The Sherlock Holmes Cookbook proposes to take the reader to the Baker Street rooms by way of Mrs. Hudson’s cookery. We’re to join the master sleuth and his companion, the good Doctor Watson, around a veritable groaning board of delicacies. Of course, in this case, the reader is asked to stand in for the landlady, and thus our task is not so much to join the detective as it is to make ready for Holmes’ arrival.
Before getting too far along, it is worth noting the full title of the text under review here. Facing a frontispiece sketch of Holmes as he was so often found in his rooms, in his dressing gown, the title page lists the name on the jacket followed with the below text.
Mrs. Hudson’s Stoveside Campanion
principles of economy
and adapted to the use of private families
and which contains in one volume
MEALS AND MENUS
SEAN M. WRIGHT
I took the steps of reproducing the title page herein that readers may be fully apprised of the nature of the volume being considered. This is not simply another cookbook borrowed from my dear Mum’s kitchen shelf (although, truth be told, that’s precisely where I came by it). What Messrs. Farrell and Wright have wrought is intended, as close as may be possible, to be a culinary adventure through Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s London and the world inhabited by that most singular of individuals. The preamble now behind us, onward to the review. The game (I’m terribly sorry, must say it) is afoot…erm, or perhaps in need of catching that we may enjoy it with our supper.
Mr. Farrell tackles his section with what may be the expected orderliness of one who, at the time of publishing, counted himself among the Baker Street Irregulars and was the President of The Tigers of San Pedro, a one-time scion society of the BSI. His section on Holmes Cooking takes us through a Victorian day, meal by meal, beginning, appropriately enough, with Breakfast. The typical English fare is to be found here: bacon, eggs, kippers, and ham. Marmalades, jellies, and toast. But the combinations are not to be sneezed at.
Croquettes of Ham and Rice, Ham and Tongue Soufflé, Poached Eggs and Minced Beef. You can smell the lard sizzling while Mrs. Hudson prepares the table, can’t you? I can.
My mother, ever the recorder of our family’s gustatory history, prepared the Scotch Scones (found on p. 6) on Christmas day in 1979. I would have been eight years old and apparently had enough of a palate that Mum’s only comment was “quite good,” penciled in above a note that instead of the 6 tablespoons of shortening called for, she “sub. unsalted margarine.” Lower down, she noted further that she baked them at “375 F”. The recipe omits any mention of how hot the oven should be, not even including the era appropriate measures of fast, moderate, or slow. One finds the same omissions in a few other cases. Thankfully, we have the Internet and its vast array of facts and figures available to us. It’s no stand-in for Holmes, but in a pinch, it’ll do.
Farrell slips from Breakfast into Lunch, with a selection of soups, hot meat pies, game, fowl, fish dishes, and a scattering of salads. We’re quickly onto Tea, and quite the assortment of breads and sweets, cakes, cookies, and the like. From there, Mr. Farrell finds purchase at Dinner, and we’re shown how well the Victorian English could dine. Oysters, duck, roasts and stews. Lamb, eels, hares, and various fish. Sauces to dress all, and side plates of roast nuts and beans, greens and beets.
For those on a budget, we also have Pigeon Pie. Should anyone wish to try it. Please, feel free. No, thank you. None for me just now. You go right ahead.
After Dinner, Farrell resolves over Supper, and does a great deal to explain the importance of this late evening repast. He describes it as a “midnight snack,” but only to make it more familiar to us. In our modern world, we are too far removed from the pace of Victorian life and may have trouble understanding the five meal traditions of the era. Mr. Farrell spares no ink in sharing the reasoning behind the meal and offering examples of the light tidbits Holmes and Watson would have eaten after returning to the rooms from a hard slog through the London night while upon the trail of Moriarty.
Farrell includes two sub-sections as well, describing the cultural origins of much of the food to be found in Holmes’ diet. As an Englishman, he ate well of both the cuisines of Scotland and India, and Farrell gives us a fine selection to choose from. We are also treated, in the sub-section titled Holmes on the Move, to a smorgasbord of meals Holmes may have sampled on his travels around the Continent and to farther reaches in Russia and Tibet.
One last point is worthy of mention before discussing Mr. Wright’s contributions to the book. Many readers, it is expected, will know quite well How to Brew a Good Pot of Tea. For those unfamiliar with the ritual and practice of the institution, Mr. Farrell, on page 32 of the text, describes in exacting detail just what must be done to enjoy dried leaves, boiled. Oh, and if you plan to make the Raspberry Buns on page 33, Mum says “4/17/85, doubled recipe, made 30, marg for butter, okay, difficult to shape aesthetically.”
Now, onward to Sean Wright’s selections from among Baker Street Meals and Menus!
Mr. Wright is the founder of the Non-Canonical Calabashes, another of the BSI’s scion societies. He is also, by his own admission, a miserable punster and he makes no excuses nor asks any forgiveness for what follows his prefaced commentary. The selection of meals and menus prepared by Mr. Wright for our study covers Sherlock Holmes’ case history, in some cases referring to meals described in the stories themselves.
The entire section is divided by headings taken from the Master’s case book, so we have, on page 129, “A Study in Scarlet,” dated Friday, 4 March-Monday, 7 March 1881, below which may be found recipes for “Rache” Fruit Cup, and Lestrade and Gregson Kidney Pie.
Further reading brings us to “The Adventure of the Empty House,” dated Thursday, 5 April 1894, whereupon Holmes has returned to us from his battle with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Here, Mr. Wright gifts us with his wit by offering up “Some Poor Bibliophiles Breakfast,” a meal fit for a king I should expect from the title, though Mum, on 12/29/79, calls it a “plain dish,” in which she “sub. pork” in place of the called for sliced ham, and “sub. low fat milk” for the required cream. It’s no wonder it turned out plain. Mum’s quite the cook, really, though not always given to following recipes heavy with sodium, fat, or cholesterol.
On that note, for the health conscious among us, this recipe book must be taken at face value. It does not in any way purport to duplicate or match the efforts of concomitant publications (1976 folks) that may have included mention of a substance known as tofu. The Sherlock Holmes Cookbook is nothing like a road map through any broccoli forest, bewitched or otherwise, nor does it carry us through wholesome wood wherein moose dwell. But, for those enterprising enough to attempt it, the collection of dishes available for preparation would do wonders for gatherings among newly minted or time tested Sherlockian Societies. If your Steampunk community enjoys the presence of any of the Baker Street Irregulars, surprise them at the next party with a dish of John Clay’s Cherry Custard (p. 208). It’s the official dessert of the Red-Headed League, you know.