Always one for a bit of culinary social history, on a visit to Highclere Castle – aka Downton Abbey– today, I spotted this. Wandering around ‘below stairs’ – no sign of Lady Mary and fortunately I managed to avoid Carson – I was fascinated by the darkness of the corridors and the eery silence – it is closed to the public at the moment – and I detected the presence of a few ghostly scullery maids lurking in the shadows, tut tutting at my lack of morning coat. Despite this, as I say, my eye was taken by this notice detailing the staffing of the house in 1924 – it was clearly a diminished staff, no doubt due to the losses from WW1. Only 2 chauffeurs – mon dieu! – how did they cope! Fortunately, the 2 stillroom maids were there to help light the 26 – yes 26 – fires each morning. Just the one cook – now that is pressure – eat your heart out, Mr G. Ramsay- I am sure he has not experienced a Hell’s Kitchen to match the pressure of this place – but they clearly coped very well. But – wo– wait a pressure cooking moment!
Look at the size of that cooker! 9 foot long! It needed 1/2 cwt – half a hundred weight – of coal to run the 3 ovens – that is 50kg in modern terminology. We have to flick a switch – maybe you AGA folk have to think a little bit more before firing it up – but essentially, life is easy – these folk must have needed an engineer’s mind to keep the thing going, and maybe slightly bigger biceps. But even so – I would love to be whisked back in time to cook on it. The smells and warmth must have been something else. Cooker heaven! I somehow feel that standing by my cooker this evening is going to make me feel decidedly inadequate…….is there such a thing as cooker envy??