Sherlock Holmes and food is an odd pairing. When on a case, the Consulting Detective notoriously doesn't eat, believing it slows down his mental faculties. In BBC's Sherlock, we mostly see the man subsist on tea (and the rogue mince pie) alone. In Elementary, Lucy Liu's Dr. Watson frequently has to badger her Holmes until he finally eats that piece of pizza. So what could cooking and Sherlock Holmes possibly have in common?
"I believe John Watson's favorite meal is the one in front of him," Julia Rosenblatt, a long-time Sherlockian and the co-author of Dining with Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Cookbook, says. She created the cookbook along with the Culinary Institute of America's Frederic H. Sonnenschmidt back in the 1970s after a comment to her husband about wishing they could eat what their favorite book characters would have.
"The Culinary Institute of America had just moved to Hyde Park near us and we said, let's go to them and see and see if they could produce such a meal," Rosenblatt told SYFY WIRE. "It worked out beautifully."
So much so that after the meal — a massive buffet of over 23 different dishes shared by members of their local Sherlock Holmes society — Rosenblatt went to one of the cooks with the book proposal. Sonnenschmidt said yes, and Dining with Sherlock Holmes was born.
Though perhaps it should have been called Dining with Dr. Watson.
How many times was Dr. Watson's breakfast interrupted by a case, or one of Holmes' deduction sprees? How many times was a meal stolen from the good doctor? The answer is many.
"Watson loved meal times, that's why we have three mealtimes mentioned each story, but very few foods mentioned. He just wanted to eat," Rosenblatt says. Poor Watson.
I wanted to know just what Dr. Watson missed out on so often. Also, what Sherlock Holmes actually enjoyed when he managed to sit still long enough to enjoy a meal. In canon, he did this frequently enough, typically dining out. However, I was more curious about eating at Baker Street.
So I turned to the author of the cookbook herself, who thankfully, did most of the research for me. When working on the cookbook, she started from the canon. However, she noticed something that would make this a singularly unique challenge.
"There are approximately three meals per story, but there's almost no specific foods mentioned. So that gave us a lot of artistic license," Rosenblatt says with a laugh. So she and Sonnenschmidt got creative, turning instead to research and contemporary Victorian cookbooks and menus to get them started.
"I did quite a bit of research about what Holmes would have eaten in this situation, what time of year it was, how much time he would have had." Rosenblatt also used local resources. "I live near Vasser College and had access to the library. It was founded in the late 19th century for women, so they had a very good cookbook collection."
Together with Sonnenschmidt, Rosenblatt created a faithful ode to the meals of Sherlock Holmes. She took what clues she could from the canon and expanded them with her research and her co-author chef's culinary expertise. The cookbook is littered with cute names like "The Stanley Hopkins Breakfast" in reference to The Adventure of Black Peter and "The Ultimate Destiny of a Goose," referring to the most famous meal in the stories from Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.
A large chunk of the book is about breakfasts, and there's a good reason why. Holmes refers to Mrs. Hudson "as having as good an idea of breakfast as a Scotswoman." It meant she served a very good breakfast.
"I think that was her favorite meal to prepare because it was the one they were most likely to be there for," Rosenblatt says.
As for when Holmes was in charge of a meal, he would have game meats; woodcock, pheasant, and those sorts. Rosenblatt goes on to say that Holmes "was a bit of a gourmet. He wanted to enjoy his meals when it was mealtime." Whenever they got that chance.
But now it was my turn. I wanted to cook for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. But what to choose? Alongside Rosenblatt's book, there's The Sherlock Holmes Cookbook by Sean Wright and John Farrell, as well as The Sherlock Holmes Victorian Cookbook by William Bonnell. I poured over the recipes offered in all. Now, I don't have the kitchen capacity for 23 dishes like the original buffet, so instead, I settled on the following: Mrs. Hudson's Biscuits and a Cold Supper For Burglars, both from Rosenblatt's cookbook.
MRS. HUDSON'S BISCUITS
"It was to Mrs. Hudson's biscuits that Sherlock Holmes turned to break his three day fast in The Adventure of the Dying Detective." Rosenblatt's book tells me, and that was enough of an endorsement for me. Not to mention, "when the imposing figure of Thorneycroft Huxtable collapsed from hunger and fatigue on the hearthrug at Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson's biscuits and a glass of milk brought him back to life."
So Mrs. Hudson's biscuits could revive anyone. How could I not make them?
The original recipe makes something like 50 biscuits. I do not need 50 biscuits in my life, because then I will eat 50 biscuits. So instead of using a pastry bag to create cute little biscuits, I made larger biscuits.
As someone who bakes regularly, I must admit I looked at this recipe with an eyebrow raised. I had never used confectioners sugar and cornstarch to bake cookies. But these were Mrs. Hudson's famed biscuits, so I did what I was told and waited very impatiently.
The results were pillowy cloud like cookies that were, frankly, delicious. The lemon glaze was just the perfect bite of sweetness. My photographer and cooking assistant snuck many of them behind my back, and honestly, I can't blame her.
A COLD SUPPER
Charles Augustus Milverton is my favorite of the Holmes adventures, so it seemed only appropriate to make his and Watson's pre-breaking-and-entering meal. The Victorians seemed to be particularly fond of cold meats. Spoiler alert: We did not eat the meat cold, because that's an outrage. Sorry, Holmes.
But what was an appropriate "cold supper" according to Rosenblatt?
"Surely, Holmes must have rung the bell for two bowls of hot soup for warmth on a cold night," she says. "Following the soup, cold roast pork would be in order." The full menu is as follows: lentil soup, roast pork loin, dill loaf, applesauce, and gingerbread.
Because I am a modern woman, I did make my applesauce in my Instant Pot, if only so I could use my stovetop to get the lentil soup going as well as preparing both of the breads. The recipes are simple enough to follow and do have an old-world air to them. As I folded in onions and dill to the loaf, I wondered who ate more bread at Baker Street. I bet it was Watson.
The pork loin was something totally new for me, especially as it called for stuffing it with prunes. As someone who always associated prunes with getting old and being just large mushy raisins, I must confess I've never had them before. And it was definitely gross squishing them into the meat pocket of my loin (just typing that made me gag).
However, as I tied it up like a present and popped it in the oven, I had to admit it looked pretty legit. Something that was confirmed roughly two hours later when I pulled it out and called myself Bob Cratchit.
A VICTORIAN MEAL
While by no means a totally accurate place setting, the look of all of the dishes together really was quite something. And also made me realize how delightfully antiquated most of my belongings are. Everything was delicious and definitely warmed the spirit on a dreary, cold day.
Pair your cold supper with some brandy like a proper English gentleman, or tea if you're like us, and dig in.
I would eat everything again, and I honestly can't wait to experiment with some more Sherlockian recipes.
I'm still thinking about Mrs. Hudson's biscuits.