Kitchen Life At Downton Abbey - The Real Story

It's not about life in Downton Abbey, but Minding The Manor: The Memoir of a 1930s English Kitchen Maid by 97-year old Mollie Moran draws you into the realities of the kitchen life in a grand house in London's Knightsbridge and a Tudor mansion in Norfolk, too. It's a feast for both foodies and history geeks.


This book is packed with history. So much so that I have doubts the author penned the book by herself; I imagine there was significant editing and/or ghost writing involved.

Regardless, we're transported into an aristocratic household, albeit downstairs, through the eyes of a rambunctious 14-year old girl who would rather climb trees or kiss boys than scrub stairs. This spitfire, can-do attitude is what carries Mollie Moran through 10 years "in service" from a scullery maid to kitchen maid and finally, to cook at a prestigious home.

The homes are real, and you can visit them - or at least view pictures online:

Wallington Hall, Runcton Holme, Norfolk, England - This is an aerial view. The marker indicates the service wing. Read the architectural history of the home here.

Cadogan Square, London, England - the actual house you can't see, but the square? Still there, and still one of the most expensive places to live in England. Should your larder or closet need replenishing, it's just a few blocks from Harrod's.

Wood Hall, Hilgay, Norfolk, England - I found precious little information about this grand home online. Here's an architectural history, a photo, and (if you scroll to the very bottom of the page) a postcard of the home.

The go-to reference for the kitchen staff is Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management.

Let's say you want to cook turkey for for a special occasion. Here's how the stuffing was prepared:

"[The cook would] take take a pound of veal and minced it up so fine it was almost like a smooth pate. Next she'd pounded it with beef suet and smoked bacon. Then [the kitchen maid took over] and passed the whole lot through a wire sieve before mixing with onion, two eggs, mace, parsley, nutmeg, and fine breadcrumbs. The whole lot was stuffed in the cavity of the bird, coated in more bacon, and roasted in the range until it was golden brown. By, it looked tasty!" (p. 163)

The book emphasizes that all kitchen preparation was done from scratch - no modern conveniences like blenders or food processors were available. Heck, there wasn't a fridge or electric or gas stove, either. Things were kept cool in an ice box, and cooking was done on a coal-powered AGA beast. Days often ran from 6:30am-9:30pm.

The book also offers a handful of recipes from Mrs. Beeton, as well as folksy tips for housekeeping. There are plenty of stories about the various hijinks the author gets up to including slithering down from a third story window to get to a local dance and 'disgracing' the staff by appearing in a bathing suit in a disrespectful newspaper.

Overall, this was a fun and informative read. I knew very little about the life of a kitchen  maid, and even less about England in the 1930s. Recommended for lovers of history and food.

Kitchen Reveal - Red Walls, White Paint!

Some time ago, I painted most of my kitchen cabinets bright white. Then life got in the way as usual.

Let's face it: If you're one person tackling a large project, it's guaranteed to take longer than planned. Hopefully every project doesn't take six months, but still...  This has been a long time coming.

Here's a reminder of my mid-century modest kitchen layout:

All outside cabinets are now a bright white, and I love it!

This is in the upper right corner, which I painted earlier this year. Spices and dishes are within reach of both stove and sink.

This is the opposite wall - freshly painted. The new fridge looks like it was made for the space. This area is just a couple of steps from the spices, stove, and sink.

Don't you love the simple display of teapots? Here's a closer look.

Just below there's a hearty selection of herbal, green, and black teas stored in a plastic box. The clutter of the varieties of tea is out of site, yet easily accessible.

The wall from the kitchen to the dining room is red. It adds a beautiful extra pop to the whole area, but heck if I can get a decent picture! Or maybe I just need to straighten before I take pictures - LOL.

The doorway under the kitchen sign leads to the driveway and/or basement - depends which direction you turn.

I'm so very, very happy to have completed this part of the never-ending painting project. Eventually I'll paint most of the interior of the house white. I've got a mind to paint one or two more walls a strong color, too.

