Sex, Lies, and the Wireless: Downton Abbey Season 5


Have you all been enjoying Season 5?  Here at the Penovich house we think the show may have jumped the shark.  Or hopped over the hedgerow.  Or broke the cricket bat.  The plotlines have been a bit far-fetched and perhaps a little silly and slapstick.

Nonetheless, I am still tuning in for the great costumes, jewelry and interiors.  And the melodrama.


How cute is little Marigold!
Credit: Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television

Some things have stayed the same.  Poor Edith’s plight, for example.  In last Sunday’s episode she grabs up her child and prepares to set out as a single mother in 1930s London, facing great peril to her reputation and way of life (not to mention putting the family’s reputation at risk.)  Yet, all anyone can talk about is MARY’s NEW HAIRCUT.

Edith almost burns down the Abbey, and instead of saying she’s grateful her sister is alive; Mary gets a dig in that Edith must have tried to do it on purpose.


Credit: Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television

Meanwhile boys (plural) pursue Mary, Mary gets boys (plural), has sex with boy (singular), dumps boy, pursues other boy.

lady mary hunting season 5

They look good in hunting clothes, though.
Credit: Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television.

And Tom has a ragged relationship with the god-awful Miss Bunting whose shrill and judgmental attitudes toward the aristocracy doesn’t prevent  Rose (dim, dim Rose) from inviting her to insult the Earl at every private dinner party and family celebration.

This photograph is (C) Carnival Film & Television Ltd and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with Downton Abbey, Carnival Film & Television Ltd or ITV plc. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can

Bye, bye Miss Bunting. Good riddance!
Credit: Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television

Things are getting frisky with older members of the Crawley family.  The Dowager has an old flame back in her life.  Isobel Crawley gets a very endearing proposal of marriage.  And Cora practically gets accosted by the smarmy, infatuated art critic.

Crikey!  What will happen next?

Tune in February 17, 9 pm ET for the next episode.  Hopefully we’ll have more Mrs. Patmore scenes.


"Sympathy butters no parsnips."  Mrs. Patmore Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television

“Sympathy butters no parsnips.” Mrs. Patmore
Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television



Until Next Time: Downton Abbey


Presentation at the Palace.  "Presented, photographed, done." Says Lady Grantham with relief. Photo credit:  ITV for MASTERPIECE

Presentation at the Palace. “Presented, photographed, done.” Says Lady Grantham with relief.
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE

It’s hard to believe that Season 4 is over.  PBS decided to start and end the season with 120-minute episodes which in effect made the season only 8 episodes long.

The finale offered us plenty of the eye candy that we love about Downton Abbey:

  • Gorgeous 1920s costumes, replete with feathers, furs, beading, elaborate embroidery, fanciful hats, gloves, beaded bags, diamond tiaras, diamond headbands

Lady Dudley-Ward is absolutely gorgeous and naughty (by not-so-secretly dating the Prince of Wales.)
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE

  • New interiors and London locations, including our first look at the Grantham’s London town home
Sumptious interiors at Grantham House in London (actually Blynford..) Photo credit:  Vanity Fair

Sumptuous interiors at Grantham House in London (actual location: Basildon Park.)
Photo credit: Vanity Fair


The interiors for Grantham House were actually shot one hour outside of London at Basildon Park, a Georgian mansion surrounded by acres of parkland in Berkshire. The house was built from 1776-83 and was rescued by Lord and Lady Iliffe in the mid 1950s. The house today is a re-creation and restoration of the 18th-century mansion.

Aunt Rosamund’s London town house interiors were shot at West Wycombe Park, a country house near the village of West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, England, built between 1740 and 1800. It was conceived as a pleasure palace for the 18th-century Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Baronet.

West Wycombe Park

Many conversations take place in Aunt Rosamund’s London drawing room (actual location: West Wycombe Park)


Exteriors were shot in London and much care was taken by the production company to choose locations that didn’t show any signs of modernity (paved streets, advertisements, modern lighting etc.)  Read this excellent article from behind the scenes at the London locations “Downton Abbey: London is the Star of the Show” for some more scoop.

