… An Interview With Pamela Foster Of “Downton Abbey Cooks”
As you may know by now (and if you are new to my blog, welcome and you will very soon learn!) I have a rather unhealthy infatuation with afternoon tea, Downton Abbey, housekeeping & household management and with all things well mannered.
And with these passions, I plan to share my thoughts after each episode over the coming weeks with you.
The fourth series of Downton has just hit our screens in the UK and the fans, myself included here, were giddy with excitement at the emotional advert played weeks before the first episode aired (what on earth will happen to Lady Mary now that Cousin Matthew has passed away unexpectedly?!), what else other than terrible “talent” shows do we have to look forward to this autumn?… I rest my case.
Downton Abbey is based on the aristocratic “Crawley” family and their servants in their country estate in Yorkshire, complete with tears and tantrums and the odd death thrown in for good TV viewing, it’s stupendously addictive. From the inspiring evening wear and dinner party tables, through to the etiquette and service from the family, staff and their visitors and even the one liners and quips from the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) that would have anybody chuckling who cared to give it a go.
Well in todays blog, my readers are as LUCKY as I am to be reading a unique interview that I had with fellow Downton Abbey fanatic, author and food blogger, Pamela Foster of “Downton Abbey Cooks”. Pamela is fascinated by the fine, yet simple food of the post Edwardian era and adds her flair and elegance to dishes inspired and enjoyed by the characters at Downton. This is a real treat and I hope that you enjoy reading this fabulous interview as much as I enjoyed geeking out with the lady herself!
So Pamela, when and how did you first come across an episode of Downton Abbey?
My husband, a blue blood with long lines of English blood, was the first “Downton” fan in our family and started watching the first season on his own. We ended up spending a day together watching the first two seasons – and I was hooked!
What hooks American viewers to shows such as this do you think?
I do believe what has been said about American fascination with royalty. Generally though, I think that Downton has the common appeal around the world of a time and place not so long ago where manners and decorum ruled supreme.
What inspired you to start your blog on Downton Abbey?
When my husband and I were watching all those episodes I wondered if anyone was writing about the food on the show. I did a quick Google search, and off I went back in January 2012 in an adventure to share the history of food in the era when the “Crawleys” and their servants lived.
Do you create your recipes based on American or British inspiration?
I started by providing recipes for dishes which were seen on the show and then expanded to dishes from the region and era. I confine my recipes to the dishes which would have been enjoyed at Downton Abbey in that era, either upstairs or down. Ingredients that I use would have been available at that time too. I do take a healthier approach to the cuisine, and to those ingredients that could have been acquired at that time.
Are your recipes inspired by the show or by your favourite elements of history?
The show leads the way in the food we explore. I provide recipes to the food seen on the show and also those in which we never see. The infamous apple charlotte which Anthony Strallen asked for, but was not served, is a case in point.
In this newest series of Downton Abbey, the times are very much changing and new trends are starting to pop up in the wardrobe department, in the way the characters behave, but also in what they are eating and drinking – do your recipes change and adapt for each series or era?
Families are creatures of habit and tradition and thus they would have relied on the same foods their families would have eaten for generations. My motto is great food has a history, meaning that so many dishes which we love and enjoy have survived since they are really that good and part of our traditions. What has changed are the tools used to prepare the recipes and new availability to some ingredients.
With your British inspired recipes, do you have trouble finding ingredients at all?
Generally most ingredients are quite easy to find. Suet, while hard to find prepackaged in North American stores, was easy enough for me to get from my local butcher, cut right off the hanging carcass.
Who are your favourite Downton characters?
As a foodie, my heart goes to Daisy whose character has been allowed to grow over the past four years from a child laborer to accomplished sous chef.
It may be a misconception of mine, but is afternoon tea simply enjoyed by “high society” ladies in the US? Or are your chefs and tea rooms very much like ours in the UK, with their own twists and signature bakes?
The US and Canadian, being such a melting pot of cultures, are host to little tea shops which can be found if you take the time to look.
Have you ever sampled a truly British afternoon tea? If so, what are your favourite elements?