Next kitchen project? Tackling the color on the INSIDE of the cabinets and figuring out how to better store all of the stuff currently pushed inside. Someday. Definitely not now. Back to cookbooks and novel writing.

White Paint: Behr Premium Plus #1857 Frost (W-F-500)

Red Paint: Behr Ultra Interior Ruby Ring (S-G-150)

Teapots were gifts from Amber, Mary, Leslie, and Bratati. The single serve teapots I've collected over the years. Kitchen sign from Hobby Lobby years ago.

Vanilla Chip No-Bake Biscoff Cookies

For about as long as I can remember, mom has been making chocolate no-bake cookies. They are a tradition, a family favorite, the kind of sweet treat that hits all the right spots.

I decided to experiment with them, but didn't have enough to make a full batch. I made a half batch, adjusting measurements on the fly for the ingredients at hand. Not always my strong suit.

These, however, turned out to be one very happy accident. While they're not the most beautiful cookies, they hit all the marks for a good cookie:

*Chocolatey? Yes, the texture is here, but the flavor is vanilla.
*Chewy? Yes, definitely. Not crispy.
*Flavorful? Yes, confirmed by a few people besides myself.

There's also Biscoff spread in these cookies, though it's subdued, nearly hidden in this cookie. The most prominent flavor in Biscoff cookies (and the spread) is cinnamon; here, it's mellow, an undertone. For Part 2, I'm going to knock the cinnamon flavor out of the park and see how far it goes. But that's another post, at another time.

Also, I think if I made this particular combination again, I'd up the liquid. The vanilla chips did not completely melt - not that that hurts the flavor. In fact, I like the white of the chips against the tan of the cookie. I suspect that if you doubled the recipe and made a full batch, the liquid/dry mix would be A-OK.

Like I said, they're not particularly eye appealing. I store mine in a plastic bag, and by the second or third day, they're crumbly. But lemme tell you, those crumbly bits are worth scooping up.

The number of cookies you'll get depends on how large you want them to be. These are rich, filling cookies, so I'd suggest a modest or small size. So much chocolatey goodness in each bite!

Vanilla Chip No-Bake Biscoff Cookies

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/8 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
6 oz vanilla chips
1 1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup Biscoff spread (creamy or chunky)

Place the chips, oatmeal, and spread in a large bowl and set aside. Get your vanilla out of the cupboard and have a measuring spoon ready to go. Do the same with waxed paper to eventually drop cookies upon; have it ready to go before you the other ingredients hit boil. From there on ,this recipe goes fast.

Place the granulated sugar, milk, butter, brown sugar, and salt in a pan. Melt until sugar dissolves, and boil for one minute. Immediately pour over other ingredients, add vanilla, and mix. The batter will be stiff. Work quickly, and drop by spoonful onto waxed paper.

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The Bride's Cookbook by Poppy Cannon

So a cookbook by the same author who wrote "The Can Opener Cookbook" cannot be expected to hit great heights of culinary inspiration. And this definitely does not hit any heights, though it's certainly is fun to read.

And if you hate to cook, you may want to rustle up a copy. I found mine at a local antique store sans book jacket, and oh, the 'treasures' inside. I hardly know where to begin.

Like Peg Bracken's "I Hate To Cook Book," this book attempts humor, and brings a 'new' way to write recipes, an alphabet of advice, and bad poetry throughout. I am scared to try a couple of these recipes. How about this appetizer?

Celery Angels: This is (and I'm not kidding) "Crisp celery stalks in refrigerator, wrap in paper-thin slices of ham, and fasten with toothpicks." At serving time, you're encouraged to "Arrange stalks like spokes of a wheel on a platter with the leafy tops facing out."

Sounds un-delicious unless there's a dipping sauce. Which there most definitely isn't...

A few pages along and you've got Creamed Frankfurter Slices.