  •  And let’s not forget the pomp and circumstance!  The debutante ball at the palace, Lord Grantham in court uniform, the processional, the King and Queen, and all of Rose’s parties, dances, balls, and club outings.
Rose, whatever you do, don't trip! Photo credit:  ITV for MASTERPIECE

Darling, this is costing us a fortune.  You should be kind to marry very well.
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE


Hello your Royal Highnesses.  Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE


Read more about the London debutante season in this great article by Dawn Aiello. Young aristocratic ladies were brought into London from their country estates and presented to society at court.  The season lasted for months and the girls were feted all about town with luncheons, dances, balls, parties, formal dinners, and approved cultural outings so they might meet marriageable young men.

Mrs. Patmore would have been tasked with keeping up a long stream of goodies for guest breakfasts, luncheons, teas, formal dinners, and the ‘at homes’ where the presiding lady of the house would entertain guests with late-night buffet suppers, music and dancing.


Here are some of our Downton-inspired Corks & Cakes posts for your review:



And some heartier fare:

When you talk like that, I'm tempted to ring for Nanny and put you to bed with no supper. Photo credit:  ITV for MASTERPIECE

“When you talk like that, I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and put you to bed with no supper.”
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE


I’ve enjoyed chronicling the season and the era for you.  In fact, I might just keep up these Sunday Downton posts because there’s so much more to write about.

Let me ask you:  which character will you miss the most until next season?  (The Dowager Countess is everyone’s favorite, my guess!)

You can follow her on Twitter @theLady Grantham

Here’s a fun You Tube video:  Sh!t the Dowager Countess Says

What other Downton Abbey-related posts would you be interested in reading on Corks & Cake?

Downton Abbey Season Finale: Debutante Ball

The Lord and Ladies Grantham Photo credit:  Marie Claire

The Lord and Ladies Grantham and The Levinsons from America
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE


Tonight’s Downton Abbey finale will be 2 hours long and we can expect Shirley Maclaine and Paul Giamatti to make a lively appearance in London for Rose’s debutante ball.

Rose, whatever you do, don't trip! Photo credit:  ITV for MASTERPIECE

Rose, whatever you do, don’t trip!
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE

I’ve enjoyed blogging about this season and I will miss it. Perhaps I won’t stop as there are so many things to learn about the treasures of Highclere Castle where the series is filmed.

Those lush interiors!  The fabulous paintings!  The wallpaper!

For those of you who want to learn more about the ‘real Downton Abbey,’ the Countess of Carnavon has written two books about her predecessors at Highclere Castle.


And for those of you on the East Coast, the Winterthur Museum in Delaware will be hosting an exhibit, The Costumes of Downton, from March 1, 2014 to January 4, 2015.

Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library is the home of Henry du Pont and although I’ve never been I hear it is definitely worth the visit, especially in the spring and summer when the gardens are in full bloom.

'Costumes of Downton' showing at Wintertur Museum, Garden & Library in Delaware.

‘Costumes of Downton’ showing at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library in Delaware.

Enjoy tonight’s airing and watch out for future spoilers on the internet as Season 5 has begun filming in the U.K. with new cast announcements and tidbits filtering into the U.S. media.

Later this week I’ll post a wrap-up of the season with links to all the Downton-inspired recipes in one place for you all.  Because I’m nice like that (smile!).  Just call me Mrs. Hughes.


Romance and Intrigue are in the Air at the Abbey

Photo credit:  ITV for MASTERPIECE

Lady Edith looking lovely. She really needs to catch a break.
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE


Can we talk about Lady Edith for a second?  Why can’t this girl catch a break?

As much as I disliked her in past seasons (because she always whined ‘Woe is me. No one likes me. Not even my own family.’) this season I feel she has had just about enough heartbreak.

And tell me, why do the Downton producers feel obliged to kill off a character every time a baby is born, i.e., Sybil, Matthew, possibly Michael Gregson.

