Thursday, 25 December 2014


Agatha Christie
'The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding' (1960)


Friday, 19 December 2014

an old box of wedding cake.. with a burning brandy sauce

It was she who suddenly remembered that it was Christmas day. "And this is our Christmas dinner," observed McVay regretfully. "Oh, no," returned the girl, "this is luncheon. I'll cook your dinner. You'll see."
She proved herself infinitely more capable than the two men had been, discovering tins of butter and soup and sardines, a package of hominy, apples and potatoes in the cellar, and an old box of wedding cake, which, with a burning brandy sauce, she declared would serve very well for plum-pudding.
...they presently sat down to their Christmas dinner, of which they all expressed themselves as inordinately proud. There was canned soup, and sardines and toasted biscuits, canned corned beef, potatoes and fried hominy, bacon and a potato salad, a bottle of champagne, and finally the wedding cake.
Alice Duer Miller
The Burglar and the Blizzard (?1914)

I really enjoyed her Come Out of the Kitchen (1916) which I described last year as: "Another lost classic (rediscovered by fleur in her world): a rich young man rents a house from an impoverished family, only to discover a host of servant problems - such as the world's prettiest cook."

Sunday, 14 December 2014

buried with a stake of holly through his heart

If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"
Charles Dickens

Thursday, 27 November 2014

fillet de sole à la Jeanette

'You have been to the Riviera before, Georges?' said Poirot to his valet the following morning. George was an intensely English, rather wooden-faced individual.
'Yes, sir. I was here two years ago when I was in the service of Lord Edward Frampton.'
'And today,' murmured his master, 'you are here with Hercule Poirot. How one mounts in the world!'
The valet made no reply to this observation. After a suitable pause he asked:
'The brown lounge suit, sir? The wind is somewhat chilly today.'
'There is a grease spot on the waistcoat,' objected Poirot. 'A morceau of Fillet de sole à la Jeanette alighted there when I was lunching at the Ritz last Tuesday.'
'There is no spot there now, sir,' said George reproachfully. 'I have removed it.'
'Très bien!' said Poirot. 'I am pleased with you, Georges.'
'Thank you, sir.'
Agatha Christie
The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928)

This book offers one of my favourite clichés.

Tommy also eats sole à la Jeanette in The Secret Adversary
Was it a Christie invention?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

small cress sandwiches

In her brother Henry, who sat eating small cress sandwiches as solemnly as though they had been ordained in some immemorial Book of Observances, fate had been undisguisedly kind to her. He might so easily have married some pretty helpless little woman, and lived at Notting Hill Gate, and been the father of a long string of pale, clever useless children, who would have had birthdays and the sort of illnesses that one is expected to send grapes to, and who would have painted fatuous objects in a South Kensington manner as Christmas offerings to an aunt whose cubic space for lumber was limited. Instead of committing these unbrotherly actions, which are so frequent in family life that they might almost be called brotherly, Henry had married a woman who had both money and a sense of repose, and their one child had the brilliant virtue of never saying anything which even its parents could consider worth repeating. Then he had gone into Parliament, possibly with the idea of making his home life seem less dull; at any rate it redeemed his career from insignificance, for no man whose death can produce the item "another by-election" on the news posters can be wholly a nonentity.
Saki [H. H. Munro]
The Unbearable Bassington (1912)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

the liver deliquesced

It was the porcelain spoons, five of them. Goldilocks waited, her unused hand tucked, in accordance with its training, into the small of her back, as if it were the rule that all non-serving parts of her body must be tidied deferentially from view. Perhaps it was.
Michael peered at the lumps, heat-edged with brown, in their drip of soup.
'What are they?' he asked.
'Foie gras, sautéed in oloroso sherry.'
'Mmm, foie gras,' he enthused, making a hash of the r.
He picked up one of the spoons and tipped it into his mouth. The liver deliquesced.
'Wow, that's fabulous!' He nodded with vigorous sincerity, and a gentle swirly drunken feeling lingered in the movement's echo. He closed his eyes to steady himself.
When he opened them, Goldilocks had gone.
He still held his phone in one hand, and the spoon in the other. The spoon went in his pocket.
Leo Benedictus
The Afterparty (2011)

Monday, 27 October 2014

noted for her pickle recipes

Second Cousin Sarah Taylor, with her great, pale, expressionless eyes, who was noted for the variety of her pickle recipes and for nothing else. So afraid of saying something indiscreet that she never said anything worth listening to. So proper that she blushed when she saw the advertisement picture of a corset and had put a dress on her Venus de Milo statuette which made it look "real tasty."
L. M. Montgomery
The Blue Castle (1926)

Saturday, 18 October 2014

a glass of milk and a bun

If Henry hadn't been determined to quarrel he would have taken her out to lunch first, and now she would have to go and have a glass of milk and a bun in a creamery with a lot of other women who were having buns and milk, or Bovril, or milk with a dash of coffee, or a nice cup of tea. It was a most frightfully depressing thought, because one bun was going to make very little impression on her hunger, and she certainly couldn't afford any more.
Patricia Wentworth
The Case is Closed (1937)

Not my favourite Wentworth - that is perhaps
 The Case of William Smith or Lonesome Road?

