As soon as the presents have been unwrapped, the Champagne has been uncorked and we’ve happily rung in the New Year another great event is set to take place. If you’re not one to use your best china, crystal and silver year round, I urge you all not to put it away just yet! On January 3rd, the season premiere of Downton Abbey is set to air. I can hardly contain my excitement and yet it’s bittersweet as this television favorite is also on its final season. This is surely cause for a celebration and one Last Hurrah! Now, of course we realize that planning a party so soon after the season’s festivities may not be feasible for many, and we do hope you’ll bookmark this page, for any Downton episode is one worth celebrating!
Since so many scenes and so much of the family drama took place at the dinner table I’m envisioning an evening (or afternoon) surrounded by food – This could either be casual or more more formal. In one room a large television, or even movie screen where guests will congregate after the meal. In the dining room a smorgasbord of divine food, served buffet style so that it is easily served and enjoyed and takes center stage, dressed in elegant dishes of silver and crystal.
Since the 6th season doesn’t air until 9:00 pm on the East Coast I might suggest inviting guests earlier, at 7:30 or so to mingle and eat as they tune into the final episode of Season 5 which is available online via PBS and on Amazon Prime.
Because Downton airs on a Sunday night it might be best to keep the festivities on the simpler side to alleviate preparation and cleanup. One could, of course, always hold the affair on a Friday evening or even on the weekend, and send notices out to guests to either refrain from watching the opening episode (which might be hard to do!) or to refrain from discussing until all have had the chance to view it. Below, I share suggestions for several viewing options. Perhaps a formal sit down meal before retiring with an after meal digestif for viewing.
*While you and your guests are mingling and chatting, why not engage everyone in some DA Trivia…
- Did you know that Highclere Castle, has been the home of the Carnarvon family since 1679? In 1922, George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, co-discovered the Tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen. On the show, the names of the Earl of Grantham’s beloved dogs, Isis and Pharaoh, are nods to the real castle’s connection to Egyptian history. There’s an Egyptian exhibit inside.
- Cast members of the show have revealed that the costumes are, in many cases, actual articles of clothing from the 1910s and 1920s. They are so fragile that they cannot be laundered, and as a result, don’t smell very good.
- And of course Newport plays an important role. Julian Fellowes’ inspiration for his original story came from authors such as Edith Wharton (“The Buccaneers”) and close friend Henry James’s general research of the novel’s time period and subject matter. He also sourced the 1989 book “To Marry an English Lord”. Elizabeth McGovern’s character Cora, was the first one that he developed.
- Why was Cora an American? Between the late 1800s and the outbreak of WWI in 1914, hundreds of wealthy American women visited England and Europe to marry aristocrats. The earliest American heiresses married impoverished aristocrats because they were snubbed by American high society, but the later heiresses wanted titles and to mingle with European royalty. Cora was born to Isidore Levinson, a dry goods multi-millionaire from Cincinnati. She arrived in England, with her mother, in 1888, at the age of 20, and was engaged to Robert, then Viscount (pronounced vie-count) Downton by the end of her first season. It is not that remarkable that she is American. Britain still welcomes the odd American to its shores.
- Highclere castle is 175 years young with a driveway that extends over a mile!
- There are currently 70 staff members employed at Highclere Castle.
- The current owners are British Aristocrats. George Herbert is the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, and his wife, Lady Fiona, the Countess of Carnarvon.
- The Real-Life Furnishings Often Appear on Screen. Lord Grantham’s study is castle’s real library. Since Highclere’s interiors are so well-suited to the show’s needs, many scenes are filmed in the castle’s rooms with the actual furnishings in place.
- There are 5,650 books in the library!
- The estate is currently valued at over $240 million.
- The castle can be rented for $23,000 for events and weddings.
- The estate is HUGE with over 30,000 square feet of living space with 50-80 Bedrooms. Many of the rooms were originally used as servant’s quarters, most of which are no longer used, so it’s now uncertain just how many actually were bedrooms.
Now you’ll have plenty to talk about at the table!
Menu suggestions. (Items highlighted are linked to recipes)
Sunday Night ‘s Grand Opening :: Finger foods and hors d’oeuvres
Oysters with Champagne Mignonette
Shrimp or Langoustine Cocktail with lemons and capers
For those of you who want to go the extra mile a seafood tower
Cucumber and Mint sandwiches
Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwiches
Blinis with smoked salmon (or caviar) and creme fraiche
Mini Yorkshire Puddings with roast beef and horseradish
Fig and Stilton salad with Port wine dressing
Mini Beef Wellington Pot Pies
English Sausage Pastries
Angels on Horseback
Assorted individual souffles:
Cheese, Apricot, Lemon or Chocolate
Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter Hard Sauce
Cabinet Cake (Cabinet Pudding)
Angel Cake served with fresh berries and whipped cream
Weekend: Dinner at Downton
Roast Beef Dinner
Trout Baked with Almonds
Stuffed Lamb Shoulder
Wild Duck Roast
Fish Braised in Wine
New Carrots with Parsley
Cauliflower au Gratin
Weekend: Brunch at Downton
Chilled Poached Salmon with Dill or
Salmon Steaks with Hollandaise
Scrambled eggs with prawns, Truffles or Foie Gras
Savoury Pancakes with Creme Fraiche, smoked salmon, caviar or truffles
Asparagus tips au gratin
I was even able to locate an actual dinner menu from a showing of “The Midnight Follies”at the Hotel Metropole in London on April 29th, 1927.
Consomme au Marsala
Compote de Madrilène en Gelée
Oeufs poché Daumont
Oeuf à la Gelée d’Estragon
Oeuf sur la plat au Bacon
Filet de Sole Joinville
Homard froid Sauce Mayonnaise
Haddock poché Métropole
Poussin en Cocotte Ménagère
Caille de Vigne aux Raisins
Cuisse de Poulet grille Américaine
Rognons d’Agneau Vert Pré
Jambon Langue Roast Beef
Salade de Volaille
Coeur de Laitues Fines Herbes
Biscuit Glacé Cote d’Azur
Coupe Cressane Friandises
Welsh Rarebit Canapé Rabelais
Toast au Anchois
For a sneak peak into drama of the 6th and final season watch here.
* Trivia gathered from HGTV and IMDb Movies
I hope you’ve enjoyed this and are inspired to have a fete of of your own to celebrate the final season of Downton Abbey. On behalf of Bettie and myself, we wish you all a wonderful and Merry Christmas!