Photo credit:  Carnival Films & Television

I don’t know if we are cut out to be single parents in the early 20th century.  Even with nannies, governesses, cooks and ladies maids.
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

The Dowager Countess has figured out Edith’s secret and supports Aunt Rosamund’s plan to take her to Switzerland.  She seems supportive of her granddaughter, but how much is that is due to the desire to avoid scandal and save face?


Granny knows best?
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE

She tells Edith that trying to hide the baby in the village and have it brought up by one of the estate’s tenant farmers is like ‘having the Sword of Damocles’ at your head.

I had to look this up:  “The sword of Damocles comes from Greek myth and is frequently used to allude to an imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power, a peril in which the onset of is restrained only by a delicate trigger or chance.”

Whew.  Sounds like a fabulous plot-line of an Austen or Bronte novel. Or a “Die Hard” movie.

In the midst of the secret baby drama (in which Edith not only does NOT show nor has any signs of morning sickness or fatigue), there is the Church Bazaar to plan and execute. 


And there are many more love triangles and duets playing out:  Molesley and Baxter are flirting; Lady Mary has a posse of suitors, all handsome; Daisy, Alfred and Ivy finally wind up their puppy love; and even Isobel (Mrs. Crawley) has found an admirer in Lady Mary’s godfather, Lord Merton.


Of course Lady Rose and Jack Ross are doomed.  I’m glad he figured that out before he let that silly girl drag him through a torrent of heartbreak before she dumped him.  I absolutely believe as Mary does, that teenage Rose does not know what love is and is looking for the best way to shock and stick it to her mother.  Still, Jack takes the high road and admits he loves her and wants her to have a happy life.

The season 4 finale airs February 23, 9pm ET on your local public television station.  They are already announcing new cast members for season 5 (which is currently in production in the U.K.)

Here’s a fun link to a slideshow from The Daily Meal, “Throw A Dinner Party Like Downton” for your viewing pleasure in the meantime.

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

Instead of you making dinner like Downton, let me make it for you! Ha!  No, you had better order in so you have time to polish your silver and iron your napkins. Or not.  Okay, pizza and sweatpants it is, then.



Lord Grantham Makes the Crossing to America, and Comes Back

"Got to catch a ship to see a guy about a thing in America." Photo credit:  ITV for MASTERPIECE

“Excuse me, I must catch a steamship to see a guy about a thing in America.”
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE

Good lordy, we are 4 days away from the Downton Abbey season 4 finale! I am two episodes behind in posting but not because I was burdened with the village church bazaar.

We had two snow days here on the east coast (and please don’t mock us, Minnesota friends and relatives) and John and I attended the 2014 WAMMIES (Washington Area Musicians’ Association awards) on Sunday for which he was nominated in two categories (congrats JP!) I caught up with Downton later on demand.

Let’s get to it.

lord grantham answers phone

Hello? Did you send me a telegram?
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE

Lord Grantham was called to America to help Cora’s brother out of some trouble involving a Senate committee investigation. He heads off and takes Thomas as his valet (because Bates needs to stay close to home for Anna)  and apparently, Lord Grantham NEEDS a valet because ‘Americans have separate outfits for everything.’ (Really, Lord Grantham?  That seems certainly British.)

They disappear for most of the episode.  I wish Julian Fellowes would have shown some of the first class travel on the ship because the 1920s were a heyday for luxury steam ships and ocean travel. Cunard-vintage-poster According to the On the Water exhibit of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, Europe competed to create showpiece ships that could lay claim to being more spacious, more luxurious, swifter, and safer than anything that had sailed before.  With immigrant steerage compartments converted to middle class travel cabins, transatlantic travel was more accessible to the newly up-and-coming wealthy Americans, and they were attracted to travel to Europe with all the excitements and conveniences on board.

Interior of grand salon in the Cunard steamship line.

Interior of grand salon in the Cunard steamship line.