Thursday, 9 October 2014

she always felt cheerier at breakfast

'How can you eat that sawdust, Father?' she inquired, beginning on eggs and bacon and speaking cheerfully because it was a fine morning and only ten minutes past nine; and somehow, at the beginning of every new day, there was always a chance that this one might be different from all the rest. Something might happen; and then everything would be jollier all round.
Madge did not see clearly into her feelings; she only knew that she always felt cheerier at breakfast than at tea.


'What time did you say Viola's train gets in?' Tina asked her mother; she sometimes found the Wither silences unendurable.
'Half-past twelve, dear.'
'Just in nice time for lunch.'
'You know perfectly well that Viola's train gets in at half-past twelve,' intoned Mr Wither slowly, raising his eyelids to look at Tina, 'so why ask your mother? You talk for the sake of talking, it's a silly habit.' He slowly looked down again at his little bowl of mushy cereal.
'I'd forgotten,' said Tina. She continued vivaciously, at the silence. 'Don't you loathe getting to a place before twelve o'clock, Madge – too late for breakfast and too early for lunch?'
Stella Gibbons
Nightingale Wood (1938)

Saturday, 27 September 2014

cold fish au porto

He ordered a meal that a shopgirl out on the spree might choose – cold fish au porto, a roast bird, and a piping hot soufflé which concealed in its innards a red ice, sharp on the tongue.
Chéri (1920)

More on Chéri's inner coldness here.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

red mullet, done somehow with lemons

The waiters hovered beside us, the courses came, delicious and appetizing, and the empty plates vanished as if by magic. I remember red mullet, done somehow with lemons, and a succulent golden-brown fowl bursting with truffles and flanked by tiny peas, then a froth of ice and whipped cream dashed with kirsch, and the fine smooth caress of the wine through it all. Then, finally, apricots and big black grapes, and coffee. The waiter removed the little silver filtres, and vanished, leaving us alone in our alcove. The liqueur brandy was swimming in its own fragrance in the enormous iridescent glasses, and for a moment I watched it idly, enjoying its rich smooth gleam, then I leaned back against the cushions and looked about me with the eyes of a patient who has just woken from the first long natural sleep after an anaesthetic. Where before the colours had been blurred and heightened, and the outlines undefined, proportions unstable, and sounds hollow and wavering, now the focus had shifted sharply, and drawn the bright little restaurant into sharp dramatic outline.
Mary Stewart
Madam, Will You Talk? (1954)

On the Mary Stewart formula.

Mary Stewart Reading Week, 
hosted by Gudrun's Tights

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

diluting the milk

He didn't know – he couldn't possibly have known – that in spite of all her economies, in spite of stinting and scraping, of eschewing meat, and eating margarine instead of butter, and diluting the milk, and buying the very cheapest tea that floated like dust on the top of your cup, Miss Buncle's account at the bank was overdrawn by seven pounds fifteen shillings and would soon have been overdrawn by more; for the dividends, which had been steadily decreasing, had now practically ceased. There were tears in Miss Buncle's eyes as she signed the receipt and folded up the amazing note. Fancy that tiny piece of paper representing so much! It really was rather astonishing (when you come to think of it) what that tiny piece of paper represented – far more than a hundred sovereigns (although in modern finance less). It represented food and drink to Barbara Buncle, and, perhaps, a new winter coat and hat; but, above all, freedom from that awful nightmare of worry, and sleep, and a quiet mind.
D. E. Stevenson
Miss Buncle's Book (1934)

Some thoughts here.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

"This may taste awful..."

Unable to find spinach at the market, I'd bought chicory instead; it, too, was horrid. We ate the lunch with painful politeness and avoided discussing its taste. I made sure not to apologize for it. This was a rule of mine. I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one's hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as "Oh, I don't know how to cook...," or "Poor little me...," or "This may taste awful...," it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one's shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, "Yes, you're right, this really is an awful meal!" Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed—eh bien, tant pis! Usually one's cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile — and learn from her mistakes.
Julia Child
My Life in France (2006)

More delicious quotations here.

Monday, 18 August 2014

a neat little dinner

He heaved a deep sigh, which made the Cumberland corset creak alarmingly; but almost immediately grew more cheerful, as he disclosed to Kit that his object in coming to Hill Street was to beg him to bring his mama to a little dinner-party which he was planning to hold at the Clarendon Hotel, before he retired to Brighton for the summer months. ‘They have a way of cooking semelles of carp which is better than anything my Alphonse can do,’ he said impressively. ‘You cut your carp into large collops, you know, and in a stew-pan you put butter, chopped shallots, thyme, parsley, mushrooms, and pepper and salt, of course – anyone knows that! But at the Clarendon something else is added, and devilish good it is, though I haven’t yet discovered what it may be. It is not sorrel, for I desired Alphonse to try that, and it was not the same thing at all. I wonder if it might be just a touch of chervil, and perhaps one or two tarragon-leaves?’ He slewed round to smile fondly upon Lady Denville. ‘You will know, I daresay, my pretty! I thought I would have it removed with a fillet of veal. We must have quails: that goes without saying – and ducklings; and nothing beside except a few larded sweetbreads, and a raised pie. And for the second course just a green goose, with cauliflowers and French beans and peas, for I know you don’t care for large dinners. So I shall add only a dressed lobster, and some asparagus, and a few jellies and creams, and a basket of pastries for you to nibble at. That,’ he said, beaming upon his prospective guests, ‘is my notion of a neat little dinner.’
Georgette Heyer
False Colours (1963, set in 1817)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

golden brown with a few little burned parts

I would like to ask her what a person who is seven months pregnant is supposed to do when her husband turns out to be in love with someone else, but the truth is she probably wouldn't have been much help. Even in the old days, my mother was a washout at hard-core mothering; what she was good at were clever remarks that made you feel immensely sophisticated and adult and, if you thought about it at all, foolish for having wanted anything so mundane as some actual nurturing. Had I been able to talk to her at this moment of crisis, she would probably have said something fabulously brittle like 'Take notes.' Then she would have gone into the kitchen and toasted almonds. You melt some butter in a frying pan, add whole blanched almonds, and sauté until they’re golden brown with a few little burned parts. Drain lightly and salt and eat with a nice stiff drink. 'Men are little boys,' she would have said as she lifted her glass. 'Don’t stir or you’ll bruise the ice cubes.'

Nora Ephron
Heartburn (1983)

I wrote about this delicious book here.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

a big, hearty, tasty dinner

What he needed was dinner, a big, hearty, tasty dinner. Steak and french fries and asparagus and a huge fresh green salad, then a smoke and coffee and something special for dessert, strawberry tart or a fancy pastry and more coffee.
Dorothy B. Hughes 
In a Lonely Place (1947) 

 Wonderful, terrifying book. I wrote about it here.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Is not this marmalade Godlike?

"Something has happened," she thought. "Can Reggie have said anything already?"

She walked into the breakfast-room, where she found Lord Reggie alone.

He was holding up a table-spoon filled with marmalade to catch the light from a stray sunbeam that filtered in through the drawn blinds, and wore a rapt look, a "caught up" look, as Mrs. Windsor would have expressed it.

"Good morning," he said softly. "Is not this marmalade Godlike? This marvellous, clear, amber glow, amber with a touch of red in it, almost makes me believe in an after life. Surely, surely marmalade can never die!"

"I must have been mistaken," Mrs. Windsor thought, as she expressed her sense of the eternity of jams in general in suitable language.

Robert Hichens
The Green Carnation (1894)

I wrote about this satire on Oscar Wilde here.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

olives... green things they are

The Major's wife and the daughter's been to Europe, and my wife tells me since they got back they make tea there every afternoon about five o'clock, and drink it. Seems to me it would go against a person's stomach, just before supper like that, and anyway tea isn't fit for much--not unless you're sick or something. My wife says Ambersons don't make lettuce salad the way other people do; they don't chop it up with sugar and vinegar at all. They pour olive oil on it with their vinegar, and they have it separate--not along with the rest of the meal. And they eat these olives, too: green things they are, something like a hard plum, but a friend of mine told me they tasted a good deal like a bad hickory-nut. My wife says she's going to buy some; you got to eat nine and then you get to like 'em, she says. Well, I wouldn't eat nine bad hickory-nuts to get to like them, and I'm going to let these olives alone. Kind of a woman's dish, anyway, I suspect...

Booth Tarkington
The Magnificent Ambersons (1918)

(I wrote about this book here)

Saturday, 14 June 2014


Pineapple is great. She is almost too transcendent -- a delight if not sinful, yet so like sinning that really a tender conscienced person would do well to pause -- too ravishing for mortal taste, she woundeth and excoriateth the lips that approach her - like lovers' kisses she biteth - she is a pleasure bordering on pain, from the fierceness and insanity of her relish.

Charles Lamb, Essays of Elia [1823]

(more on pineapple themes in books here)