The very first dish featured on the very first episode of "Downton Abbey" was kedgeree, a breakfast dish of curried rice, eggs and fish. While kedgeree always has been more popular on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, 19th-century Lowcountry cooks weren't prone to snub rice recipes: The dish has a long history in local kitchens.
Kedgeree evolved from khichri, a comforting combination of rice, lentils and butter that also sparked koshary, considered Egypt's national dish. A Moroccan explorer noted the dish while traveling through India in the 1300s, although the recipe may well have predated his trip.
When British colonizers encountered khichri, they adjusted it to suit their tastes, dispensing of the lentils and tossing eggs, cream and fish into the mix. Since the morning's catch didn't have much chance of lasting a day in the Indian heat, the dish - successively rechristened kitsery, ketchery, kitcheree and, finally, kedgeree by 1816 - most often appeared on the breakfast table.
"Like the local people, they found it good for invalids and those with hangovers," Sri Owen wrote in "The Rice Book."
Those same qualities endeared kedgeree to Lowcountry eaters, who were just as likely to use shrimp as smoked haddock in what author John Martin Taylor has described as a kind of rice pie. South Carolina cooks no doubt came across kedgeree recipes in books such as "Lady Harriett St. Clair's Dainty Dishes," published in 1866, and "The Invalid's Own Book," written by Lady Mary Cust in 1853.
"Boil a breakfast cup of whole rice till soft; chop a white fish into pieces; take out all the bones; add to the fish the rice, with three ounces of butter. Stir all gently on the fire, and add salt and cayenne pepper," her ladyship advised.
Kedgeree didn't make the thematic menu at Winterthur, which this year is exhibiting a collection of "Downton Abbey" costumes. Instead, the Delware museum's cafe is serving "Sybil's Seafood Newburg" and "Lady Mary's Breakfast Casserole" for brunch.
"Hey, we know there isn't a line of people in America waiting to eat kedgeree," allows Anson Mills' online recipe for the dish, suggested as an outlet for leftover Carolina gold rice. "But this is such a magnanimous dish, you can't help but adore it."
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