As I mentioned in a previous post dedicated to Mrs. Beeton, the original domestic goddess of the 20th century, her book The Book of Household Management was a helpful source for developing the dinner scenes for the popular Downton Abbey series.
This was a popular cookery source book for women of Mrs. Patmore’s generation, so I have been working through the pages available online at mrs.beeton.com to research typical recipes of that era. The book was first published in 1861 and is still in circulation. You can order your own copy of the abridged version at Amazon. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management: Abridged edition
She was a gem. Isabella achieved a great deal at an early age (she died at age 28) having published volumes of information on how to run a household in the Victorian era. She goes into great detail in Chapter 40 on the importance of Dinners and Dining. The chapter opens with “Man, it has been said, is a dining animal.”
Dinner, being the grand solid meal of the day, is a matter of considerable importance; and a well-served table is a striking index of human, ingenuity and resource.
Mrs. Beeton offers sage advice to us all on the subject of entertaining: “The elegance with which a dinner is served is a matter which depends, of course, partly upon the means, but still more upon the taste of the master and mistress of the house.” Seek what works for you and make it your own.
Your meal does not have to be expensive to be memorable. I noticed that Mrs. Beeton listed wine jelly on a number of the menus contained in her book. A simple combination of wine, sugar and gelatin, it has a delightful refreshing taste.
There are a number of different wines you can use, so with some experimentation with a basic recipe you can make your own signature dish. Wine jelly is also versatile: you can use it as a spread, or serve it on its own in molded form between courses to cleanse the palate, or with fruit as a dessert. I have a personal connection to wine jelly, so offer this recipe and the cook as inspiration for your next special event (i.e. Valentines Day or your Titanic tribute party).
My good friend Éva, who blogs at http://kitcheninspirations.wordpress.com in Toronto, is a talented graphic designer and is fearless in the kitchen. She definately has an entertainment style which would fit in well with the Crawleys–sophisticated and precise. As a young friend observed “Éva, you are so fancy!”
She hosted a truly memorable 6 course engagement dinner for myself and my husband and introduced me to different way to serve wine jelly. I loved the little cubes which she fashioned to look like gems in simple, yet elegant serving dishes. You can read her blog (follow the link below) to learn more about her creative process.
Eva’s Wine Gelée (jelly)
- 750 ml bottle of pink zinfandel
- 3 envelopes of powdered gelatin
- 1/4 cup of sugar
- Pour about 1 cup of the wine into a small saucepan, add the sugar and 3 envelopes of gelatin. Stir over low heat to dissolve sugar and gelatin.
- Once this has been dissolved, add the remaining wine to it and stir until fully combined.
- Pour into a lightly oiled 8 inch by 8-inch pan and refrigerate until set.
- Slide a knife around the edges of the pan, dip the bottom the pan into hot water and then invert, hopefully the wine jelly will release; cut into very small cubes. If it doesn’t release cleanly, fret not, I actually tore mine to resemble gemstones and I thought it looked lovely.
- This recipe makes about 8-10 servings, but it keeps well for weeks int the fridge sealed with plastic wrap so you can serve it over several parties — or just the two of you.