The Vicar's wife Griselda, much younger than he, feels that she cannot afford the expense of a competent servant, so she employs Mary, a careless and inexperienced young woman. The food that Mary cooks is terrible. The second paragraph of the entire novel, for example begins with the Vicar's complaint: "I had just finished carving some boiled beef (remarkably tough by the way)..."(Locations 144-145).
Conversation at the table continues, and "Mary, who is in service at the Vicarage as a stepping-stone to better things and higher wages, merely said in a loud, businesslike voice, ‘Greens’, and thrust a cracked dish at him [a guest] in a truculent manner." And then: "Mary, setting the greens on the table with a bang, proceeded to thrust a dish of singularly moist and unpleasant dumplings under my nose. I said, ‘No, thank you,’ and she deposited the dish with a clatter on the table and left the room." (Locations 148-152)
For dessert, Mary presented "a partially cooked rice pudding. I made a mild protest, but Griselda said that the Japanese always ate half-cooked rice and had marvellous brains in consequence." (Locations 190-191). Another dessert at a later meal in the novel: "Mary’s blancmange ... is so frightfully depressing. It’s like something out of a mortuary.’ (Locations 3096-3097).
Another meal follows not long afterwards: "The menu was ambitious in conception, and Mary seemed to have taken a perverse pleasure in seeing how best she could alternate undercooking and overcooking. Some oysters which Griselda had ordered, and which would seem to be beyond the reach of incompetence, we were, unfortunately, not able to sample as we had nothing in the house to open them with – an omission which was discovered only when the moment for eating them arrived." (Locations 474-477).
Griselda continues to insist that her own efforts are futile, she can't change Mary and doesn't want to replace her explaining: "But as long as Mary can’t cook and has those awful manners – well, we’re safe, nobody else would have her.’" (Locations 1175-1176).
In contrast, the village public dining room is preferred by a potential guest; it had quite acceptable food: "The Blue Boar gives you a first-rate meal of the joint and two-vegetable type." (Location 1576).
|What people expect when they think about|
Agatha Christie meals: tea and sandwiches!
See "A street food feast, takeaway
picnic hampers and a spread
inspired by Agatha Christie"
Most Agatha Christie food followers mention the usual delicacies: English teas, Devon cream, Sunday roasts, Christmas puddings, fine old port, or the sweets and cocoa loved by Hercule Poirot. I was delighted to find such contrasting -- and negative -- food descriptions in The Murder at the Vicarage.
To see all my posts about Agatha Christie, including my current 2016 binge, click here.
|Miss Marple played by Joan Hickson|