The Unique Challenges Downton Abbey Faced Staging Massive Food Scenes

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

"Downton Abbey," the hugely popular PBS Masterpiece show that ran for six seasons and spawned two movies, including the recently released "Downton Abbey: A New Era," was known for its accuracy, from the clothing and accessories worn by the Crawley family, to the tools the servants used to keep the castle running smoothly.

With so much importance placed on creating an authentic representation of what the prestigious Crawley family would have experienced, there were a number of challenges, especially when it came to staging the massive food scenes for the Crawleys and their guests, which in the first movie included the king and queen of England.

Much of the series focused on the family eating three elaborate daily meals together, writes Jessica Fellowes in "Downton Abbey, A Celebration." It was around the dinner table that the family received and shared news, which the servants overheard and would discuss in their spaces.

Mrs. Patmore, played by Lesley Nicol, may oversee the Downton Abbey kitchen in the series, but it was food stylist Lisa Heathcote who was truly behind the period-specific food on which the characters dined. And unlike Mrs. Patmore, Heathcote did not have a fully staffed indoor kitchen with which to work.

The challenges of creating meals for Downton Abbey

Creating meals for "Downton Abbey" was challenging in many ways for Lisa Heathcote and her crew, particularly when it came to preparing the food, which was initially done in a outdoor tent, according to PBS.

Heathcote recalled that once during the filming of season 3, three dogs that live at the castle came running toward the tent because they smelled the meat she was cooking for a large banquet scene. Luckily, the dogs were stopped before they could get to the food (via PBS).

Things got better for the filming of season 4, when Heathcote was provided with a catering truck. She appreciated the new workspace for many reasons, but especially because it prevented her and the foods from being exposed to the often cold weather. As Heathcote told PBS, on a particularly cold day, when they were still prepping the food outdoors, "I turned around to find that the gravy had become frozen! And we couldn't even lift the gravy boat off the table because it was frozen there."

Another unique challenge that Heathcote faced was preparing numerous courses for a party scene. As she told PBS, the menu for such a meal would include soup, a fish course, an entrée (a dish with a sauce), a roast, a cheese and fruit course, a pudding (dessert), and a small savory. Filming a big food scene could last all day, meaning multiple servings had to be prepared, according to "The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era," a book by Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis. Heathcote told the authors that creating a meal for 18 people could require 70 servings to be prepped.

Dining was an essential part of "Downton Abbey," and while Heathcote's job wasn't easy, the result was food that enhanced the show's authenticity and ultimately its popularity.