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The View from the East End (83)

By Inspector Hopkins

February 10 , 2008
 

Sherlockian Cooking

by Inspector Hopkins

As a newer Sherlockian reading through the Canon, I became more and more intrigued by Victorian lifestyles and how Holmes and Watson lived. Thinking of their snug sitting room with the crackling fire on the grate, and the china and silverware gleaming under the gaslights in anticipation of Mrs. Hudson’s dinner was always comforting to me!

What’s on the Menu?

We know that Holmes occasionally was up earlier than Watson, and that coffee, toast and eggs were frequently mentioned for breakfast. When it struck me that, besides those breakfast foods, we don’t really know very much about exactly what else they ate, I decided to take a closer look at this topic:

In both SCAN and BERY, Holmes ate cold beef as a quick meal. He and Watson ate the trout that they caught in SHOS. They also ate Henry Baker’s Christmas goose in BLUE. In MAZA, DANC, and TWIS, Holmes alluded to either getting back to Baker Street in time for a meal, or having Mrs. Hudson send one up, but there was no mention of what was on the menu. Out of all the stories, it seems that the greatest detail for their breakfast was given towards the end of NAVA when Mrs. Hudson made curried chicken, and ham and eggs along with the usual tea and coffee. Holmes even made a complimentary remark about her cooking at that time, and so it would seem from all the above that his diet was very well rounded.

But, did Holmes have a favourite meal?  Or was there anything he disliked so much that he asked Mrs. Hudson never to prepare it? And how much effort did she have to expend to keep our heroes culinarily delighted?  These questions may never be answered to our complete satisfaction, but it might be fun to speculate a little bit in these areas.

First of all, there does not seem to be very much on-line information regarding Victorian meals and recipes, although there are a number of books on the subject. In addition, since refrigerators and freezers were not yet available, meals would have to be rather carefully planned, shopped for, and prepared, so as to minimize waste. In order to accomplish that, Mrs. Hudson would have to know what was available in her local markets from week to week, or even from day to day.  She would also probably attempt to purchase and prepare meals in such a way as to provide for four people (Holmes, Watson, herself, and perhaps Billy the page) without any waste or leftovers. Finally, she would have to light the stove, get it burning to the proper temperature range by adjusting airflow and fuel (wood or coal), and then cook the food properly for the correct length of time. What a job that must have been! The interested Sherlockian is referred to the following links about the kitchen technology available to Mrs. Hudson at the time:

http://telematics.ex.ac.uk/virvic/themes/cooking_and_cleaning/home.htm
http://research.calacademy.org/research/anthropology/kitchen/tech.html

BSI member William S. Dorn has written an excellent cookbook describing British recipes for two persons entitled “Cooking for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson” and is available from his website at www.thesherlockstore.com at an extremely attractive price. Although it is very, very well written, the recipes are generic and reflect British cooking over the past two centuries, and may not necessarily emphasize the Victorian period.

However, over here in the East End, we are very fortunate indeed to have a modern personification of Mrs. Hudson herself !  And our version of dear Mrs. Hudson (aka Flora Spector) has amply displayed her skills in the preparation of authentic Victorian era cuisine, as I noted during my visit in An Afternoon at the Dobry's

At that time, she had compiled a short list of Victorian recipes for entrees, appetizers and desserts and handed them out to each of the guests there. In fact, I have a copy in front of me right now even as I type these words . . . hmmm, let’s see . . . there’s a recipe for “Merseyside Meat Pie” as an entrée, followed by others for Ham Balls, Fish Balls, and a number of tarts and cakes.  They all sound delicious, and as I improve my cooking skills, I will be sure to try some of her recipes.

I spoke with her just recently and she has very graciously agreed to answer any questions that you may have about her Sherlockian cooking.

Her e-mail address is:  mrsh@whiteroseirregulars.org

Although we may never know exactly what Holmes and Watson may have eaten, she assures me that these recipes are for actual, authentic Victorian-era meals that are representative of typical London cooking in Holmes’s time.  Thank you very much, and hats off to Mrs. Hudson!

Aside from all that, from the ending of NOBL we might also surmise that Holmes enjoyed a good take-out meal with home delivery now and then.   ;-)

Until next time, and thanking you so much or your attention, I am as always,

Yours faithfully,
STANLEY HOPKINS