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Tricks of the Trade — More Downton

Just a quick note to point out a few intriguing culinary moments in last night’s Downton Abbey episode.

First, deep breath. Yes, it’s true. The key to Mr. Bates’ freedom may be in making pastry! Aaaah! That’s right, we learned that Vera had been making a pie the night of her death. Her friend, Mrs. Bartlett, came in that evening and noticed Vera scrubbing pastry from under her nails.

The poison that killed Vera was IN the pastry — and Bates was long gone by then. He tells Anna as much when she visits him in prison. Vera had been making dinner (including the pie) AFTER Bates was already on the train back to Downton.

Also, how savvy was (“Are you really that tall?”) Alfred?! He purposely put the hollandaise sauce back on the stovetop, then stood by once a horrified Daisy realized her sauce had curdled. He tells her that Ivy can handle it and, quite rightly, instructs her on reconstituting the sauce by whisking in one egg, “dribble it in,” to be exact. Go, Alfred! That’s a total trick of the trade.

Speaking of other tricks, a few months ago, I saw a talk with Amanda Hesser and Jonathan Waxman. I brought Chef Waxman’s tip into my kitchen. He advised salting food from on high. He said the salt is better distributed when the hand sprinkling it is positioned way up above the pot. I’ll keep an eye out for these chef tips. I just love ’em.

Poor Ethel, now of the Crawley house, could use a few of these tips. She dropped her hot dish when taking it out of the oven! Either her towel was too thin or too wet. Your tea towel must be completely dry, or you too will drop hot food. Trust me!

So, what was in that tea if not honey? And, why, why start with a kidney souffle!?! If you think about it, her choice in menu is consistent with what we knew of her personality at Downtown. Dreaming big, but with disastrous ends. There is a middle path, dear Ethel. How about a simple sponge cake instead of souffle? Or maybe a slow-cooked roast that you just stick in the oven where timing is not so important? She says that by employing her, Mrs. Crawley is giving her a return to a wholesome world. I hope she finds her way. After all, the kitchen is exactly the place where one rebuilds from scratch.

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