Yes, that's correct: Wafer-thinly sliced and browned hot dogs served in a sauce of celery soup, milk, and mustard. Dinner guests are invited to dip with rye or pumpernickel bread. Mmmmm.

My favorite quote from the introduction:

"This is a very different book because it is based on a new theory: that some of the best meals of our time are whizzed together in a matter of minutes, often with the sketchiest of equipment and by the most blissfully untutored impresarios, ie., Brides with flowers in their hair and only half an eye on what's bubbling. In this book the can opener, the mix, and frozen food take their place among the immemorial little gods of hearth and household."

My second favorite quote comes from "About The Recipes"
"How many does the recipe serve? It's hard to say. For it is assumed in a cookbook for Brides that we are dealing with two active, healthy, young people, one of them a husky male who would be outraged by average and tearoom portions. So we speak generally of the number of servings you can count on rather than the number of persons. Our portions are somewhat more lavish than those prescribed in more orthodox volumes."

In practical terms, this means that you'll have to clue how much food you'll be serving because the number of people to be served is sometimes listed, sometimes not.  Measurements for ingredients are also buried in the recipe itself. Here's a short example:

Salmon Baked in Sour Cream

Our private name for this is Bay Ridge salmon, after the many Norwegians who settled in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, overlooking the entrance to New York harbor. For it was New York's great shipping industry which drew these latter-day immigrants from northern Europe - and this is one of their favorite dishes.

You will need:
salmon steak
sour cream

Sprinkle 1-pound salmon steak with salt and pepper, lay a few thin slices of lemon atop, and cover with 1/4 cup sour cream and 1 teaspoon minced parsley. Bake in a moderate oven, 350, for 35 to 40 minutes.

At serving time:
This calls for potatoes boiled in their jackets and, for your green vegetable, spinach or string beans. 2 servings.

Poppy Cannon suggests a folding card table close to the kitchen door as an island and serving table.

Poppy Cannon suggests a folding card table close to the kitchen door as an island and serving table.

But back to the goofy life and recipe suggestions. How about the devil's food cake iced with Butterscotch Frosting for the 5th year wedding anniversary? The traditional gift is wood, so Cannon advises "Decorate with chocolate bits for that knotty pine effect...A wooden cake plate!"

And then there's the "Cater Your Own Wedding" suggestions - as if the bride doesn't have enough to think about before the wedding? Let's add in catering for 50-100 people to make that glorious day go even more smoothly.

Fortunately, Cannon suggests you 'delegate all the last-minute responsibilities to one trusted person" so that -on your wedding day- you "don't give the menu a single thought." All recipes in this section are designed to serve 12, so hopefully your multiplication skills are also divine. There are three menus, and I'm sharing the most absurd:

Reception Chicken Pies
Tomato Aspic with Caviar Mayonnaise
Green Salad with Cheese Julienne
Bought Wedding Cake
Ice Cream in Forms
Colonial Bride's Bowl

Yes, that's correct: frozen chicken pot pies - enhanced with herbs and wine. The tomato aspic comes from a can and is warmed and remolded; at serving time you add parsley, mayonnaise, sour cream, caviar, and chives. The "Colonial Bride's Bowl" sounds more scary than it actually is: rum mixed with frozen lemonade, frozen pineapple juice, frozen pineapple chunks, and frozen strawberries.

The final wedding salvo is an Angel Pyramid. This is angel food cake mix baked as cupcakes, slathered with icing, and stacked pyramid-style ON TOP OF EACH OTHER with a tall tumbler or vase upside down in the center and toothpicks for support. Can you feel the Pinterest Fail potential?

But wait, there's more.

I could go on and on and on and on with the absurd recipes and suggestions. Imagine my surprise to find a recipe that I've actually tasted! Lurking on page 370 is the Georgia Lime Punch: 7-Up served with lime sherbet. Except mom never made it with Tom Collins mix or curacao, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier.