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ONE OF the best titles of Sherlockiana is “Alimentary, My Dear Watson,” John Bennett Shaw’s study of the Canon’s meals, published in the Baker Street Journal, 1947, 2. In it, Shaw cataloged 198 mentions of food or dining, an average of 3.3 references in each of Watson’s 60 chronicles.
The title is an inside joke among Sherlockians, in that the oft-cited “Elementary, my dear Watson” is decidedly non-Canonical. Holmes never uttered these exact words in this precise order.
An excellent (and, given the rarity of Shaw’s article, more accessible) source of Sherlockian cuisine is Rosenblatt and Sonnenschmidt’s Dining with Sherlock Holmes. Rosenblatt is a highly regarded Sherlockian; Sonnenschmidt served as president of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
Dining with Sherlock Holmes is a cookbook, but decidedly more. There are recipes ranging from apple fritters to Welsh rarebit, each placed appropriately in the Canon. Along the way, many cultural insights are offered into late-Victorian England.
Often, for example, Mrs. Hudson, the landlady at 221 B Baker Street, would set a meal “upon the sideboard” and let her lodgers eat when they chose. A typical meal, with recipes provided, might include Cold Partridge and a Savoury Salad of Cheddar Cheese, with a bottle of Montrachat.
Along with this cold—and, one assumes, not too deadly perishable—repast, the sideboard would also contain whisky and tumblers, perhaps a cigar box and, of course, “the gasogene, and probably the tantalus.”
A gasogene is generally recognized to be a sort of seltzer bottle.
Rosenblatt and Sonnenschmidt note that a tantalus was an ingenious device to lock and hold whisky bottles. Of its non-appearance in any Canonical Baker Street inventory, they suggest it was introduced there in Sherlockian legend “evidently on the theory that where there is a gasogene, there must be a tantalus.”
Said Sherlock Holmes of Mrs. Hudson, “Her cuisine is a little limited, but she has as good an idea of breakfast as a Scotchwoman.” Rosenblatt and Sonnenschmidt note that Victorian times were known for their hearty morning repasts. (In fact, to this day, to me only Japanese breakfast is better than a proper English one; see www.wp.me/p2ETap-1×7.)
Recalling Holmes’ pistol practice tracing out V.R. on a wall of the sitting room, the authors devise a breakfast of Eggs with Gunpowder Butter, Potato Pancakes, Apple Sauce, Sweet Rolls, Coffee and Milk.
The Sherlockian fun continues, with tongue (the authors’, not boiled beef) planted firmly in cheek. In The Sign of Four, Holmes and Watson battle a poison-dart-wielding Andaman Islander named Tonga. Watson writes, “He would eat raw meat and dance his war dance.”
Fittingly, Rosenblatt and Sonnenschmidt follow with a recipe for Steak Tonga. We’d know it as Steak Tartare.
Continuing the scholarly fun, there’s a footnote countering Tonga’s dubious identity. It cites a Baker Street Journal article, “Who Was Tonga and Why Were They Saying Such Terrible Things About Him?” This scholarly research is by none other than Julia Rosenblatt. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013
For some reason, a scene in “The Seven Percent Solution,” in which Nichol Williamson plays a delusional Holmes and Robert Duvall plays Watson tricking the detective into consulting with Dr. Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) over his cocain addiction, has stuck with me. They are dining, and Watson is trying unsuccessfully to spear his last pea with his fork. In exasperation, Holmes grabs the fork and mashes the offending legume and hands it to Watson, who is horrified that his pea has been so defiled. Why that silly bit of business stuck with me more than any other in the film, I cannot imagine.
I recall the movie being good fun, if non-Canonical.
Your description sounds like the setup for a great Sherlockian pun.