cream Scones from Smitten Kitchen for our weekend morning breakfast.

Scone and strawberry jam

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

They were delicious!

When I was styling the photo and looking for just the right spoon to serve our jam, I found this sweet one from John’s mother, engraved with her first name.

I took a close-up.

Lovely engraved silver jam spoon.  I can see from it's extreme close-up it needs a bit of a polish!

Lovely engraved silver jam spoon. I can see from its extreme close-up it needs a bit of a polish!
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

For Christmas, we had a wonderful smoked ham delivered from Burgers’ Smokehouse in Missouri (a gift from my favorite auntie), and now was a perfect time to use the last of it for:

Deviled Ham Tea Sandwiches

The definition of 'forever':  2 people and a ham.

The definition of ‘forever:’ 2 people and a ham.

I adapted this recipe quite a bit from Homesick Texan:


  • 3 cups finely chopped ham (I put my leftover slices in the bowl and ended up with about 3 cups chopped–you will need to measure and adjust according to how much leftover ham you have.  Be sure to take off the rind if your ham has the skin on.)
  • 1/4 cup onion, scant, grated on a box grater
  • 6 T. mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
  • 2 T.  golden mustard with horseradish (I used Silver Spring brand Beer’n Brat Mustard)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped cornichons (the little French kind; you can substitute dill pickle and adjust the amount to your taste)
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

(NOTE: Our smoked ham was pretty salty so I didn’t use any salt; taste and adjust your seasonings for your ham.)


  • Chop the ham in the food processor, until it is a roughly smooth texture.
  • Turn the ham into a bowl and add the other ingredients, folding them in with a spatula.
  • Taste and adjust any seasoning or add more mayonnaise and mustard if you’d like a wetter mixture.
  • Cut thin white or wheat bread into circles with a biscuit cutter (or cut them into triangles or fingers.) Do not forget to cut the crusts off, as Mrs. Post directs! Spread ham on one side of bread and place another bread round on top.  Serve on your prettiest plate or cake stand.

Spread keeps in the refrigerator for a few days.  You can cover the prepared sandwiches with a lightly damp paper towel to keep them until tea time but really they should be made and eaten right away for the best effect.  (The Dowager Countess would certainly raise an eyebrow if your cook served her a stale tea sandwich!)

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

I’m not sure that Lady Mary or Lady Edith would prefer as much onion in their tea sandwiches (as they ARE both in the market for a new man, hello onion breath), but we liked this deviled ham spread and ate it for days on crackers, on a roll, just plain, in the fancy tea sandwiches…another new definition of ‘forever.’

Cheers all, and tune in next week for my interpretation of what Mrs. Patmore would do with that leftover ham bone.

Ta ta for now!


Tea, Twitter & Scones: Downton Abbey Returns to Television Tonight

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Dear Obsessed:

Here is information on the MASTERPIECE Twitter Event for Downton Abbey’s season 4 premiere tonight if you are interested.

Tag your posts with the hashtag #DowntonPBS and then visit using your own favorite aggregator.

Photo credit:  Carnival Films & Television

Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

WHAT: PBS and MASTERPIECE are hosting a live Twitter discussion (#DowntonPBS)

WHEN: Sunday, January 5, 2014, 9-11pm Eastern time

WHERE: Join us on Twitter, use hashtag #DowntonPBS

TOPICS: Downton Abbey, fashion, the 1920’s, MASTERPIECE

WHO:  PBS (@PBS); MASTERPIECE ( @masterpiecepbs); Jarrett Wieselman of Buzzfeed ( @JarettSays); Tom and Lorenzo (@tomandlorenzo)Vanity Fair  (@vanityfair); actress Lesley Nicol, Mrs. Patmore on Downton Abbey (@lesley_nicol)– and YOU!

RSVP: Please follow and be followed (on Twitter, of course!) by other #DowntonPBS tweeters

And my lovelies, settle in with some tea and tea sandwiches like these:

You wouldn't actually serve a cucumber sandwich open face but I thought it looked so pretty.

You wouldn’t actually serve a cucumber sandwich open face but I thought it looked so pretty.


Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Or a good slog of a fine American bourbon like Cora’s mother, Martha Levinson.

Shirley McLean with tea

Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

1/5/13 UPDATE:  Ha, ha.  I just realized that because of my terrible grammar in the sentence (above), I just called Shirley MacLaine a good slog of American bourbon.

Return to Downton Abbey with Crumpets & Scones

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Yes, Lords and Ladies, Downton Abbey returns tonight on PBS at 9 pm (ET). But you knew that, right?

Mary and Branson with babies

Lady Mary and Branson with their respective aristocratic progeny, baby George and Sybbie.
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE


Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

I’m a big fan of the show (and a bit of an Anglophile) so to get in the spirit of the thing, let’s have tea and crumpets, I mean, scones.

What is the difference between a crumpet and scone, you might ask? I did a little research (source: M. Skylar Ezell) and discovered that scones are a flaky pastry whose origin dates back to the 1500s in Scotland, while crumpets are likely to be Welsh in origin. The earliest known crumpet recipe was in British entrepreneur Elizabeth Raffald’s cookbook “The Experienced English Housekeeper” in 1769.

You may have butter, jam or other spreads with your scones or crumpets. And while scones can either have currants or other dried fruit in them, crumpets do not. For a delectable treat with your tea, serve scones warm straight from the oven, with jam, soft butter, and clotted cream.

Classic Cream Scones

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

I tested this recipe for Classic Cream Scones from Smitten Kitchen and they were fab.I didn’t add the optional currants or dried cranberries and they were delicious plain and with butter and jam.

Tune in tonight and come back to Corks & Cake for more Downton Abbey-esque food fun!

That new-fangled electric mixer should make her life easier.

That new-fangled electric mixer should make her life easier.  Photo credit:  Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

“Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier companion, bursting with peel and raisins. There was enough food there to keep a starving family for a week.”
Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca