The Dissecting Room . . . June 1988
Sherlockian functions and food have been a combination that has been with us from the very start. From the first meeting of The Baker Street Irregulars to last month's gathering of the Occupants of the Empty House, Sherlockians who meet tend to eat. Even we Hansoms, who forego dinner meetings with the exception of our yearly banquet, somehow manage to find a generous host or hostess for every meeting to keep us fortified with refreshments in quantities that verge on being a meal. Some of the best eating I've done has been in the presence of fellow Sherlockians. I'm never sure if we're trying to catch the spirit of Holmes and Watson dining at Simpson's, or if we just like to eat. Sherlockian cookbooks have been written and Sherlockian gourmet meals have been served at the Culinary Institute of America. Being a Sherlockian can be a good way to catch up on your fine dining.
But fine dining, or even mediocre dining, is not what this column is about. With Holmes and Watson it was not all dinners at Simpson's or woodcock and grouse from the sideboard. The consulting detective, like any self-made entrepreneur, was a busy man. The time for a leisurely dinner was not always available. Much of the time, Sherlock Holmes's meals were as that memorable scene from BERY describes:
"He cut a slice of beef from the joint upon the sideboard, sandwiched it between two rounds of bread, and thrusting this rude meal into his pocket he started off upon his expedition."
When he was working, sandwiches seemed to be a regular part of Holmes's diet. In SECO, Watson tells us that Holmes "devoured sandwiches at irregular hours." NAVA finds Holmes filling his flask and putting a "paper of sandwiches" in his pocket for a Surrey stakeout. The handy bread-and-meat invention was perfect for the hectic lifestyle of the consulting detective.
As Sherlockians, we have yet to bring this ever-so-Holmes-style of eating into our own traditions. Yes, we do have the occasional sandwich at our gatherings, but we never do it as Holmes would do it were he practicing today. A modern Mrs. Hudson would probably see very little of Holmes when the intense, purposeful mood of his work was upon him-no sideboard sandwiches for a modern Sherlock Holmes. Drive-up windows would be what sustained the modern Holmes. McDonald's, Burger King, and Hardee's would be his source of nutrition; no need to stop at 221B when one could get his "paper (bag) of sandwiches" en route to the scene of a crime.
Sherlockian purists may prefer Hardee's over other fast food establishments, as you can get a roast beef sandwich there, which is, at least, canonical. You can also get biscuits there in the morning, with eggs and bacon, all of which are also canonical. For those willing to work with their imaginations, however, a whole world of Sherlockian possibilities opens up with fast food.
"Would you like some fries with that?" the drive-up window operators always ask, and for a true Sherlockian the answer has to be "yes." What better way to commemorate "the shocking affair of the Dutch steamship Friesland," which nearly killed both Holmes and Watson, and culinarily celebrate the fact that they made it out of that untold case alive?
The milk shake, oddly enough, is a very Sherlockian fast food item. A couple of years ago I remember seeing one of the detective brothers on TV's "Simon & Simon" comparing the number of milk shakes he drank on a case to Sherlock Holmes's "three-pipe problem." Replacing the large, non-canonical calabash pipe with the typical plastic-lidded milk shake with straw is not so far-fetched as it might seem. For the non-smoker, it gives the perfect opportunity to simulate meditative pipe-smoking by sucking down a shake in place of sucking in tobacco smoke. One could even designate specific flavors for specific moods, as Holmes did his pipes-strawberry shakes for a disputatious mood, chocolate shakes for a meditative one . . . .
Before I wind up suggesting we hold the next Hansom banquet on a chartered bus in a McDonald's parking lot, let me end this "rude meal" line of thought with a tip from a fast food veteran. Sherlock Holmes's first pipe of the day was always composed of the collected "plugs & dottles" of his previous day's smokes. A more bitter, noxious smoke can hardly be imagined. For those wishing to simulate this effect during a Sherlockian fast food run, I recommend the iced tea at any of these establishments. I'm convinced they use Holmes's own recipe.
(Printed in Plugs & Dottles, June 1988)