Carson informs the staff that his Lordship and Thomas have booked passage on the S.S. Cameronia which was an actual steamliner in operation from 1920 to 1957.

The S.S. Cameronia Photo credit:

The S.S. Cameronia

The Cameronia was part of the Anchor Line Steamship Company which was eventually taken over by the esteemed Cunard line. Cunard-vintage-poster white-star-line-southampton-cherbourg-new-york In 1907 Cunard launched the first of their Express Liners, the Lusitania and the Mauretania, ships that become bywords for speed, luxury and elegance in transatlantic travel. The ships were “Grand Hotels” at sea, and had high tech amenities like electric lifts, telephones, and daily newspapers printed at sea (the news received by wireless). They also had extravagant restaurants and catering operations.


Actual menu from the Lusitania in 1908.

Here is a very good resource if you are interested in learning more about luxury steamship travel and the foods served: The New York Public Library’s project: Maury and the Menu:  A Brief History of the Cunard Steamship Company

For example, First Class passengers on the Mauretania could expect to dine on:

Little Neck Clams

Chicken Okra

Petit Filet de Boeuf ala Parisienne

Timbales a la Richelieu

Roast Quail on Toast a la Monglas

Neopolitan Ice Cream



More on historic restaurant menus at What’s On the Menu–transcription project by the New York Public Library.

Meanwhile, back at the Abbey, Mary was proving herself to Charles Blake by helping him to save the pigs and ruining her shoes in the process.


Good lord. My shoes! But at least the pigs are safe!
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE

And whatever Lord Grantham was having in the first class dining room on the S.S. Cameronia, nothing could have tasted better to Charles Blake than the scrambled eggs Lady Mary whipped up in the servants kitchen.

Photo credit:?

Photo credit:  ITV for MASTERPIECE

scrambled eggs

Photo credit: Style Canvas

Speaking of perfect scrambled eggs, nothing is harder to cook than something simple. Master these soft, pillowy curds of scrambled egg and butter and you will always have a breakfast  (or late dinner after the theatre) fit for the finest gourmet. One of my favorite bloggers writes brilliantly about Ouefs Bruilles (scrambled eggs) which we knew growing up as ‘hotel eggs’ or eggs scrambled  low and slow in a double boiler with cream or sometimes, cream cheese.

Jazz at Downton Abbey: Mrs. Patmore Gets Jiggy With It

Photo credit:  ITV for MASTERPIECE

“Shall we dance?”
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE


Last week, Rose hired a jazz band for Lord Grantham’s surprise party, and unlike the house party where the kitchen staff were invited upstairs to hear the opera singer perform, this time they have to stay and listen at the bottom of the pantry stairs.

Nevertheless, one of my favorite lines of the night came from my favorite character, Mrs. Patmore.

Mrs. P:  “They sound good from down here.”

Carson: “If you like that sort of thing.”

Mrs. P: “It makes you want to jig about though, doesn’t it?”

Carson: (horrified) “Certainly not!”

Good on ya, Mrs. Patmore.  We are glad you didn't keel over. Photo credit?

“I might just loosen my corset and get down with this music!”
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE


Clueless as Lady Rose is (really, she had no clue that 6 more mouths to feed,  6 more bedrooms to have ready, and 6 more fireplaces to light in said bedrooms, would be an imposition for Mrs. Hughes and her housekeeping staff), she’s keeping the Abbey jumping with her modern ways and tastes! 


“Six American minstrels to feed and house in addition to Lord Grantham’s party guests? No problem, your Ladyship. I am Mrs. Hughes, after all.”
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE


Mrs. Patmore, Daisy, and Ivy would be able to keep up their part to feed the extra downstairs guests by making this Vegetable Barley Soup with Ham (using the leftover ham bone from a previous meal) and stretching it with homemade bread and butter.

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Mrs. Patmore is very resourceful so we know she must also have some homemade apple sauce “put by.”

Add some farmstead cheddar from the village and maybe some treacle sponge cake leftover from the birthday festivities, and those American musicians would have eaten very well after their gig!

