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Branson vs. (Rabbie) Burns Broth

A special treat for the General
Branson prepares a special broth for a visiting General

It’s the season for soup in northern climes, so it is fitting that soup figures prominately in S2E3 (and 4) of Downton Abbey.

In Episode 3, the famous General Sir Herbert Strutt comes to inspect Downton Abbey, which has been newly transformed into a convalescent facility for military officers. Chaffeur Tom Branson, seizes the opportunity to make a political statement. In case you missed the recipe, it is really quite simple to prepare.

For your Reading and Cooking Pleasure

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Branson’s Broth

Down the drain with the foul broth (ITV)

Branson’s recipe for disaster was a simple blend of “Oil and ink and a bit of a cow pat, all mixed with sour milk”


  • oil
  • ink
  • fresh cow pat
  • sour milk


points for presentation (ITV)

Combine ingredients, serve in a lovely silver tureen, and when the opportunity arises, toss the lot all over an important official like a General, but be sure to leave a vague note to your beloved for another servant to find so that you are caught before you do something you will regret.

English Cookery– the worst in the world?

While famous British chefs (Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay) have helped boost the reputation of English cuisine, I am pretty sure food critics still compare some English fare with the quality of Branson’s soup. Apparently that reputation goes back hundreds of years. From Mrs. Beeton’s delightful book, Beetons Book of Household Management, published in 1861:

IT HAS BEEN ASSERTED, that English cookery is, nationally speaking, far from being the best in the world. More than this, we have been frequently told by brilliant foreign writers, half philosophers, half chefs, that we are the worst cooks on the face of the earth, and that the proverb which alludes to the divine origin of food, and the precisely opposite origin of its preparers, is peculiarly applicable to us islanders.

Saved by the Scots

All is not lost, however:

Not, however, to the inhabitants of the whole island; for, it is stated in a work which treats of culinary operations, north of the Tweed, that the “broth” of Scotland claims, for excellence and wholesomeness, a very close second place to the bouillon, or common soup of France.

Cock-a-Leekie: Traditional Burns Supper menu item

Robert Burns

One of the most famous of Scottish soups is Cock-a-Leekie (essentially chicken and leeks). While it can be enjoyed anytime, it holds a place of honor on the traditional meal served to celebrate the birth of famous Scottish poet, Robbie Burns this time of year. Robert Burns’ actual birthday is January 25 so purists will celebrate on that date, but typically the meal is held the weekend before or after that date if it falls during the middle of the week. There is a rich scottish heritage in Canada so I have been lucky enough to have been invited to annual celebrations. This is a very serious event with a set program complete with bag pipes, speeches in an language which sort of resembles English, haggis (yum) and scotch (which some people need to summon the courage to eat haggis. We missed one dinner this past weekend (where all my girlfriends get together and do some less serious dancing) but will be attending another this coming weekend.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup
Votes: 2
Rating: 4
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While the name seems confusing, this is simply a hearty soup make with chicken and leeks. It traditionally is served at dinners celebrating the birth of the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns each January.
Cock-a-Leekie Soup
Votes: 2
Rating: 4
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
While the name seems confusing, this is simply a hearty soup make with chicken and leeks. It traditionally is served at dinners celebrating the birth of the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns each January.
Servings Prep Time Cook Time Passive Time
6-8servings 30minutes 4hours 3hours
Servings Prep Time
6-8servings 30minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
4hours 3hours
Servings: servings
Servings: servings
  1. Put the chicken (and bacon) in a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and remove any scum.
  2. Add three-quarters of the leeks, (green as well as white sections), herbs (tied together in a bundle), salt and pepper and return to the boil. Simmer gently for 2-3 hours, adding more water/stock if necessary. Remove the chicken and allow to cool enough to remove the meat.
  3. Skim visible fat from the stock pot, using a flat spoon or paper towel. I have also used ice cubes (the fat sticks to the cube and you fish it out). If you have more time, you can let the stock cool, and let the fat solidify.
  4. Take the meat from the bones and put back into the soup pot (you can also reserve some of the meat for another dish)
  5. Add the rice, drained prunes and the remaining leeks and simmer for at least another 30 minutes. Check for flavour and serve with a little chopped parsley or dill.
Recipe Notes
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8 thoughts on “Branson vs. (Rabbie) Burns Broth

  1. Hello,
    I’ve tried to send you an email but it doesn’t seem to work, so i’m posting here!
    It is not an habit for me to write to a blogger. But I had to write you because I came across your blog yesterday and I think it is just splendid. I am a French girl who is passionate about cooking, and specially baking. I discovered downton Abbey around Christmas time, and I just fell in love with it. I can re-watch the episodes without getting tired of it. I love everything, the dresses, the interior decoration, the food, and of course the storyline. I started a blog about the fashion (and the hairdos) during edwardian era. I like doing researches myself about one or another subject, and so this is one of the reasons why I like very much the way you’re writing your articles, because one can sense the historic background behind a recipe or a fact. I lived one year in the US when I was younger, so I still got a very special connection to english/american recipes. I am looking forward to reading your upcoming recipes. It would be great if you would do an article about the tradition of tea (and tea time-s-) and the little snacks that go with it (for example I was surprised to learn than salty snacks were served with tea like cucumber sandwiches, I didn’t know that!). Tea time seems very sacred to the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey 🙂

    Kind regards from France,


    1. Bonjour,Christine. Thanks so much for your comments. You are so lucky to be living in France. The closest we have in Canada is Quebec City which does make you feel you are in France. Two younger family friends are living in France now for a short time and are having a blast. Dear Diary, today I got my first request! I have been collecting some recipes and like my titanic series will likely make a list of must have for your high tea, and then break down into smaller bites in separate posts. Yes, little sandwiches are the key to a good High Tea, but there is an art just on how to brew tea.
      And there is the attire, which is your area of interest. Maybe we can team up! I still bear the shame from being tossed (politely asked to leave) from High Tea at The Ritz in London for dress code violation. I was with other lovely young professional women on a business trip, who shed our power suits for a more casual day of shopping with tea as a highlight. I could understand if we were wearing tourist tshirts, but a nice dress and trendy sports inspired mules?…as you can see I still need time to heel after 10 years.

      I do enjoy discovering that in our modern world there are still traditions we have carried with us. Good luck with your own research.
      Thanks for following.


  2. […] followers) will recall Branson’s creative talents in the kitchen in S2 E3;  I shared his soup recipe and was reminded why Brits are widely regarded as the world’s worst cooks.  I don’t […]

  3. […] the courage to actually eat the haggis. If you could like to try a Scottish dish this week, the Cock-a-Leekie soup (chicken and leeks) is harmless enough. In our home we are making a scottish beef stew (beef, […]

  4. […] Cock-a-leekie soup The Haggis – We cheated and purchased our haggis this year. Everyone agreed that it was quite good! Bryan’s Scottish chicken – We wanted to make certain we had a main that everyone would eat, so Bryan created his own dish using traditional Scottish herbs & spices. Tatties & neeps – Potatoes and turnips, don’t ya know! Bryan, again, concocted his own recipe. Cranachan – Delicious! I made one without whiskey for my non-drinking friend and made sure that the oats were gluten-free for my GF guests. Chocolate whiskey truffles – A very nice compliment to the cranachan. For my non-drinking friend, I substituted vanilla and cinnamon for the whiskey. They were just as good! […]

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