The Sherlock Holmes Victorian Cookbook

Favorite Recipes of The Great Detective & Dr. Watson

by William Bonnell

Macmillan Canada

196 pages, 1997

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There is a relatively large faction of people on this planet who insist on carrying on as though Sherlock Holmes were a real rather than a fictional man. They debate his habits and his wisdoms and wonder, even, if Holmes was a cocaine addict. They pride themselves on knowing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional character's precise London street address and where he might have purchased his clothes. Here's the deal, however: Holmes was fiction. He was made up. He never lived on Baker Street. Never experimented with cocaine. Never, in fact, partook of Mrs Hudson's kedgeree. All of this, my friend, is fact.

That said, one might well wonder why Macmillan has published a cookbook that calls itself his. Especially one that celebrates the food of an era that is not exactly renowned for its sterling cuisine.

The Sherlock Holmes Victorian Cookbook: Favourite Recipes of The Great Detective & Dr Watson by William Bonnell will appeal to a narrow swathe of people: but I hazard that the appeal will be great. Die hard Holmes fans -- and they are legion -- will want to add this narrow volume to their bookshelves instantly. Secondly, enthusiasts and scholars of 19th century British stuff might find it interesting as well. Note the qualifier: might. This because to my well tuned foody eye, some of these recipes appear less than authentic and have certainly been updated for the modern cook, kitchen and market.

In true Holmesish tradition, Bonnell treats the famous sleuth and his erstwhile sidekick Watson as though they existed in fact rather than fiction.

They were also familiar with some of the finer restaurants, such as Simpson's -- "our restaurant in the strand" as Watson referred to it -- with its well-deserved reputation for London's best roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

However, they were more accustomed to the simpler fare provided by their steadfast landlady, Mrs Hudson.

We are told not only why he might have eaten, but what he in fact did eat and what he preferred.

Sherlock Holmes was also no stranger to the foods hawked on London's streets. His investigations demanded he mingle with people from all stations in life in the largest and most cosmopolitan city of the world.

These flights of fancy, however, are in keeping with the traditions surrounding Holmes and Watson, and Bonnell does a good job of keeping in character throughout the book. The Sherlock Holmes Victorian Cookbook is broken into chapters of associated foods. Soups; Salads and Vegetables; Fish and Seafood; Poultry and Game and other predictable couplings are featured side by side with more imaginative entries. Food of the Chase, for instance, mostly includes foods that Holmes could have eaten fast and dirty and include recipes for things like Bohemian Scandal Pickled Eggs and Priory School Parkin. The names of both of these recipes -- as well as many others in the book -- are borrowed from cases solved by Holmes and even embroidered from descriptions of things he ate or might have eaten while on the case.

For instance, for the aforementioned Bohemian Scandal Pickled Eggs -- which incidentally, turn out to be pretty much garden variety despite the high falutin' name -- we're given a quote from A Scandal in Bohemia and then given a bit of a set up. That is, how the pickled eggs fit into the larger scheme of things.

Holmes, in disguise as a groom (a servant who looks after horses), discovered a great deal about Irene Adler, a fascinating woman who refused to part with a photograph that compromised the King of Bohemia. Holmes often drank beer during his undercover work as a labourer, and in such situations he also likely ate his share of pickled eggs, as they were a common accompaniment to beer.

The recipes included in the book exhaust the topics at hand. The various adventures of Sherlock Holmes took place in Victorian England, so all of the recipes reflect the era. Holmes and Watson had a Scottish housekeeper, so some Scots specialities are here as well. Specific foods are mentioned in some of Holmes' adventures, so these are of course included. The result is a fairly complete overview of the kind of foods that Holmes and Watson might, in fact, have eaten. If, of course, they were ever real enough to eat anything at all.

The same Sidney Paget pen and ink drawings that accompanied the original publication of the serialized accounts of the famous detective published in Strand Magazine complete the illusion. New fodder for Sherlock Holmes fans should see them lining up.


Review by Linda L. Richards