It’s Downton Abbey tonight!
Nine long months since we were left on a cliff hanger after the Christmas episode. And weeks of tempting little promos dropping hints about the dawn of the jazz era, and the dowager’s displeasure and little aristocratic baby George.
It put me in the mood to make a period pudding.
As Downton demonstrates, there was a big difference between ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ dishes in the 1920s. Harry Craddock’s cocktails at The Savoy were the height of sophistication. In the evenings, the moneyed would dress for dinner and dine on French dishes like escalopes de veau and filet of sole au vin blanc.
With French cooking being something so aspirational, it was - unsurprisingly - starting to creep into households a little further down the social strata too. Simple French Cooking for English Homes by Xavier Boulestin was, for example, written in 1923 - the year after the current season is set.
It’s fair to say that the majority of simple English households were still a world away from flambés and salmon mousses though. So I decided to do a classic downstairs dish - particularly as my mum had kindly dropped over a box of windfall apples which needed eating.
As you can tell from this site, baked fruit was pretty big in the 1920s. Although it’s not really an ‘on trend’ dessert right now, I think it’s flipping delicious. A sweet pastry crust, with soft, near-pureed apple inside, and a boozy mincemeat-like treat in the middle. These do make a BIG pudding. But then my grandad can happily see one off (with cream, custard and ice cream). So just eat a smaller main course, and go big with a baked pudding straight from downstairs at Downton.
For the ‘instant mincemeat’:
(NB. shop-bought mincemeat is ideal, but I couldn’t find any in Bethnal Green!)
125g dried mixed fruit (95p/500g at Tescos!)
15g flaked almonds
1/2 lemon, zest and juice
40g brown sugar
1 batch of BBC Good Food sweet pastry
4 big, cooking apples
For the ‘almost-instant’ custard:
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon cornflour
1. Put the dried mixed fruit into a glass bowl. Pour over the shot of brandy/cognac/amaretto (I used 50:50 cognac : amaretto). Now microwave for 30 seconds to speed up the soaking-up/plumping-up process.
2. Stir in the almonds, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar.
3. Make up a batch of sweet pastry - according to the BBC Good Food site (or any personal favourite sweet pastry recipe).
4. Peel and core the apples. Then sit them on a square of short pastry, stuff with mincemeat and wrap up. If you’re feeling arty then add a little pastry leaf or stalk.
5. Bake in the oven at 180C for 40 minutes.
6. For the custard, heat the milk in a pan until near-simmering. Meanwhile, use a whisk to mix together the 2 egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in another pan.
7. Pour the hot milk over the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return the custard to a medium-low heat, and continue to stir until thickened.
8. Pour the custard over the apple, and serve it to a hungry person with a 1922-sized appetite.
Nb. For more Downton-themed dinners, check out the American blog ‘Downton Abbey Cooks‘- inspirational!