"...a bird will be the chief feature." [BLUE]
|Traditional roast goose,|
as prepared Flora Spector (Mrs. Hudson)
Many Sherlockians have a Christmas tradition of reading “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” While this story has been discussed to death, there is one point that has always made me curious – the goose. For dinner, I mean, not its lack of a crop. How did one prepare it at the time? What was served with it? How did they decorate the table? How many courses were served? In other words, what was a Victorian Christmas dinner like?
The best source for this information is Mrs. Hudson herself, of course. So, to find out the preferences and culinary expertise of Mrs. Hudson, I contacted my good friend Flora Spector, PhD, who specializes in all things Mrs. Hudson. Flora is a lifetime Victoriana aficionado and OCD when it comes to period correct reproduction sewing, consulting and making sample gowns for the movies, and television. She is a member of the Baker Street Builders (the only one to create Mrs. Hudson’s flat and live in it), a member of The Regency Irregulars, The Stormy Petrels, The John H. Watson Society, Sherlock Holmes Society of London, the scion originator and former Gasogene of the White Rose Irregulars, and a member of many other Sherlockian groups she cannot remember.
One of Flora’s specialties is hosting fantastic Sherlockian parties serving authentic Victorian cuisine. At her parties, she acts as the redoubtable Mrs. Hudson herself, even donning appropriate attire to serve Mr. Holmes’ guests.
I asked Flora (er…Mrs. Hudson) what she would serve to Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson for the greatest year of them all, 1895. She wrote up a menu for me, complete with recipes (receipts for those of us who speak British English). But how is all this fantastic fare to be served? “Mrs. Hudson” agreed to sit down with me to answer my queries:
It’s 1895 and Mr. Holmes had a terrific year this year with all his successful cases. How would you help these gentlemen celebrate the holiday?
Well dear, as Mr. Holmes has increased his rent to me, I have made it my mission to prepare for him and the good doctor a proper Christmas dinner (that is assuming they do not get called out on a case). I always pick something up for him to give the doctor, as Mr. Holmes forgets these things. I also do the same for dear Mycroft Holmes. (Poor soul has no one to look after him.)
Lordy! Copious amounts of work, plenty of starch and many hands to help lighten the burden. First, we start with a silencer cloth to be underneath a heavily starched Damask linen tablecloth. Plates and such are to be silent when touching the table. This also protects the wood from the heat of some of the dishes, as trivets do not always do enough.
Victorians had a lot of tableware, including several different types of glasses, silverware, and what have you. Will you use all of that for Mr. Holmes’ Christmas dinner?
Actually, yes. This is the ONE time of year I insist on proper place settings. The birth of our Lord is too important a day not to observe the niceties. Besides, I have Aunt Bertha’s Asparagus tongs to use and this is one of the few times it is appropriate. [Click here to see how Mrs. Hudson would set a Christmas table.]
How many courses are part of your Christmas dinner, and how do you determine how many courses to serve?
This year’s dinner is not being served as formal courses as Mr. Holmes would never sit still long enough for that. I plan on serving from the sideboard, (the good doctor has assured me that he will clear it off ahead of time) and in this way it will be almost a buffet so I can go enjoy my own holiday meal with my cronies. Generally there are a minimum of eight courses in a formal dinner. For example, one might do the following:
- Appetizer/starters to tease the palette
- Main Course/beef or game
- Fish Course
- Desserts and or Fruit
- Assorted appropriate wine/beverages for each aforementioned course
- Sherbet to cleanse the palette in between
After all this work, would you sit down to enjoy the meal yourself?
Not with the boys, heavens no! I have a neighbor friend and my cats and the dog to keep me company. We tend to celebrate a bit more quietly then the boys upstairs.
How many servants do you have to help you prepare and serve all this food?
For the holiday I get as much done BEFORE the big day as possible so I can allow my servants the day off. Prior to Christmas day I have a maid of all work, a part time cook (I make certain things myself you see) and the boots boy.
I know Dr. Watson likes to eat, but Mr. Holmes is a bit of a twig who likes to starve himself. Do you think he’ll eat this really elaborate meal you’ve prepared?
No, I don’t expect he will eat terribly much. However, once he and the doctor start talking, he tends to relax enough to enjoy the meal. He does like it when I make a fuss over him.
|Traditional Christmas pudding as |
prepared by Flora.
Since Mr. Holmes’ schedule is rather erratic, how do you manage to feed him at all (never mind Christmas….).
It is a challenge. I often make food that can be served at room temperature or cold so it can keep until he is available. I also always have tea cakes and such around and pot of soup on the stove along with rolls, biscuits and other handy carry food. With a properly stocked larder there isn’t much you cannot make at a moment’s notice.
Thank you, Mrs. Hudson, for feeding the Master and for letting us learn about your terrific culinary gifts. I think you’ve now made all our readers hungry!
For more on Mrs. Hudson and her interests, check out Flora's web site and blog at - http://mrs-hudson.com.