Season four of Julian Fellowes' addictively soapy period drama Downton Abbey premieres here this Sunday, on Jan. 5 — but it's already aired in the UK. What should we expect from the first episode?
One thing, according to London's free tabloid Metro News, is that we will find Lady Mary expressing her grief in the aftermath of her husband's tragic accident by “reading, staring out of the window, ignoring her baby and forgetting that it's Valentine's Day” and “sounding like a grown up Wednesday Addams.”
But what about one of our favorite characters, the blustery head cook, Mrs. Beryl Patmore, she of the serial kitchen catastrophes? In past seasons she's blackened a kidney soufflé, accidentally salted a raspberry meringue — and then there's the roast chicken that she simply retrieved from the floor and sent upstairs. What kind of culinary obstacle is our ruddy-cheeked kitchen traffic cop up against this season?
Lesley Nicol, the British stage actress who has a way of making Mrs. Patmore seem less like an orders-hollering tyrant and more like a woman of a certain age struggling to hold onto to her job, says it's electric appliances.
“There is a new technology invading the kitchen and Mrs. P is fearful that she will become usurped,” Nichol confirmed to us in an email.
It's easy to grasp how a cook trained to believe in the power of a muscular forearm, a sturdy mixing bowl and a wooden spoon might be totally freaked out by something that plugs into the wall, whirrs noisily and does the stirring for you.
But food historian Andrea Broomfield, author of Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History, says that the aristocratic, endlessly self-involved Grantham family deserve big props for outfitting their kitchen with up-to-date, time-saving devices.
Rural electrification — or bringing power to remote areas where manor houses like Downton Abbey existed — wasn't easily accomplished back then. Plus typically the upper classes felt that as long as they didn't have to exert any extra energy, why bother?
“When wealthy people had a lot of servants, they were not apt to consider their workload,” says Broomfield. “The notion of installing electricity to make it easier for a servant to do something in a new-fangled or convenient way? That would not have crossed many employers' minds.”
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