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Soul Cakes, the Original Halloween Treat


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Turnips were the original lit jack-o-lanterns

Turnips were the original lit jack-o-lanterns

It is November 1st and it has started snowing outside. Yes, Summer is over and harvest celebrations are coming to a close.  Winter is not far behind. I love tracing traditions, and the foods that are an important part of the celebrations.

Did you know that Halloween has ancient origins in Ireland? It was originally called Samhain, and the day marked the end of the harvest season for Celtic farmers. As immigrants brought their traditions to America and adapted to their new surroundings. Originally, turnips served as Jack o Lanterns, but pumpkins are so much easier to carve.

Halloween also has religious connections.  The root word of Halloween – ”hallow” – means ”holy.” The suffix “een” is an abbreviation of “evening.” It refers to the Eve of All Hallows, the night before the Christian holy day that honors saintly people of the past.All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1, which is followed by All Souls’ day on Nov. 2.   ”Souling” was the original trick-or-treat activity held around the same time.

This week’s dish are Soul Cakes, the original “treat” traditionally made for All Soul’s Day, celebrated on Nov. 2nd.

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Downton Cooking Lesson: It’s All Gravy


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S5 MrsHughesIt is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada.  The Dowager might very well have asked her American nemesis Martha Levinson “What is Thanksgiving?” The British do not celebrate a one day feast; instead there is month of Harvest Festival events.

The Canadian Thanksgiving holiday was officially proclaimed by  Parliament in 1879 and draws upon three traditions: European harvest celebrations; the first North American Thanksgiving (1578) observed by Martin Frobisher in the Arctic Circle; and the Pilgrims’ 1621 first celebration in Massachusetts.  In 1957, the date was set for Second Monday in October, and of course Americans know that US Thanksgiving is the held the 4th Thursday in November.

In light of the harvest which leads to the holiday season, this week features an easy turkey gravy, the pièce de résistance of the turkey dinner. “It’s all gravy” is an English idiom, one of many we will explore over the coming weeks to share at the dining table.

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Celebrating the UK Launch of Downton Season 5 And My 200th Post


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Someone learns a new word in S5E1.

It is time to celebrate. Scotland is still part of the UK (apologies to those who wished to separate,  but we would have really missed you), and ITV has begun broadcasting Season 5 of Downton in the UK.  I won’t comment on E1 other than to say that Season 5 starts off like a wonderful stew set on simmer, which is key to blending flavors, and that “donk” is my new favorite word.

It is also my 200th post here. I still wonder about where my passion for this show and its food comes from. So many stories, glimpses into food history, and  wonderful Downton inspired dishes. The dishes are catalogued in the Recipe Index.  Some of them and many others are perfectly packaged in my online cookbook Abbey Cooks Entertain, always at the ready on your smartphone or tablet.

I can’t believe I haven’t already shared this recipe from my cookbook, but I can’t  think of any better recipe to celebrate than Lord D’s Pork Roast.  

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Final Days until Historic Vote & Downton S5 in the UK


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ScottishEnglishIt is a historic week in the UK. While American Downton Abbey fans might be envious about the launch of Season 5 on ITV this Sunday, it is the Scottish Referendum which has the captured the world’s attention.  This Thursday, September 18th, Scots will vote on a simple question “Should Scotland  be an independent country?  To keep up to date, follow BBC coverage at Scotland Decides.

In this last week of Downton Downtime in the UK, today’s dish is Made Over Pork Stew. I prefer to use the term “made over” over “left over” when creating a downstairs dish from the remainders of an upstairs meal.

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Celebrate Labour Day with Peach and Blueberry Galette


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Downton script meeting, pre water bottle gate*

The end of August marks the unofficial end of Summer, and the last long weekend before school and work brings up back inside. Sadly, this year served up more cool and rainy days than many would have preferred for our summer.  The UK experienced the chilliest August bank holiday on record this week, and fingers are crossed in North America for one last burst of sunshine as we celebrate Labour Day.

This year’s harsh winter delayed the start of the growing season, but our local markets are overflowing with wonderful fresh produce.  My own little garden flourished once it got going, but it is the fruit I really look forward to this time of year.  All those lovely tree fruits for wonderful summer desserts.