Vegetable Barley Soup with Ham


  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 cup sliced leeks (white parts only)
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots
  • 1 1/2 T. chopped garlic
  • 1 smoked ham bone (about 1 pound, chop some leftover meat from the bone and reserve to add to the soup)
  • 6  cups chicken stock (I used homemade, watch the salt if your ham is salty)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 14.5 ounce diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup frozen corn (defrost by letting it sit out on counter while you prepare soup)
  • 1/2 cup chopped ham from the bone
  • 1/3 cup uncooked pearl barley
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • chopped parsley, for garnish


  • Warm the olive oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot. Add the onion, leeks, shallot, celery, carrots and cook over medium low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until softened.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes more, stirring frequently.  (Don’t let the garlic brown, turn down the heat if you must.)
  • Add the stock and the ham bone.
  • Add the bay leaf.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and simmer for 1 hour.
  • Add the 14.5 can of diced tomatoes and their juices.
  • Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, then fish out the ham bone.
  • Stir in the pearl barley, and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the 1/2 cup of chopped ham, the Worcestershire and black pepper.
  • Cook 10 minutes more and add the corn (defrosted if frozen.)
  • Taste to see if barley is soft, and add salt as needed.
  • Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
Tune in to your local PBS station February 9, 2014, for Downton Abbey’s next episode! Only 3 more left in season 4!


A hearty winter soup to eat by the fire. Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

A hearty winter soup to eat by the fire.
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Top Chef on Downton Abbey

Cold potato soup?! That's what we ate on the farm when we ran out of wood for the fire.  Now it's vichyisoisse. Photo credit:  Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE.

“Cold potato soup?! That’s what we ate on the farm when we ran out of wood for the fire. Now it’s vichyssoise.”
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE.

Downton Abbey’s episode 4 (airing January 26, 2014) kept the plot moving along and although I can’t say I thought it was a strong episode, it had its moments.

For one, is Bates a sociopath?  Anna and Mrs. Hughes are convinced he will go out and murder someone (again!).  If he would so easily do that, WHY are you married to him?

He menaces sweet Mrs. Hughes to get her to swear on her dear mother’s grave and tell the secret that she promised Anna she’d keep.  Bates, get a a grip on yourself!

The Alfred “I dream a dream of being top chef” plot line continues and he travels to the Ritz Hotel London to test for a position in the hotel kitchen.

I am French and so a better cook than you! Photo credit:  Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

I am French and a better cook than you!
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

The culinary test sequence was short but we know they were to make 4 dishes, one of them vichyssoise (cold potato and leek soup.)  In a subsequent scene, we see the French chef tasting what looks to be a poached pear with chocolate sauce and two other preparations smothered in white sauce (one which looks like a chicken leg quarter and one which looks like a hamburger patty, blech!)

We may never know what he was tested on because Alfred placed #5 and there are only 4 positions to be filled.

"Oh, Alfred.  You are so cute when you are studying Larousse Gastronomique."  (Note to reader:  that French gastronomy tome won't actually be published until 1938.) Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE

“Oh, Alfred. You are so cute when you are studying Larousse Gastronomique.” (Note to reader: that French gastronomy tome won’t actually be published until 1938.)
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE

Mr. Carson said it best when he said:  “To fail at the first attempt does not mean you won’t succeed later.”

Did you know that Julia Child failed her first try at the Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris?  (She was set up by the wicked school administrator who didn’t like her very much, or Americans for that matter.)  For more on that story, read this New York Times article by Julia and her nephew, Alex Prud’homme “Eat, Memory:  Sacré Cordon Bleu!”

Photo courtesy:  Harvard University, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women

Photo courtesy: Harvard University, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

So try, try, try again!

If you think you can’t make a soufflé, try this one from Food & Wine called “Fallen Cheese Souffle.”  See, even if you fail, it’s supposed to be that way!  And it’s delicious.




