If you’re like us, you’re giddy with excitement over the season premiere of Downton Abbey. While we are conjuring up our own answers to last season’s big finale cliff-hangers — shame on you if you've cheated watched season three already! — we’re gearing up for the big comeback Jan. 6.
In order to give Downton Abbey the proper welcoming it deserves, a party fit with all of the English traditions is necessary. According to The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, the ideal meal during Downton Abbey's era was served in the French style of "Service à la Russe," meaning that the butler and footmen would bring each course out in sequence rather than all at once. While there’s no set number of courses, an average dinner could be anywhere from eight to 13 courses.
A full Service à la Russe usually consisted of the following courses:
• Hors d'oeuvres, which was most often caviar or oysters
• Two soups (one thick, and one clear)
• Two kinds of fish (one boiled, the other fried)
• An entrée
• The joint, a large piece of meat cooked in one piece
• Roast and salad
• A hot dessert
• Ice cream and wafers
• Fresh and dried fruits
• Coffee and liqueurs
Our ideal Downton Abbey dinner party consists of seven courses, but before we get there, let’s talk about traditional English table setting.
When setting the table for dinner with the family, you're likely to reach for paper towels and perhaps those laminated place mats that your children made in kindergarten — not your finest linens, crisply ironed, and polished silver candlesticks (are they even polished?). And forget about your wedding china and crystal glasses. Those seem extravagant, like something you’d experience once a year, right? Yet for wealthy British aristocracy, as depicted in Downton Abbey, these impressive meals were a regular tradition.
In Edwardian times, nearly any occasion was reason for a dinner party, be it an out-of-town visitor or a birthday. And as the largest meal of the day was taken at night, these parties were more than just a meal — they were used to solidify relationships and elevate the status of one’s family in society.
From many butlers and footmen who tended to guests’ every need to the multitude of courses featuring fine delicacies like French wines and rich meats and the impeccably set tables, dinner parties were thought to be the ultimate social test, securing one’s place in society, and creating an opportunity for hosts to impress their guests.
In the matter of an evening, a hostess could be ruined if the food or service wasn’t just right. That’s a lot of pressure for one person, who isn’t even doing the cooking or serving (and all without electricity). But when hosting a dinner party just like Lord Grantham and Cora do, you need not fret. Inspired by the extravagances and luxuries of the feasts in Downton, we’ll show you just what to serve for a Downton Abbey party.