This week’s dish is peach and blueberry galette.  No need for pie plates or tart forms. This is a simple recipe with a no fuss crust, and easy to find fillings, to finish your off your Labour Day meal.

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Plastic Water Bottle Leaves Egg on Face of Downton Promoters


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The now famous water bottle shot.

Much to the surprise of Downton fans everywhere, our favorite show has been getting some unexpected press this week.  Known for their attention to historical accuracy,  sharp eyed fans were aghast when a plastic water bottle was spotted on the Crawley  mantle in a Season 5 promotional photo released on Instagram.  The photo has since been taken down, but has the damage was already done.  It has since made the rounds on social media and broadcast news shows across the country. Alastair Bruce, the show’s historical advisor, will certainly have been in a huddle with Julian Fellowes over this slip up.  Even if they have a bit of egg on their face, in the end though, there is something to be said for the saying “there is no such thing as bad publicity”.  In fact, lemons have now been turned into lemonade as the cast has now posed in a fun photo to help support the UK agency WaterAid

Speaking of eggs, today’s dish is a simple one: poached eggs. Poached eggs are easy to make and keep for a larger group for your weekend brunch.   It is one of those dishes that Mrs. Patmore would have taught Sybil once she mastered boiling an egg.  I make them almost every week for Lord D, and it is one of the 220 recipes in my book, Abbey Cooks Entertain, but for some reason I have not shared it here.   A simple dish, all you need is fresh eggs, a pot of water, a bit of vinegar and 4 minutes.

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Gathering for Proper Downton Catchup and Lovely Fish Stock


News of War Comes to Downton

I always loved Aunt Rosamund’s enthusiasm for gathering the family round to “have a proper catchup”.  Summer, in particular, is a busy time when friends and family gather outside to enjoy the great weather this season brings.  There are special gatherings in Britain and across Europe today, marking First World War Centenary.  Follow BBC for news on events marking this day, including a blackout across the UK.  As you recall, the Grantham family learned the news the old fashioned way (by telegram) at their annual garden party at the end of Season 1 of Downton.  Even Highclere Castle, where Downton is filmed, held a commemorative football match. The game was in honour of those brave soldiers who stepped aside from the horrors of the First World War to call a truce and united, momentarily, through their shared passion and love of football.

On a lighter note, it has been a busy summer for most.  Our annual family fishing trip to Northern BC did yield freezers full of wild salmon and halibut.  Out on the ocean there is no fish waste.  Salmon entrails and heads are used as bait for halibut, or a treat for the eagles. So when we got home and carefully portioned and froze the halibut, I tossed the remaining scraps into the stock pot to make today’s dish, fish stock.  Stay tuned for more fish recipes.

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Summer is The Time for Fools, A Downton Favorite


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Summer blooms at Highclere

It never ceases to amaze me how Spring weather transitions into Summer in a matter of days.  Even more sad though is how quickly time passes in Summer months.  Granted we are annually tortured for about of month of hot then cold weather in the Spring, making wardrobe decisions very challenging.  But then one day it arrives in your part of the world.  Sadly, this week my parents had snow in Calgary while we enjoyed 80+ heat, but their time will come soon. I hope so, the family fishing trip up to Alaska is coming up quick, followed by booth duty at the  Calgary Stampede’s Horse Haven.  Plus I am almost finished transitioning my wardrobe and focusing on my golf game.

When it’s hot outside the last thing we want to do is heat up our kitchens.  Time to simplify our cooking methods.  Desserts should be easy and refreshing and it is no wonder that we keep coming back to time honored traditions.  I have yet another rhubarb recipe to share this week, rhubarb fool, a traditional British favorite.

Enjoy your summer and I will pop in from time to time to update you with new recipes.  In the meantime, there are around 200 recipes in the Recipe Index to keep you company.

