Downton Abbey, Season Three: Are You Ready to (Tea) Party?

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Downton Abbey Season 3

Finally, Downton Abbey fans, it’s time for Season 3, when the gloves come off and these tea partiers get ready to rumble!

Well, not exactly. But, having seen a preview of episode one on Saturday morning as part of a KQED members’ special event, we can promise that the quips, especially from Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, come thick and fast. Even Cora gets in a few snappy lines, and Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary continues with her martini-dry asides.

We won’t spoil your fun, except to say that yes, this episode is even more madly soap-opera-ish than its predecessors (excluding, of course, the Titanic/amnesia/will-the-real-Patrick-Crawley-please-stand-up plot line of last season), with dire situations set up and then (mostly) snappily resolved in the time it takes to boil a kettle. Still, plenty of questions remain for loyal fans to ponder.

Will the steadfast Anna channel her inner Lord Peter Wimsey and prove that Vera framed Bates to take the fall for her suicide? Will bold flirtation (kisses on the cheek! encouragement to sit near the family pew at Mary and Matthew’s wedding! By Snookie, where will it end?) on the part of always-a-bridesmaid Lady Edith convince the aged, war-wounded Lord Strallan to finally give her a go? Will Sybil and her Irish firebrand husband return from Dublin, and will the rest of the Crawleys ever get used to calling him Tom (like an equal), and not Branson (like a servant)? Whose future will the nefarious O’Brian ruin next? And what lies ahead for everyone’s favorite kitchen maid, the conscience-stricken, underappreciated Daisy?

(Keep an eye out, too, for some new faces below stairs: after all, as Amanda Dobbins writes, “Tea trays and dead Turkish diplomats do not carry themselves!”)

Downton Abbey Season 3 - Shirley Maclaine as Martha LevinsonDownton Abbey Season 3 - Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley with Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary CrawleyDownton Abbey Season 3 - Sophie McShera as Daisy Mason Assistant Cook

As the Crawleys and their servants well know, even the most difficult of situations–midnight elopements, deadly flu epidemics, the wrong shirt–can be smoothed over with a good, strong cup of tea and its accompanying treats. On Saturday, KQED followed suit, offering members who came down to the studios in the cold, rainy, appropriately English weather a Downton-worthy spread of croissants, fruit scones, fresh fruit, frittata squares, and tiny, crustless smoked-salmon and cucumber tea sandwiches, although we hardly think Mrs. Patmore–or even Cousin Isobel–would have countenanced the paper cups and tea bags standing in for the show’s Spode and Darjeeling. But there were hats aplenty, and no one could resist the chance to snap a photo alongside the life-sized photo-mural of the full cast.

So if you haven’t invited a bunch of Downton Abbey-loving friends over for a Sunday night viewing party, you should, since yesterday’s event proved that it’s a lot more fun to watch such a sweeping, soapy costume drama when you’ve got like-minded fans to gasp and giggle with.

Need some inspiration for the menu for Season 3? You can check out KQED’s Downtown Abbey page, with appropriate recipes for scones, Coronation Chicken, bread and butter pudding and more, or face the drama with a strong cocktail like The Bittersweet Mr. Bates.

You can plan your menu for downstairs (“That treacle tart hit the spot, thank you, Mrs. Patmore”) or upstairs (“Oh no, Robert, those cocktails look too exciting for so early in the evening”). Talking about the making of the original Upstairs Downstairs, the hit BBC series from the 1970s that set the stage for “big house” dramas like Downton Abbey, creator and lead actress Jean Marsh, who played head house parlormaid Rose, said the actors “in service” had it much better than their betters upstairs, at least when it came to food on the set:

“We had lovely, untidy, real brown loaves and socking great big lumps of cheese, real Cheddar, big slabs of butter…eggs and bacon cooked by Angela Badley [who played the cook, Mrs. Bridges] on the set. And the poor upstairs people had grouse that had gone off and all their food was painted with glycerin to make to look good, and it was sitting around forever. They’d come onto our set and say ‘Can we have some bread and cheese?’ and we’d say ‘No, go away, it’s ours, be off with you!’

Looking for something a little more exciting than just Earl Gray and scones? The Vintage Tea Party Book by sassy (and proudly British) Angel Adoree also provides many delectable but easy recipes along with stylish inspiration for outfits and tables settings. You can find it at Lovejoy’s Attic, a charming little shop overflowing with teacups, lacy tablecloths, and tea-related accoutrements that’s just across the street from Lovejoy’s Tearoom in Noe Valley. (Don’t miss the tearoom’s recipe for its popular Pear and Stilton Tea Sandwiches). While Adoree’s vintage style is a few decades more modern (she focuses mostly on the 1940s and 50s), her whimsical charm and eye for detail make this book a fun find for anyone who loves a good tea party. Adoree, who runs Vintage Patisserie, a creative, vintage-themed event-planning business, knows her egg coddlers from her fascinators, and believes that a good tea party is a perfect festivity at any time, no matter if the clock calls for breakfast or a midnight feast.

Then, of course, there’s always Edwardian Glamour Cooking Without Tears, a fabulously eccentric cookbook/manifesto published in 1960 by Oswell Blakeston, the pseudonym for English writer, editor, and filmmaker Henry Joseph Hasslacher (1907-1985), who would have been just a few years younger than the fictional Crawley sisters. With recipes for potted pheasant, crab in aspic, molds, galantines, rissoles and souffles galore, Mrs. Patmore would feel right at home. While the book is long out of print, it can be found on the shelves of the San Francisco Public Library.

If you’ve got some delicious ideas to go with the premiere of Season 3, let us know in the comments section below.

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About the Author ()

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is a longtime local food writer, author, and cook. Her books include World of Doughnuts (Egg & Dart Press); Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams Sonoma); Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press). She has studied organic farming at UCSC and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She does frequent cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets and has taught food writing at Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Continuing Education program at Stanford University. She has been the lead restaurant critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian as well as for San Francisco magazine. Last year, she worked as an assistant chef at the Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists' residency program located in the Marin Headlands, and worked as a production cook at the Marin Sun Farms Cafe in Pt Reyes Station. She has lived in San Francisco for nearly 20 years, interspersed with stints in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.