Obviously today’s entry is posted a day late. But it was for a good reason. Today, you see, was the last weekday of my kids’ Christmas Break. I was off work, and decided we needed to have some fun. Real fun; not my mom kind of fun, which involves a lot of laundry and Getting Stuff Done.
So we drove to a neighboring town and did a lot of second-hand store shopping. My kids love this and they each look for different things: games, shoes, miniature dishes, books on their passions, art–it’s hard to keep them on a budget.
But we were (mostly) good, and finished up at one of our favorite spots for ice cream and “craft soda.” Wonder of wonders, they had my all-time favorite drink: Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola, which tastes like autumn in a bottle; I bought the four they had left, and I felt no shame. After all, it’s been three years since I’ve had any!
At this point, sad to say, I was still trying to figure out a topic for this post–and optimistically believed I’d get it done in time. I finally settled on beverages. What did Sherlock Holmes drink?
I decided to do a word search through the Canon. Tea, I figured, would be the winner, hands-down. I was kind of hoping that I would find specific types of tea, would share them with you, and then have a question that had something to do with lapsang souchong. It would be quick. I was wrong.
First of all, it wasn’t quick. I used a really great “searchable Canon” site–but unfortunately, “tea” appears in many, many Canonical words. Tons. So does “gin.” And “port.” So that took some time. Second of all, I had to make sure the word was used in a “beverage” sense. For example, “spirits” showed up in “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” as a cleanser. Was the water in the carafe that Watson threw on Baron von Gruner considered drinking water, even if it was used in a medicinal sense (I decided it was)?* And finally, tea was not the runaway winner. Here, in fact, is the break-down:
Water (in a drinking context): 41
Tea (in a drinking context): 32 mentions (with no special varieties given)
Wine: 32 mentions (31 of the word, and one of “Tokay” in VALL)
Brandy: 29 mentions
Milk: 15 mentions
Whisky: 7 mentions
Liquor: 7 mentions
Rum: 5 mentions
Beer: 4 mentions
Claret: 4 mentions
Sherry: 4 mentions
Gin: 3 mentions
Port: 3 mentions
Spirits (in a drinking context): 3 mentions
Ale: 1 mention.
I didn’t find stout or porter. Madeira only shows up as the city, and not the wine. There may have been other drinks that appear that I just didn’t think of. If you know of any, please share!
And here I have a confession to make. I don’t like tea. Nor do I like coffee. Hot drinks are really not my thing. So when it came to researching them, I was starting at the beginning. Victorian tea, it seems, was a lot more complicated than simply buying a box of some pre-made and pre-named blend off the shelf. Nor does Mrs. Beeton, normally so helpful, give you a primer on which leaves or beans to choose. Apparently, like the solar system, Victorian Britons considered this “primary school.” I did learn, however, that when you went to a tea shop, you could customize your blend to your liking. English Breakfast tea was available, and Earl Grey was relatively new–although it may have been around up to 50 years prior, advertisements for it first appear in the 1880’s. White and green teas were used, although black teas were most popular (for caffeine reasons, I expect). Tea was more popular (in general) in Britain than coffee, for the simple reason that you could drink it watered down, making it more economical. Although we don’t know for sure, it’s possible that Captain Watson of the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers drank “gunfire tea,” or tea with a shot of rum. Hmmm….perhaps he still had it on occasion at 221B.
Also, many tea bloggers apparently don’t like the smoky flavour of lapsang souchong.
So–how would Mrs. Hudson have made tea for her lodgers? Mrs. Beeton was fairly sanguine about this:
There is very little art in making good tea; if the water is boiling, and thee is no sparing of the fragrant leaf, the beverage will almost invariably be good. The old-fashioned plan of allowing a teaspoonful to each person and one over, is still practised. Warm the teapot with boiling water; let it remain for two or three minutes for the vessel to become thoroughly hot, then pour it away. Put in the tea, pour in from 1/2 to 3/4 pint of boiling water, close the lid, and let it stand for the tea to draw from 5 to 10 minutes for the tea to draw; then fill up the pot with water. The tea will be quite spoiled unless made with water that is actually boiling, as the leaves will not open, and the flavour not be extracted from them; the beverage will consequently be colourless and tasteless–in fact, nothing but tepid water. Where there is a large party to make tea for, it is a good plan to have two teapots, instead of putting a large quantity of tea into one pot; the tea, besides, will go farther. When the infusion has been once completed, the addition of fresh tea adds very little to the strength; so, when more is required, have the pot emptied of the old leaves, scalded, and fresh tea made in the usual manner. Economists say that a few grains of bicarbonate of soda, added before the boiling water is poured on the tea, assist to draw out the goodness; if the water is very hard, perhaps it is a good plan, as the soda softens it; but care must be taken to use this ingredient sparingly, as it is liable to give the tea a soapy taste if added in too large a quantity. For mixed tea, the usual proportion is four spoonfuls of black to one of green; more of the latter when the flavour is very much liked; but strong green tea is highly pernicious, and should never be partaken of too freely. Time: 2 minutes to warm the teapot, 5 to 10 minutes to draw the strength from the tea. Sufficient.–Allow 1 teaspoonful to each person. —Mrs. Beeton’s Every-day Cookery and Housekeeping Book; London: Ward & Lock, 1891.
I won’t be discussing alcohol in this series, but this prize does–at least, in the middle book. Today’s prize is a “book club” prize, featuring Bonnie McBird’s three Sherlock Holmes novels–I’ve read them all, and they are wonderful. I adore the murders in her latest, The Devil’s Due, but my favorite is still Unquiet Spirits, because it’s creepy and–well, I’ll tell you more later….
Normally, with a book club prize, I send the books out one per month, but this time, I will be sending them all at once. It will be up to you to pace yourself.
To enter the drawing for this prize, send your answer to the following question to me via blog comment or FB post at the Well-read Sherlockian Facebook page:
One type of sherry is known as “Amontillado.” Why might we assume that this was Holmes and Watson’s sherry of choice?
Congratulations to Elise Marchand, winner of the Basil of Baker Street books! As you all knew, while exploring the hut on the moor, Watson found Holmes’s pantry of “a loaf of bread, a tinned tongue, and two tins of preserved peaches.” To drink, there was water, and a half a bottle of spirits of some kind. There was also a “litter of empty tins,” and Ms. Marchand pointed out that, as Holmes knew a dangerous predator was lurking about, we can deduce that those cans had not contained beans.
*Note: If you are ever assailed by someone with oil of vitriol, do not pour water on the burn–it makes things even worse. Seriously, Conan Doyle and Watson should have known that.