And everyone should have a favorite homemade vinaigrette in their repertoire.  Here’s mine:

Dijon vinaigrette is a useful staple!  Toss it with green beans, boiled potatoes, braised leeks. Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Dijon vinaigrette is a useful staple! Toss it with green beans, boiled potatoes, braised leeks.
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich


  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • Squeeze of 1/4 quarter fresh lemon
  • Optional: fresh herbs, chopped shallots, salt and pepper to taste


In a small, shallow bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, optional salt and pepper with a small whisk or fork until the mixture is emulsified. Add the olive oil and canola oil in slow stream and whisk again until emulsified.  (NOTE:  I like to turn the bowl with my fingers (1/4 turns) while whisking with the other hand.)

Tune in to your local PBS station on February 2, 2014, 9 pm ET for more Downton Abbey.  

Lord Grantham is going to have a surprise birthday party.  I wonder what his favorite food is?  (I’m guessing leg of lamb!)

Downton Abbey Cocktail Party Menu

"I'm going to be Top Chef in 1925." Photo credit:  Carnival Films & Television

“I’m going to be Top Chef in 1925.”
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

So Alfred the footman aspires to be a chef and move up a little in the world.

Mrs. Patmore will teach him what she knows (which is a prodigious amount about fine cuisine and jinxed affairs of the heart).  Since she’s a woman she could not be a professional chef in the 1920s, but I’m sure she could teach the Ritz Hotel Cooking School instructors a thing or two.

"I know a thing or two, laddie." Photo credit:  Carnival Films & Television

“I know a thing or two, laddie.”
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

Here is an actual English holiday cocktail party menu from Christmas 2013, served at an aristocratic estate (to remain un-named) that could easily be one served at Downton back in the day.

"I'm here for the party.  Where can I park my steed?" Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television

“I’m here for the party. Where can I park my steed?”
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

Champagne cocktail with homemade sloe gin
Hendricks Gin Martinis
Sparkling Water
(or the butler could bring you an alternative soft drink if you asked politely)
Smoked salmon and cream cheese on crackers
Caviar and cream cheese on crackers
Finger sandwiches (see Mrs. Patmore’s ‘fiddley bits’)
Spinach and herb pastry puffs
Spiral salmon rolls
Cheese straws
Tiny smoked sausages

 Shortbread and Cookies (call them ‘biscuits’)

Teeny mince pies

Fruit and Cheese

Vintage port, brandy, and madeira offered

(if you stayed later than the other guests)

The Abbey hosts a house party

“Indeed, indeed.”
(That’s what you say when you don’t know what to say in mixed company.) Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

Are you planning a Downton Abbey finale party yet?

Tune in January 26, 2014 to your local PBS station for Episode 4, Season 4.

English Country House Party at Downton Abbey–Part 2

lady mary on horseback

Lady Mary is back in the saddle, in more ways than one.
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE

Those who watched Downton Abbey’s episode 2 on Sunday know that writer Sir Julian Fellowes certainly knows how to ruin a good house party.

I won’t spoil it here for you in case you haven’t watched yet.  In addition to the shocker, there were moments of comedy and drama upstairs and downstairs, including Mrs. Patmore working herself into a tither over the syllabub, the béchamel, and the lemon dill sauce for the salmon.

She wouldn’t if she had a recipe for blender hollandaise.  And an actual blender of course.

The splattered and battered cookbook I learned to cook from (with my mom by my side.)

The splattered and battered cookbook from which I learned to cook the classic sauces
(with my mom by my side.)
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich


The sauces Mrs. Patmore frets about are known as the Mother Sauces of French cuisine:

  • Béchamel – classic milk-based white sauce
  • Velouté – white sauce similar to béchamel, using chicken stock instead of milk
  • Espagnole –  brown meat stock-based sauce
  • Hollandaise – an emulsified sauce using egg yolks and butter
  • Tomato – tomato-based sauce

Mrs. Patmore’s lemon dill sauce for salmon could have been either a velouté or a hollandaise, with extra lemon and dill added.  Once you’ve mastered the Mother sauces you can create almost any other sauce by adding different flavor profiles with aromatics, stocks, vinegars, vegetables and fats.

