In today’s entry, we’ll look at another exotic food…exotic, that is, to Arthur Conan Doyle.
It’s always struck me as fascinating that, to the young Conan Doyle, the American West was an exciting, far away land filled with dramatic exploits and larger-than-life characters. The adventure stories he read as a boy inevitably influenced his adult writing, and perhaps nowhere are they more evident than in A Study in Scarlet, with its (in)famous “Mormon Digression.”
Ah, Utah! Spectacular landscape, foreign religion, polygamy, Indians, prospectors, scouts, silver explorers, ranchmen–the latter four of which undoubtedly made Jefferson Hope a dashing figure in the eyes of Lucy Ferrier–and reminded one literary agent of his youthful heroes. And the food of the pioneers? The heavenly meal a starving young Lucy anticipated as she prayed with her grandfather?
Mrs. Beeton does not have a recipe for buckwheat cakes. Neither does J. Walsh’s Cookery. Going by the very few mentions they garner in the British Newspaper Archive for the 19th century–most of which deal with American content–they were not something that Holmes and Watson were familiar with (unless you agree with Baring-Gould that they each spent time in the States during their early years). They are, however, all over the American papers for the same time period, and one can find plenty of 19th-century recipes for them as well. Buckwheat, it seems, is not “wheat” at all, but a remarkably resilient plant related to sorrel and rhubarb. It has been cultivated for centuries throughout Asia and continental Europe. We’re most likely to encounter it now in noodles (buckwheat soba), or as kashi. It’s gluten-free.
I thought buckwheat cakes were like pancakes, but going from modern and 19th century recipes, they seem to be a little thicker. You can find a current version here:
Lucy Ferrier’s mother likely made hers using a method like this:
One quart of buckwheat meal;
One pint of wheat flour;
Half a tea-cupful of yeast;
Salt to taste.
Mix the flour, buckwheat and salt with as much water moderately warm as will make it into a thin batter. Beat it well, then add the yeast; when well mixed, set it in a warm place to rise. A soon as they are very light, grease the griddle, and bake them a delicate brown. Butter them with good butter, and eat while hot.–Widdifield’s New Cook Book: or. Practical receipts for the house-wife. Philadelphia, 1856.
Now for today’s question….
What other states does Lucy Ferrier mention? And why might they lead us to believe that her grandfather might not have found their Mormon rescuers as “exotic” as Conan Doyle’s British readers?
The winner of this day’s drawing will receive, perhaps inevitably…..
This is a Thomas Crowell printing of A Study in Scarlet, in pretty decent shape. There are no illustrations, unfortunately, but for a tissue-covered engraving of Arthur Conan Doyle as a frontispiece. According to the the invaluable Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia, it was printed in 1898 and retailed for seventy-five cents. I think it would make a lovely little addition to your vintage Holmes collection–or perhaps give you a start on one.
Just send your answer in (as usual) via blog comment, the Well-Read Sherlockian FB page, or my own FB page if we are FB friends.
And now I can’t stop thinking about pancakes.
…To Emily Todd, winner of Memoirs from Mrs. Hudson’s Kitchen. The “only modern thing” Watson observed in the Ferguson house was, indeed, “a smart maid.” At the time the case takes place, in 1896, Watson was again single, and probably cannot be faulted for noticing the woman and her style of dress (he really did have an eye for women’s fashion). However, as at least one commenter pointed out, calling her a “modern thing” was not really very kind or gentlemanly. Perhaps she spilt a little tea on him; he deserved it.