The Sterley's of Oakland Park

Chapter 40
Napoleonís secret weapon the worst cook in England

“I am with out a doubt the best savory’s maker that I know do you not think?” asked Mrs James.  “Indeed my wife is a dab hand at the making of sweet meat,” said the clergyman. “You must try my pigeon pie, said Mrs. James as she lifted the silver cover from the dish upon which lay a plump bird in a layer of congealed grave. “ It looks wonderful I shall have a piece,” said Sophia.

The reverend gentleman’s guests sat down to eat captain Aubrey having decided to forego the offered pigeon as he had heard much of Mrs. James’s custard pudding which was to be served later. In the mean time he contented himself with a glass of port.

“I have seldom seen a dish with an aroma of such fragrance, said Sophia “ pray do tell me Mrs. James what is this fragrance for I have not come across it before?” asked Sophia as she placed the first forkful in her mouth.

“It is a Calcutta curry from India some what different to the fair we are used to, bit wholesome and good for a cold,” said Mrs. James. Sophia it seemed had grown quite flushed tears creased the corners of her eyes and a sweat broke upon her forehead.

“I fear that I am unwell” she gasped, taking a sip of water from a glass near at hand. “Oh dear what is amiss Mrs. Aubrey you are quite red with exertion you must lay down I fear” said Mrs. James rising from her seat.

“Yes if I lay down I will recover,” said Sophia “Yes step this way there is a room where you can rest,” said Mrs. James “Later you can finish your dinner. I am quite surprised for just a moment ago you were quite well could it be that you have a little bundle to deliver?” asked Mrs. James. For she was a woman wise to the world and knew that young woman of Sophia’s age did with in a year after marriage bring forth bundles of joy. It gave her great pride that when in years to come the Captain would speak of the announcement of the arrival of there first born would be due to her.

The ladies having left the room the to gentlemen were left quite alone with nothing much to say the reverend gentleman eyed the plate upon which Sophia had been feasting and then looked knowingly towards the captain. “I fear that the pigeon will be quite spoilt,” said the clergyman. Captain Aubrey perceiving that the older gentleman would show no mercy knew where his duty lay. Saying bravely “Well there is nothing for it I shall have to dispose of the bird and moved Sophia’s plate to his and begun to eat the dish.

The first bit of the dish had but a small effect upon the brave seaman for he had previously eaten curry while on active service in the Indies however he began to taste a certain discrepancy. It was at this moment that Mrs. James returned and took once more her seat. “I trust the pigeon is to your liking?” she enquired of the captain “Indeed a fragrant dish one of the best I have ever tasted,” the captain gasped as a sweat began to break from his forehead. “Pray what is its construction?” he asked of the woman.

“It must be soaked in the curry powder for a day and a half before certain other elements are added then boiled in a soup of water and oil,” replied the lady. This was indeed a surprise to the good navy man for he had never heard of the dish been prepared like this and he knew his curries.

“Remarkable quite remarkable” said the captain reaching for the glass of sherry, he had learned his lesson previously and knew better the n poor Sophia to drink water for water it seemed only increased the pain one felt with in ones mouth after eating a curry. To the captain it seemed that the poor pigeon having died had been subjected to the cruelest of fates having fallen into the hands of a woman who believed herself to be the best cook in the world. but was in fact a dangerous weapon indeed if the good woman had ever been a cook in the armies of Wellington or the navy of Nelson she would have been the most formidable weapon in Bonaparte’s grand army.

Never the less to preserve the duty placed upon him by society he continued to eat the poor bird for it would have been considered most offensive if he had not. As the newest member of Sir Thomas’s family it was incumbent upon him that he make a good impression upon the clergyman and his wife for the most reverend gentleman had always been most obliging to the Sterley’s when called upon to be of service to the family.

For it was well known that he had been instrumental of ridding Morton of the ghost of poor Lord John. To have in any way offended him in any way even to the extent of his wife’s efforts in the culinary field would it seemed be an insult to the good people of Notheringay.

Thus on he soldered through the battlefield that was the dish much to the delight of the reverend gentleman’s wife who continued to make remarks and receive high praise from the brave captain.

After the mean Sophia had quite recovered while her brave husband refused the proffered custard pie saying the curried pigeon was quit enough for him. Shortly thereafter the Aubrey’s took there leave of the clergyman and his wife who stood upon the front step of the rectory enjoying the view as the coach made its departure the good woman waving to Sophia remarked “That what an excellent gentleman the captain was and what good taste he had. for she had seen that he had indeed emptied the plate, it was a pity that he had not seen his way clear to a slice of custard pie. However it was to be expected these naval sorts are seldom big eaters” this all said to her good husband who ever mindful of his wife’s desire to impress upon there guests the skill with which she employed herself in the kitchen made him smile.


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