Women Writers Reading Challenge #20: Longbourn by Jo Baker


I haven’t read much in the way of Jane Austen adaptations, but I was really excited to read Jo Baker’s book because it had such an interesting point of view–that of the servants in the Bennet’s household. There was plenty of drama to appreciate, lots of intrigue, some feel-good moments, and plenty of food descriptions (you have a lovely post to look forward to tomorrow).

I really enjoyed this book and its new perspective on this well known story. The writing was engaging and the characters were well-defined and interesting. If you’re a fan of Austen’s work, Upstairs Downstairs, or Downton Abbey, I think you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

Baking for Bookworms: Cheese Soufflé from Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

Souffle in a loaf pan. So wrong, and yet, so right.
Souffle in a loaf pan. So wrong, and yet, so right.

I’ve already talked a little about this book in my last post, but today we’re focused on food. I may or may not have said that I wouldn’t be cooking from non-fiction about food, but if I did so, I lied. I read a lot of cooking memoirs and they have really delightful recipe ideas in them, which I would be remiss not to share. But I won’t cook from cookbooks. That just seems like cheating.

Anyway, Margaret Powell writes about her experiences in service as first a kitchen maid and then a cook (in a feisty memoir that inspired Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs), so naturally she has a lot to say about not only what was prepared, but the way it was prepared. Her memoir treats food both as a job and chore and also as an experience, one associated with memory and even class struggles. Her adaptation of her cooking for different households (including, in the end, her own) was really interesting, and her story shows that flexibility and a willingness to learn are just as important in the kitchen as knowledge and experience.

She talks about soufflés as a more positive experience than some of the ones in the book with a household that inspired her to develop her skills.

“And it was so pleasant when Lady Downfall came down in the mornings; she’d say, ‘Good morning, Margaret. Have you any suggestions for lunch?’ in a pleasant tone of voice. Or, ‘Oh Margaret, as there’ll be such a large dinner party we’ll have a cold lunch today. That’ll give you more time for preparation tonight.’ Consideration, you see. A rare quality.

This gave me the incentive to cook as well and better than I had done. One of my specialties was soufflés. I used to make marvellous soufflés, I had a light hand in those days. Either savoury ones, or sweet ones.”                                                                                           (157)

This cheese soufflé is probably much simpler than the ones Margaret prepared, but that just makes it easier for the rest of us without professional culinary skills. This could be eaten for any meal. Paul and I had it for dinner, but you could easily make it for breakfast. It looks pretty impressive, so you could certainly serve it to company.

Serves four. Recipe adapted from Steamy Kitchen.

You’ll need:

  • 7 large eggs
  • 4 ounces sour cream
  • 1/3 cup milk (I think anything but skim would work–I used 1%)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried ground mustard
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (I used sriracha)
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 ounce each grated sharp cheddar, muenster, and gruyere cheeses (you can really use any cheese blend you wish–but these are absolutely delicious)

Preheat oven to 350. Put a metal rimmed baking sheet into the oven (to catch drips).

In a bowl combine the eggs, sour cream, and milk. Beat with an electric beater until combined (about 30 seconds). Add spices and beat again.

Melt butter in round soufflé dish and wiggle it around until it covers the bottom and sides. If you don’t have a soufflé dish, don’t despair. You can do what I did and use a loaf pan. It won’t get the same dramatic height, but it’ll still taste delicious, and that’s what counts.

Mix the three cheeses together and press all the cheese into the bottom of the dish/pan. Gently pour in the egg mixture, until it’s about an inch from the top. If you’re using a loaf pan, there won’t be any more, but there will be if you use the correct dish. Put it in the oven now to prevent spilling on the way.

Put the dish on top of the tray and add the rest of the egg mixture (if needed). Bake 55-60 minutes until puffy and golden brown on top. Revel in its glory quickly, as it deflates in less than a minute. Serve with a salad or fruit.


Ever made a soufflé before? What was your most memorable experience? Let me know in the comments.


2015 Women Writers Reading Challenge–Book #3: Below Stairs by Margaret Powell


If you are anything like me, you are a huge fan of BBC shows, especially Downton Abbey. This book started all these wonderful shows: a classic memoir about working in service during the 1920s. Powell’s voice is personal; you can imagine her speaking to you as you read. Slightly nostalgic and quite feisty, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Stay tuned for a Baking for Bookworms post from this book later this week!