I have reviewed a number of afternoon teas and the common thread is the experience of taking time to share tea. Inspired by a growing trend in London to do business over tea I am incorporating afternoon tea as an alternative to business lunch or cocktails.
Do you enjoy simply the dining side to Downton, or does the etiquette interest and inspire you at all alongside it?
My focus has been on the food and its creation, but one must know the proper way to hold a knife and fork, don’t you think? (I couldn’t agree more personally and I’d love to teach Pamela and her American friends how to enjoy their afternoon tea politely with my online afternoon tea etiquette workshops…)
What are your top baking and cooking tips?
Be fearless, but start trying dishes that are simple to make and learn how to perfect them. Work towards 3 or 4 signature dishes that you enjoy and that you can trot out for company without stressing yourself.
Where has your blogging journey taking you so far and who are the most exciting people you’ve met through your blogging adventures?
I have been truly blessed by supportive press around the world, from the Washington Post to an appearance on our National morning show. “Downton Abbey” approached me to host their Pinterest Board (Eat, Drink and Be Merry) which as been a lot of fun. I have tweeted with the Downton actors, connected with the lovely Jessica Fellowes who wrote those lovely Downton Abbey books. As a foodie I had the honor of being interviewed by Christopher Kimble of Americas Test Kitchen. For me though the local events where I get to meet fellow fans and share a love of the show and the food has been the best gift I ever could have received.
What is your signature bake or make?
I love my scones, the anchor of the English tea tray and easier to make than a drive to your local tea shop. I was thrilled to learn that America’s Test Kitchen uses the same technique of using frozen butter and layering.
Who eats all your delicious trials and tribulations? Do your friends and family enjoy your treats or do you host events to enable you to experiment?
Most of recipes are tested by “Lord D” (Pamela’s husband) and sometimes shared with family members at family gatherings.
Do you have a favourite tea? And any particular preferred way to enjoy a cuppa?
I have variety of loose tea blends in my office and always seem to have a pot brewing. Depending on the season it will be either green, white or black teas. My tips for the perfect cup of tea? Know how many cups your tea pot holds is the first step. Heat the pot with hot water first, then discard. 1 teaspoon of tea for each person (or 10 ounces per person) and 1 additional teaspoon for the pot.
What future plans do you have in store for “Downton Abbey Cooks”?
I never really planned any part of my journey other than to follow the path in front of me. I never planned to write the cookbook (“Abbey Cooks Entertain”) but after so many readers asked about how to host a party or a dinner, it seemed like a book like that would be useful. Some have asked for a printed version of the book but for now electronic easily reaches all corners of the globe. I heard that Universal were possibly interested in my cookbook, but if it comes, great! But if not, I am happy with what I have accomplished and I’m really excited about the possibility of traveling to Highclere Castle with a US bus tour company with a foodie theme – that would rock!
Do you have any favourite links, blogs or reading material for research that you’d love to share with my lovely readers?
There are far too many to list. I follow a lot of fellow food bloggers and food magazines and for online research of recipes dig through great sites like newspaperarchive.com.
What’s baking in your oven next?….
Just when I feel that there are no more dishes to cook, there are more on the horizon. I am collecting ideas from Season 4 which I will test and have ready in January when America sees Downton on PBS. You will have to follow my blog to find out what’s baking in the oven next…
You can follow Pamela on Facebook, Twitter and on Pinterest and her book comes highly rated for all Downton fans out there reading this fabulous interview – and thank you so much Pamela for your time, it’s been so much fun getting to know you!
And if that wasn’t enough to keep you fueled until the next episode of Downton this coming Sunday, we have a VERY EXCITING giveaway for you too.
Pamela has been kind enough to offer just 2 of my lovely readers a copy of her e-book, “Abbey Cooks Entertain” which is packed full of recipes, history and healthy eating for fans of the show.
For a chance to win, simply answer the following question in a comment below to enter. You have until Friday 29th November 2013 to enter this superb competition, so get going!
What is the correct way to “cut” a scone in half at afternoon tea and why would it be done in this way?
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