Every episode of Downton Abbey is laid out much like the elegant dinners that the Crawleys share with their guests. Many different courses and layering of flavours that is always a treat for the eyes. While food plays a role in each episode, it is mostly a supporting player. There is one dessert in Season 1, Episode 5 which takes centre stage: the salty raspberry meringue pudding.
The back story is that Mrs. Patmore, Downton’s head cook, is suffering from failing eyesight, most likely cataracts. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by Daisy, the lowly cook’s assistant, and it is apparent the condition has worsened. Mrs. Patmore refuses The Countess of Grantham’s request to serve an Apple Charlotte (try this easy recipe), a dessert favored by dinner guest, Sir Anthony Strallan.
Daisy guesses that Mrs. Patmore couldn’t read the receipt (recipe) and receives a tongue lashing for politely offering to read it to her. Cora graciously allows the raspberry meringue to remain on the menu since the ingredients had already been ordered. The plot thickens when there is a mishap with a chicken ending up on the floor, but when Mrs. Patmore reaches for the wrong bowl (salt instead of sugar) to finish the dessert, the jig was up. She proudly sprinkled heaping spoonfuls of the salt on the dish just before being sent upstairs, proclaiming “I don’t like to put in (sugar) on earlier, it spoils the effect.” Sadly, the salty pudding did not produce the result she had intended.
I was curious about what was in the pudding that Mrs. Patmore knew so well, since it did look elegant. The pudding is a simple custard and since you are also making meringues you have a use for the egg whites which was a pretty frugal idea for the time. My version uses milk in place of cream to keep the fat content down. Caster sugar is a very fine sugar which you should be able to find as many cooks use it for canning their preserves. You can also put regular sugar in your food processor. I use Stevia, a natural sugar substitute which is also super fine, and save some calories. You can make the meringues cookies in advance.