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By now, you may have seen the Breaking Bad meme that says, "I don't always watch Breaking Bad... But when I do, I watch the entire series in one weekend." That is my philosophy exactly--except I'm less likely to watch a drama about drug dealers and more likely to watch one about an Edwardian-era aristocratic family and the fleet of servants tasked with serving them and keeping their estate running. I've known since Downton Abbey first premiered in England that I would eventually fall in love with it. I just haven't had much time on my calendar for falling in love. So over the Christmas break, I blocked off three days to watch all four seasons of Downton. Predictably, I am enamored.
I'm planning a party for all of my Downton-obsessed friends, and while I'd love to throw a full 22-course menu complete with grapefruit spoon and wild mushroom course, I'm keeping the menu more low-key and honoring those who live upstairs, as well as those who work below. If you're looking to host your own gala, I thought I'd share the five things that will be on my menu.
1. Tea, of course. Mrs. Patmore always made sure the tea service for Lord and Lady Grantham was top-notch. You can offer your guests a variety of single-serve bags for steeping their own, or brew one big pot to share.
Great options: Traditional black tea or the milder white tea. (Read about the 6 Types of Healthy Teas from Real Simple.) Of course, Downton-themed tea is fun, too. Try The Republic of Tea's Downton Abbey English Rose Tea Bags, a fruity blend of rose, raspberry, and hibiscus.
2. Tea Sandwiches. Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Bird always have stacks of sandwiches ready to be carted up for tea time. We'll give the traditional toast a twist with something a little more hearty. Our Bacon and Cheddar Tea Sandwiches offer a very American take on the petite English pastime food. If you're a real traditionalist, our Cucumber Tea Sandwiches with Mint-Chile Butter are sure to please.
3. A Bevy of Beverages. We think of pre-dinner cocktails as fairly mainstream today, but it wasn't until season 3 that the mixed drinks became posh enough for the Crawley family and guests to imbibe before sitting down for their meal. It was mainly sips of scotch until that point.
The earliest cocktails in England and Europe were largely influenced by the changing beverage scene in America, so martinis were likely the first to jump the pond. I'll be making up a batch of Satsuma Cocktails, but if it's cold outside and you need a warming drink instead, try Applejack-Spiked Hot Cider. Applejack brandy was a fairly common brandy that made several appearances in cocktail recipe books of the day. Of course, you could always brew warming Irish Coffee to honor Tom Branson and Bates's Irish mother.
4. Cottage Pie. Far be it from me to explain that the servant life portrayed in Downton Abbey is overly polished and far from reality. Still, you get a general idea of how food worked below stairs: Dinner was served after the family ate, which meant it was late, very late many times. It also was likely leftover from what the family and visitors didn't eat, or it was a dish that used bits of food that weren't worthy of the dishes served upstairs. Our English Cottage Pie pays homage with leftover mashed potatoes that are combined with cheddar cheese and top a rich, hearty meat dish.
5. Meringue Cookies. This is a combo dessert for fans: A meringue to honor Mrs. Patmore's infamous salty meringue pudding and a cookie (biscuit, if you're a stickler for proper translations) to honor the bed-side biscuits Daisy sneaked from Miss Sybil's room. A batch of our Chocolate-Hazelnut Meringues can be made ahead of time and stored until showtime.