Even Book Characters Need to Eat
By Marty Wingate
In the Potting Shed mysteries – and especially in The Skeleton Garden, number four – food is integral to my protagonist/gardener, Pru Parke. That’s because she doesn’t cook – she never learned and now, in her mid-fifties, she’s afraid to even try. (This is in sharp contract to the protagonist in my other mystery series, Birds of a Feather. Julia Lanchester is a good cook and loves to eat – she’s one of those irritating people we all know who eats all the time and never seems to gain weight.)
But the kitchen is the heart of the house at Greenoak, and what would a kitchen be without a chicken-and-leek pie in the oven? That isn’t the only reason, there are more: Evelyn – the cook – is a prominent character; gardeners get hungry; it’s England – so there’s always a cup of tea going; and there’s teenage boy in the house, who is the usual bottomless pit.
If she isn’t turning out a steaming pot of boiled potatoes, Evelyn is making her famous (although only runner-up in the village baking contest) ginger teacake or assembling meals for the local pensioners. When Evelyn is present, she’s Queen of the Kitchen, and won’t allow Pru to so much as put the kettle on. Evelyn has a sixth sense when it comes to someone messing about in her domain, and she always seems to know when Pru has violated the rules. Pru does only rarely, and mostly for Saturday breakfast when she occasionally fixes biscuits for Christopher, her husband. It’s the only thing she knows how to make – the Southern kind of biscuits, not the British kind, which are cookies to Americans. But Evelyn can sniff out a dusting of flour better than a bloodhound.
And yet, for reasons explained in The Skeleton Garden, Pru makes the somewhat rash decision to cook a Christmas pudding. For American readers – Christmas pudding is a steamed cake, dense, heavy, moist, spicy, and filled with sultanas (raisins) and often candied fruit. It can be served with a custard sauce or a brandy sauce – I prefer the custard sauce made, of course, with Bird’s Custard, which is a mix and quite tasty.
Once, many years ago, I made a Christmas pudding, and it wasn’t much fun, so I don’t know why Pru got it in her head to take on this project when she could’ve bought one online. Last November, when my husband and I were in England, we visited the lovely Suffolk town of Southwold where we took a tour of the Adnams Brewery which ends in their exceptional gift and kitchen shop. And low and behold, there were Christmas puddings in two sizes, all wrapped up and ready to take home. Perfect – the smaller size came home with us and so, for our Christmas pudding, all I had to do was stir up the Bird’s Custard. Why didn’t Pru think of that?