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Ease into Summer with Grilled Salmon & Boozy Rhubarb Sauce


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Time to kick back and relax

Even Mr. Bates takes time to kick back and relax

Now that the US, UK and Canada have enjoyed long weekends this month (and other countries in hot pursuit) we can all in the mood for taking it a little easier at work and enjoying life outdoors. Less time looking for missing files, more time searching for gardening tools.  Your accounting skills now are put to use calculating your golf index and how much food to buy per person for the camping trip. Organizational talents range from BBQ grill management to pulling together details for your neighborhood street party.  Forecasting is all about looking up at the clouds. And then there is freezer inventory.

Our annual family”Fishing Like A Crawley” fishing trip is a month away.  We still have salmon and a bit of ling cod left in our freezer from last year (thanks to vacuum packing) so we have been gifting to friends and colleagues what we can’t eat ourselves.  In keeping with my rhubarb series, today we are making Grilled Salmon with Sherry Rhubarb Sauce using rhubarb in a main course dish, in a wonderful boozy sherry sauce.

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Easing into Summer on Victoria Day with Healthy Rhubarb Crumble


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QueenVictoriaThis is the weekend that all Canadians look forward to: Victoria Day, celebrating the birthday of Queen Victoria, our first sovereign queen.  May 24th marks her official birthday, but the holiday falls on the last Monday before May 25.  While still proud of our English heritage, this holiday takes on a special meaning marking the changing of the seasons.  The fear of frost has almost passed so many will be planting their gardens–which is what I will be doing–and city dwellers will be fighting horrific traffic to enjoy Canada’s beautiful lakes, mountains and forests.  Also known as the May Two-Four, the Canadian slang for a case of twenty-four beers (a “two-four”), a drink popular during the long weekend.

It is time for us to turn to summer foods with fresh fruit and less time in the kitchen.   My rhubarb is growing like weeds with all the rain we are having in this area.  A healthier rhubarb crumble is just the meal to slide into a slower summer pace.

Downton Dish

our favorite Victorian

our favorite Victorian

We will have to get used to Downton Downtime.  We do know that Season 5 is coming eventually (Sept on ITV,  Jan on PBS), so we will see press about new casting, and perhaps a plot spoiler or two in the next 8 months.  However, the popularity of the show does provide us with crumbs to keep us going:

Abbey Cooks Entertain: Only $7.95

Just because S4 is over, that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to share the love of this period of history in food with family and friends.

With 220 traditional Downton era recipes with a modern twist, this is a great book to create some simple or complex dishes for your Mary or Anna.   This 432 page ebook sells for $7.95. Book sales help offset my costs in food, equipment and time to keep bringing you new dishes each week.

While the book is available on Amazon, you can only get a signed copy here on my site.

If you don’t have an eReader I would suggest the PDF version which allows you to print recipes as you go, if you wish. Buy one for yourself, gift to another.  All you have to do is email the download link to your loved ones.

My Favorite Rhubarb Recipes


Rhubarb crop already this year

We continue our salute to rhubarb.  I have already enjoyed a stalk or two from the plants in my own garden and will keep producing all summer long.  These are some of my favorite rhubarb recipes we have shared so far and the meals to enjoy them.  It really is a versatile vegetable.

Healthier Rhubarb Crumble

rhubarb crumbleThis is a healthier version of crumble with much less sugar, and almost no butter contained in other versions. Most rhubarb crumbles will contain strawberries or other berries, but if you don’t have around and they aren’t quite ready on the fields, rhubarb is great on it’s own.

Serves 6 – 8



  • 8 cups fruit – all rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces, or mix of 1/2 rhubarb and half berries of your choice
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup granulated sugar (or sugar substitute like Stevia)
  • 2 tbsp. unbleached  all-purpose flour


  • 1 cup large rolled oats
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp. apple juice (or more as required)


  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Toss together the fruit, sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour in a large bowl. Transfer the mixture to a shallow baking dish.
  • Combine oats, flour, brown sugar, butter and oil in a bowl; work the ingredients together with a fork or your fingers until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the juice until the mixture is evenly moistened.
  • Distribute the topping mixture evenly over the fruit.
  • Bake until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden, 35 to 40 minutes.
  • Serve with non fat strained plain yoghurt with a little honey drizzle, or frozen vanilla yoghurt.