Review: The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook and Cocktail Book

Have you often wondered what the Crawleys and the Downstairs staff were eating or drinking as you feasted your eyes on the television series? There is not one episode that doesn’t feature someone eating or drinking or discussing food. With good reason:

“Food marks out both the rhythm of the day and of the year. … [It] even marks out important life events.”

“Food forms a background, albeit an important one, to the lives being lived around it.”

Annie Gray

Whether it’s in the downstairs kitchen or the upstairs dining room, Annie Gray points out that “how and what we eat…show[s] who we are.”

Now DA fans will have the opportunity to experience the cuisine and drinks in the series with the publication of two official Downton Abbey books: The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook and The Official Downton Abbey Cocktail Book. Both books were released on 13 September and are available online and in bookstores worldwide.*

*Please consult your local bookstore for availability.

I would like to thank the Quarto Group for providing me with free copies of the books for review.

The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook

This large hardcover Cookbook has over 100 recipes compiled by food historian and consultant, Annie Gray. Dating from 1875-1930, these recipes have been specially chosen by the author for the 21st Century public to be able to prepare these dishes in their own kitchens. Annie Gray emphasises that these “are historic recipes, and they are Downton recipes, but they are also all usable modern recipes.”

Filled with photos from the series (even one from the movie) and of individual courses, this Cookbook has clear recipe instructions, quotes from the series, and fascinating Food For Thought (history tidbits). The author also provides background information on the evolution of food and dining during the 20th Century. We learn how historical events impacted the household staff, the number of courses per meal, and foreign influences on cuisine.

The Cookbook groups the dishes into two main sections, Upstairs and Downstairs, with sub-categories for the appropriate mealtime or occasion it falls under. (Alternatively, the index at the back lists the recipes according to key ingredients, such as almonds, chicken, tomatoes, etc.) Some of these courses appeared on screen and others were mentioned. There is also a small section on when and what to serve for drinks but, for more specific options, I recommend perusing the Cocktail Book (see below).

Although recipes in this book are predominantly filled with meat, there are a good number of recipes for vegetarians and pescatarians. If you’re vegan, you can still take inspiration from the recipes and make necessary substitutions.

Be sure to read Annie Gray’s Kitchen Notes prior to selecting a recipe as it will clarify certain ingredients, equipment, measurements, conversions, etc. Should you need demonstrations, I would recommend watching English Heritage’s The Victorian Way food series, for which Annie Gray is a consultant. The series includes many of the dishes found in the DA Cookbook, such as Kedgeree.

For those interested in having a Downton-themed party, Annie Gray has a short chapter in the middle of the book (between recipes) on hosting a Downton Dinner (à la Upstairs). It’s definitely for those who want a more authentic experience in their homes or at a grand venue. (For the those of us in smaller quarters, we may have to be more creative with the given space. Downstairs party, anyone?)

Whilst this Cookbook is ideal for those with more mouths to feed, it is still beneficial for those cooking for one or two. In my case, it may mean more leftovers or figuring out how to make smaller portions!

In the coming months, I plan on preparing some of these dishes so stay tuned for a more detailed review.

Total pages: 272

Price: £25 / USD $35 / CAD $47

The Official Downton Abbey Cocktail Book

This smaller hardcover book is reminiscent of books from the 1920s with its black ‘cloth’ bound cover and gold embossed lettering. It’s the ideal book to place on or near your drinks trolley (bar cart) – if you have one. Written by spirits professional and author of The Complete Cocktail Manual, Lou Bustamante, the DA Cocktail Book is filled with over 80 Downton-era drink recipes, of which 20 are character variations.

The book opens with a Foreword by Julian Fellowes, who explains why we don’t see cocktails until S2 and S3 because “drinking before dinner did not begin until the end of the First World War.” In the Introduction, Annie Gray provides a short overview of the types of alcoholic beverages that would have been consumed Upstairs and Downstairs, as well as the influence some of the characters had in introducing (or preventing) cocktails to others.

The book has five categories for its drinks named after places in Downton Abbey:

  1. The Library – Stirred and After-Dinner Drinks (15 cocktails)
  2. The Grounds – Refreshing Drinks (18 cocktails)
  3. The Great Hall – Party Drinks (19 cocktails)
  4. The Drawing Room – Predinner Drinks & Hangover Helpers (15 cocktails)
  5. The Village – Everyday Drinks (15 cocktails)

Like the Cookbook, this Cocktail Book features a recipe per page and is usually paired with photos – and quotes – from the Downton Abbey series or of specific cocktails. Each recipe includes information on the invention of the cocktail, which can be useful in a game of trivia. Moreover, each recipe has a symbol of one of nine glasswares in which the drink should be served.

This was the first book I read partly because it was shorter but also because I have an interest in mixology. While the majority in this book are ‘new old’ cocktails, I recognised a number of drinks that can be found in most bars and restaurants, such as Bloody Mary, Mint Julep, and Summer Cup (Pimm’s Cup). Interestingly enough, I didn’t know that I had already made a Sub-Rosa, a Downton variation of Summer Cup, during the summer when I replaced ginger ale with Fentiman’s ginger beer.

Aside from learning how to make multiple cocktails, I learned many interesting facts including:

  • Ada “Coley” Coleman was the second-ever (in other articles, the first) female bartender at The Savoy’s American Bar in the 1900s. Upon further research, I learned that she was there for over 20 years and became the first female head bartender in 1903.
  • one of the cocktails (Prince of Wales Cocktail) was allegedly created by Edward VII!
  • some spirits and drinks were originally meant to cure hangovers or illnesses. (I, however, don’t plan on testing if these actually help with hangovers.)
  • my favourite drink, Summer’s Cup (aka Pimm’s Cup) was created in the 1820s, so it’s been around far longer than I’d thought!

Now that the days are getting colder, I plan on trying the Apple Hot Toddy and Tea Punch in the near future.

“Now please, all of you, help yourselves to a drink and have something to eat! I want everybody to have a drink!”

Lord Grantham

Total pages: 160

Price: £14.99 / USD $25 / CAD $34