Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Edwardian Cooking... And More Besides in The Duchess of Duke Street

I recently received a recommendation for the show The Duchess of Duke Street, a 1970s BBC television drama featuring the character of Louisa Trotter -- an ambitious cook who works her way up from service to run one of the most fashionable hotels in London. The plot was loosely based on the "Duchess of Jermyn Street", Rosa Lewis, who accomplished great feats both as a cook and a female hotel proprietress.

I have watched only the first three episodes of the first series, but the show is striking in the up-front and unabashed way it plunges the viewer into the hypocritical vagaries of Edwardian morality. Further details await watching the series, available on DVD. The show is of at least cursory interest to the historian of Edwardian cuisine for the heroine is, after all, an inventive and successful cook. Although the show focuses on the domestic dramas of her professional and romantic life, glorious Edwardian food intrudes at every turn -- aspics, jellies, consomm├ęs, fish, game, meat pies, sauces, and grand dessert concoctions. The bustling downstairs kitchens are busy with simmering pots and also simmering tensions between the various strata of servants. Cooking for the upper-class Edwardian family was a incredibly laborious task; it gives new meaning to "a quiet dinner for twelve" -- as Louisa is hired to prepare early in the series.

I look forward to viewing the rest of series one and two, 31 episodes in total. Here is a clip from the very first episode. Louisa, wise to the pitfalls facing female servants and the wanton behaviour of charming aristocratic males, is having none of it:

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 
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