I learned to make hollandaise from my mother’s old copy of Verna Meyer’s Menu Cookbook: Dining at Home in Style, Dillon Press, Inc., Minneapolis, MN 1980.

Verna  Meyer's Menu CookbookWe started with vinaigrette (which arguably could be considered a Mother or Master sauce, along with mayonnaise.)  From there I conquered Caesar Salad Dressing and then moved on to hollandaise (my favorite.)

On a teenaged dinner date I had discovered Veal Oscar (veal cutlets topped with crabmeat, asparagus, and hollandaise) and I was immediately in love.  With the dish if not with the boy.

Verna Meyer’s book is so splattered and battered in the Dressings and Sauces chapter that they literally stick together and I have to pry them apart when I want to refresh my memory for her Blender Hollandaise.


  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 T. lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • Dash of cayenne pepper (more to taste)
  • Dash of kosher salt


  • In a blender, place egg yolks, lemon juice, cayenne and salt and pulse once or twice to blend.
  • Melt the butter in a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan until it is hot and bubbling.
  • Turn the blender on high (make sure the cap is on!) and add the hot butter slowly in a very thin stream until the mixture thickens and all the butter has been incorporated (leaving the white solids behind).

French chef Eric Ripert (whose recipes I love) has published his recipe for blender hollandaise and it can be found all over the internet with instructional videos and such.  I encourage you to check it out to see the method.  His recipe calls for 2 1/2 sticks of butter and that is a lot of sauce.

Verna’s recipe will give you 1 cup–plenty of hollandaise to serve 6 eggs benedict with extra sauce for dipping.  I sometimes add more lemon juice to Verna’s when I want it citrusy and have used fresh squeezed orange juice in place of the lemon.

Undoubtedly at the Abbey, Mrs. Patmore would also have served the classic Asparagus Hollandaise.


Asparagus Hollandaise

Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich


Mrs. Patmore, Daisy, and Ivy would have been taxed to the hilt cooking breakfast, luncheon, canapés, multi-coursed dinners, and tea (with scones, sandwiches, jams and cake) for 16 house guests throughout a weekend.

“She will bust a gut if she keeps that up.” Ivy says.

Highclere Castle-StateDiningRoom

The actual dining room at Highclere Castle
(ancestral home of the Earl of Carnavon) and setting for Downton Abbey.
Photo credit: Highclere Castle


From what I could tell from rewinding through the episode (yes, I’m that obsessed), Mrs. Patmore’s menu for the first night’s formal dinner might have been:

First course

Chilled soup, possibly vichyssoise or cold asparagus soup

Second Course

Crabmeat in pastry shells with béchamel sauce

Third Course

Poached salmon with lemon dill hollandaise

Main Course

Squab au vin with roasted mushrooms and vegetables


Syllabub with orange peel and brandy

Presented in French, on menu cards, with the accompanying wines, which we know from Earl Grantham’s instructions to Carson included a Château Haut-Brion and a Château Margaux.  (He cavalierly let Carson choose the white wines for the fish courses.)

Interestingly in the episode, Alfred finishes the sauces and saves the dinner while Mrs. Patmore is having her anxiety attack and turns out that he wants to be a chef!

alfred the footman serving food

Alfred, now that you have mastered the classic mother sauces of French cuisine, you are on your way to being a chef.
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE


Good on ya, Mrs. Patmore.  We are glad you didn't keel over. Photo credit?

Good on ya, Mrs. Patmore. We are glad you didn’t keel over.
Photo credit: Carnival Films & Television for MASTERPIECE


So there we have it, a very eventful Country House Party at Downton Abbey.

Tune in to your local PBS station on Sunday, January 19, 9 pm ET.  Looks like we are going clubbing in London with Lady Rose so we’ll be shaking up some cocktails 1922-style here at Corks & Cake.



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.