The Murderous Cook – Linda Stratmann
‘I wonder if I have annoyed Linda recently?’ said a friend sitting down to dinner at my house after looking at my collection of true crime books. Crime and cooking have both been great interests of mine from an early age and until recently I have been reassuring people that they are not associated.
My most recent novel, An Appetite For Murder, however, features the world of diet in the 1880s for which I read a lot of fascinating material about Victorian beliefs on weight and nutrition.
In the last year I have been writing a book on the history of homicidal poisoning in the nineteenth century – not only the cases themselves, but what science and the law did to try and combat poison murder. During my researches I have encountered administration of poisons in dishes that are not commonly made nowadays and it occurred to me to try and recreate them. My husband has been very good about agreeing to try these dishes. The – um – active ingredient has been in all cases omitted, of course! It does mean, however, that when I suggest making something for dinner I haven’t made before his first question is ‘Who died from that?’
So I can report that the yeast dumplings in white sauce, with chopped parsley substituting for arsenic, (Eiza Fenning 1815) were unexpectedly good. Rabbit smothered in onions was not something I would usually cook, but we enjoyed it, though if I did it again I would use chicken. In that particular case (Robert Donnall 1816) the poison was not delivered in the actual dish but the presence of liberal amounts of onion confused the results of the poison tests on the victim’s stomach contents.
I have just completed a chapter for the forthcoming CWA true crime compilation, Truly Criminal, (April 2015) on a French case from 1823 (Mme Boursier) that involves a breakfast dish of rice pottage. I managed to find a contemporary recipe, which I slightly updated for the modern palate and readers will not only be able to read about the murder but will get the recipe as well.
In due course I will be making chicken with truffles (Marie Lafarge 1840) and damson pudding (Betty Eccles 1842). In fact it would be possible to hold a dinner party with each course consisting of a dish that has featured in a poisoning case. To add to the dining pleasure the guests would, as they ate each dish, be regaled with the story of the relevant murder. It sounds like a great idea to me, but so far everyone to whom I have suggested it has been less than enthusiastic. I really don’t know why.
Linda has a virtually life-long interest in true crime, and a large collection of books on the subject. Read more on her CRA profile including links to her books.