For part two of this review, I decided to try some recipes to see if they worked. As mentioned earlier, the book is divided into two parts – recipes for upstairs and for downstairs. Both parts are further subdivided into breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Browsing through the cookbook, there were recipes I immediately thought would be good to try while others were quickly dismissed for reasons I will outline in my conclusion.
As someone who works full time, my main qualifications for a recipe is it should require minimal preparation and it should be quick to cook. Sure I’ll do something more complicated but that’s usually restricted during the days when I’m off and when I have more time.
But I digress. From the recipes I thought would be a good idea to try, I decided on two that I would review for this blog and both of them are versions of dishes that we (me and my husband) cook and eat on a regular basis.
KEDGEREE (P. 34)
Kedgeree is a dish that is Indian in origin; the original is called khichri which is a mix of rice and dhal. This later evolved into a dish that contained smoked fish and became a staple in upper class Victorian and Edwardian breakfast buffets. At present kedgeree makes a good brunch or dinner dish, there’s something comforting about curry flavoured rice with flakes of smoked fish served piping hot.
I’ve been cooking this for years and my go-to recipe is that from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course. What attracted me to try this version is to see if I can make it the same way the Victorians did. My first impression was this was more like fried rice since it called for cooked rice rather than raw. There was also white fish instead of smoked and I was dubious about the cream. Instead of curry powder, the recipe called for cayenne pepper.
Gray mentioned in her blog that the original source of the recipe was from a long forgotten cookbook entitled The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie (1909). Having examined a copy in the British Library, Lady Clark had three versions of kedgeree and I can safely assume that what’s in the Downton Abbey cookbook is a combination of all three.
When I made this dish, I reduced all the quantities by half and much like Delia’s version, it was easy to prepare and cook. The cream I later learned stopped the rice from going dry and helped keep the grains separate while mixing everything together. In addition this is a good recipe with which to use leftover cooked rice. However my husband thought this version was bland and while the method certainly worked, I will definitely use smoked fish and curry powder next time.
PRAWN CURRY (P. 135)
The first curries were introduced into the UK during the 18th century but it was via post-World War 2 immigration from the Indian subcontinent that familiarised Britons to a wide variety of curry dishes such as Jalfrezi, Rogan Josh and Korma. Curries have become such an integral part of the contemporary British culinary landscape that “having a curry” from a local takeaway has become a regular treat for many households.
Like the Kedgeree above, this Prawn Curry recipe is easy to prepare and it makes use of ingredients that could be found in my cupboard or easy to obtain from the local supermarket – curry powder, coconut milk, spinach, onion, prawns, etc. This recipe is also versatile, as Gray writes in the introduction; other seafood such as fish could be used and I would recommend this good way to get children to eat vegetables as well as introduce them (or anyone who isn’t familiar with the dish) to food that has more complex flavours.
This brings me to my problem with this recipe as like with the kedgeree, it was bland. Perhaps this is not the recipe’s fault as we’ve been accustomed to eating more authentic curry and this one seemed to be more of a poor copy of the real McCoy. However, my husband suggested adding salmon to the recipe and adjusting the quantities of the spices to see if it makes a difference.
Both these recipes are from the upstairs section of the cookbook and I have to say that this tome is not really one that can be used for everyday meals, perhaps more for special occasions or during the weekend when one has more time to shop and prepare for meals in advance. As the Kedgeree and Prawn Curry have shown, many of the dishes have not aged well as either they have fallen out of fashion or in the case of the curries; they have been supplanted by more authentic ones that can be recreated at home due to access to the ingredients that can easily be found in supermarkets.
Other recipes are simply too complicated and labour intensive especially with today’s more time poor lifestyle (and no servants) and the reality that many of us live in flats where the kitchen would barely cover half in a country house. In addition many of the ingredients such as quail are simply expensive or inaccessible if one doesn’t live near a local butcher (or even if they stock it).
On the positive side however, the recipes gives the reader a glimpse into what people ate during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and while French cuisine and influence reigned supreme, there was also the influence of the British Empire. The recipes crucially also work, as Gray writes in a clear and concise style which reminds me of Delia Smith hence making them easy to follow.