Zelda has just been inspired by a re-reading of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
So, is she preparing a meal for Mr Jabez Wilson, a pawnbroker, who consults Sherlock Holmes in The Red-Headed League, and gives him ‘quite a three pipe problem’? Or maybe Holmes himself, who makes instant deductions based on his client’s appearance? (He is a freemason, takes snuff, has done manual labour and has been in China’.) Not this time.
Jabez Wilson owns a shop in Saxe-Coburg Square: “Let me see,” said Holmes, standing at the corner and glancing along the line, “I should like just to remember the order of the houses here. It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London. There is Mortimer’s, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of the City and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane’s carriage-building depot.”
Holmes knows that the location of the pawnbroker’s shop is as important as the soil stains on the knees of Wilson’s assistant, which brings us to tonight’s Veggie Dinner Guest: Vincent Spaulding, also known as John Clay.
Here he is, as portrayed by Tim McInnerny in the 1995 Granada TV version:
In the words of Holmes: “He’s a remarkable man, is young John Clay. His grandfather was a royal duke, and he himself has been to Eton and Oxford. His brain is as cunning as his fingers, and though we meet signs of him at every turn, we never know where to find the man himself. He’ll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I’ve been on his track for years and have never set eyes on him yet.”
With the vegetarian restaurant so close by to Clay/Spaulding’s ‘place of work’, I would like to think that he might have popped in and enjoyed the food.
The Vegetarian Society was founded in 1847, so the restaurant which was near Saxe-Coburg Square may well have been set up to promote its values:
The objects of the Society are, to induce habits of abstinence from the Flesh of Animals as Food, by the dissemination of information upon the subject, by means of tracts, essays, and lectures, proving the many advantages of a physical, intellectual, and moral character, resulting from Vegetarian habits of Diet; and thus, to secure, through the association, example, and efforts of its members, the adoption of a principle which will tend essentially to true civilisation, to universal brotherhood, and to the increase of human happiness generally.
Vegetarian cookery books became popular at this time, but fresh fruit and vegetables were equally hard for vegetarians and carnivores to obtain.
When caught, John Clay is haughty and uncooperative, as Watson relates:
“I beg that you will not touch me with your filthy hands,” remarked our prisoner as the handcuffs clattered upon his wrists. “You may not be aware that I have royal blood in my veins. Have the goodness, also, when you address me always to say ‘sir’ and ‘please.’”
“All right,” said Jones with a stare and a snigger. “Well, would you please, sir, march upstairs, where we can get a cab to carry your Highness to the police-station?”
“That is better,” said John Clay serenely. He made a sweeping bow to the three of us and walked quietly off in the custody of the detective.
I’m not sure what his punishment will be, but maybe, if he was granted a last meal, I could serve him this lovely curry.
I’m not sure that this particular recipe would have been available prior to 1892 when the story was first published, as sweet potatoes were not as popular here then as they were on the other side of the Atlantic. Lentils and chickpeas would, however, be readily available.
But this is a fantasy world, and this is very tasty.
CHICKPEA AND SWEET POTATO CURRY
1 garlic clove, crushed
150g red lentils, rinsed
1 onion, chopped
400g sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can coconut milk
400ml vegetable stock
2tbsp olive oil
1tsp ground coriander
1tsp ginger powder
1tsp ground turmeric
1tsp ground coriander
Heat the oil and fry the onion until just turning golden.
Add the garlic and the chilli and fry for a minute or so more.
Add the ginger powder, turmeric and coriander and stir well to coat.
Pour in the coconut milk and vegetable stock and season.
Add the lentils, sweet potato and chickpeas, and bring to the boil.
Turn down to a slow simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes until the sweet potato has softened and the liquid has thickened.