“Ah. Just the ticket. Nanny always said sweet tea was just the thing for frayed nerves.” – Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, played by Dame Maggie Smith
Admittedly I drank the tea (drank the koolaid?) that is part and parcel of current pop culture : the television series Downton Abbey. I confess to having come to the series late, only this past Fall when testing our our library’s new Roku device. The Potwn binge watching habits have migrated from “Breaking Bad” to “Walking Dead” to “House of Cards”. Each time, we binge watch up to the most recent season then find ourselves mourning a loss while waiting for the current installment to become available.
Sadly, the teapot is almost empty as the final Downton Abbey’s final season airs in North America on January 3, 2016. Over 120 million viewers worldwide in more than 200 countries have followed the trials and tribulations of the Crowley family and their servants. Amongst its fans is a rather famous one, a real royal duchess, who paid a visit in 2015 to its downstairs Ealing Studios set.
In preparation for watching the final season, I enjoyed looking at Downton Abbey: A Celebration. It is a sumptuous overview of Downton Abbey, or Highclere Castle in real life, with its characters from upstairs, downstairs and beyond. Alastair Bruce, the historical advisor to Downton Abbey, is featured in the film, The Manners of Downton Abbey, a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the etiquette of the nobility, with interviews with leading cast members. Mirroring the upstairs, the downstairs household staff also had their own rules, but theirs were needed in order to discharge their duties correctly and with efficiency, thus ensuring the smooth running of the household.
For a taste of England in the 1920s, the era in which season six is set, you might enjoy the memoirs of a 1920s kitchen maid as well as the fashions of the time.
Inevitably, season six will come to an end, and a cuppa of tea and treats might calm any frayed nerve. Victorian cookery writer Mrs. Beeton wrote a book of household management, which was an important guide for Downton Abbey‘s food stylist Lisa Heathcote. It might be fun to try some updated versions of Mrs. Beeton’s recipes, as well as those used for the royal tea table, and at the London Ritz, and serve them on lovely china.
When the sixth season of Downton Abbey concludes, its creator Julian Fellowes is planning a prequel, The Gilded Age, about the courtship of Lord and Lady Grantham. Until that next cup of tea, you might enjoy trying these:
And for those of you who have never either never watched an episode of this PBS program (or you live under a rock), dropped by the Lagrange Library to borrow Downton Abbey episodes from our DVD collection or one of our circulating Roku devices. Drop by my office and I will throw in a few tea sachets of Earl Grey to get you started.