Saturday, January 02, 2016

Cooking with Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie in her kitchen -- from Crèmes & châtiments

Once long ago I read almost all of the Agatha Christie books that were then in print. I've decided to revisit some of them, and I began yesterday, the first day of the year, with The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the very first book in which Hercule Poirot appeared. The events in the book take place approximately 100 years ago, during the First World War, and the publication date is 1920. Now I'm reading The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928), and plan to read more.

Amazingly, Christie's prose seems absolutely modern. Styles is a totally readable book about a grand household that reminds me of Downton Abbey (probably not a coincidence, since Christie invented a lot of the conventions for depicting this social class in popular literature). I'll be following up my Christie reading when I've read a few more.

What I want to concentrate on today is an Agatha Christie cookbook titled Crèmes & châtiments: Recettes délicieuses et criminelles d'Agatha Christie. The meaning of the title, which is a better pun in French than in English: Creams and Punishments: Recipes both delicious and Criminal from Agatha Christie by Anne Martinetti and François Rivière, first published in France in 2005. Though this book is entirely in French, every page quotes one of Christie's books. Needless to say, she's highly popular there, and all her books have long ago been translated.

My copy of the book -- the 2010 edition.
As far as I've been able to determine, this is the only actual Agatha Christie cookbook available now. I don't know of any that are out of print, though who knows if there was ever such a cookbook? Occasional recipes have appeared such as this very recent one: "Food in books: crystallised ginger from The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie." But I don't know of any other full-scale cookbooks.

This situation is totally surprising as Christie describes food at appropriate intervals throughout her vast collection of detective fiction, and food also appears in most of the film and TV treatments of her stories. The French identity of this book makes some sense, as Hercule Poirot is a partisan of French cooking. Here's an amusing example from The Blue Train: Hercule Poirot's valet suggested that he wear a particular "brown lounge suit." Poirot replied, "There is a grease spot on the waistcoat... a morceau of filet de sole à la Jeannette alighted there when I was lunching at the Ritz last Tuesday." If you have read the books or seen the films you know that Poirot was fussy about both his food and his clothing. Crèmes & châtiments doesn't have this particular dish, but does offer a few elegant-sounding fish recipes and several desserts and pastries that the detective would have enjoyed. And by the way, Poirot's excellent valet had removed the spot, enabling him to wear the suit.

"Tartines gratinées au chester" -- open-face sandwiches with cheese melted in wine.
This was the only recipe in the book for which I had the ingredients today; I improvised the salad with chutney, as many
of the recipes do call for chutney. I admit it wasn't spectacularly different from ordinary cheese toasts!
Well, it's a new year, and I'm planning lots of food reading and kitchen experiments. More pictures and recipes from Crèmes & châtiments are to come!


Beth F said...

I love this! What a great book to have and look through. I love Agatha Christie and I had no idea there had once been a cookbook. Now I'll be haunting used-book stores. The cheese toasts look great.

Mae Travels said...

Beth F -- I don't know if you'll find this in used book stores since it's only available in French and wasn't well known. I had to order it from and have it shipped internationally! A few are listed by amazon resellers but they don't actually have them in stock. But good luck with your search!

Debra Eliotseats said...

I'm glad you translated. Haha. I'm impressed you're revisiting them all. It's been years and years since I picked up one of her novels.

Laurie C said...

I read The Mysterious Affair at Styles with a mystery book club several years ago now when we were reading first books featuring famous detectives, I think. I love cheese toast, but haven't had it in ages. Seems so much more sophisticated than the American grilled cheese sandwich!

Pam said...

I bet that's a great book and I'd love to find it someday. I haven't read a lot of the books, but I know that Poirot was fussy about food and clothes and I'm glad his valet saved the day. Thanks for sharing, Mae!

Cakelaw said...

What a fun cookbook - perfect for an Agatha Christie fan.

Pattie @ Olla-Podrida said...

Great post, Mae! As you can well imagine, I am a HUGE Agatha Christie fan. I had no idea that there was a cookbook, but now I'm on the scent of this one. This dish looks delicious, by the way. Have you ever tried the Jane Asher recipe of Delicious Death? It's on my list to t try this year.