Belgian butter cookies (waffle wafer) with Sirop de Liège; cream cracker with shrimp and goat cheese with roasted garlic and herbes de Provence; strawberry macarons; and crème de menthe. Happy 2019!
This has to be one of the most Poirot things I’ve ever featured for Poirot Gourmet. 🙂 Readers with a good familiarity with the books will likely remember the detective’s appreciation for square crumpets. Combine them with this distinctive and characteristic fruit spread of Liège, and voilà! We have an English-Belgian fusion worthy of Poirot.
I used square silicone egg rings for my crumpets. Alas, I am not what the English would call a “dab hand” at crumpets. They turned out more like pikelets– either I killed the yeast with too-warm milk, or my baking soda was taking the day off. Also, like many egg rings used for crumpets, they lend themselves to a shallower product. At any rate, they’re still quite edible. 🙂 I also decided that they weren’t initially quite square enough. Here’s how they looked at first…
…So I gave them a good severe trim with my lasagna server. 🙂 Before I move on to the spread, here are some book references for you…
Order and method had been Hercule Poirot’s watchwords from many years ago. With George, his perfect manservant, and Miss Lemon, his perfect secretary, order and method ruled supreme in his life. Now that crumpets were baked square as well as round, he had nothing about which to complain.
…And in due course, the faithful George was instructed to provide a meal of square crumpets richly buttered, symmetrical sandwiches, and other suitable components of a lavish English afternoon tea.
…The resourceful George had on this occasion produced large cups, a pot of really strong Indian tea and, in addition to the hot and buttery square crumpets, bread and jam and a large square of rich plum cake.
All this for the delectation of Inspector Sharpe, who was leaning back contentedly sipping his third cup of tea.
-Hickory Dickory Dock
Hercule Poirot sat in a square chair in front of the square fireplace in the square room of his London flat…
…His eyes strayed from the jigsaw puzzle in front of him to the chair on the other side of the fireplace. There, not half an hour ago, Inspector Bland had sat consuming tea and crumpets (square crumpets) and talking sadly.
-Dead Man’s Folly
The spread I used is a Belgian import with a consistency rather like apple butter and dark and heavy like molasses. Sirop de Liège is made primarily with pears and apples, but also (to a lesser extent) dates, apricots, and prunes. Pear/apple syrups and spreads of this kind had been developed in the area for centuries, but this particular recipe was apparently nailed down around 1937 and trademarked after the war. You can read more about it here. It is VERY sweet and concentrated– there’s no need to add more sugar! Liège, of course, is the general vicinity in Belgium from which (we are given to understand) Poirot hails. We know that he likes anything sweet and sirop-y, so this spread is really a no-brainer for Poirot Gourmet. And it’s absolutely lovely with these little griddle cakes.
Ready for a new episode overview? Time for The Third Floor Flat! (Reminder: my particular “reviews” aren’t comprehensive– others have covered that ground. They deal with my own particular impressions, curiosities, and book-to-script thoughts.) SPOILERS for everything, as always. 🙂
Things I Loved:
-Because the episode focuses on the flats, I LOVE that we get to zip through Whitehaven Mansions, the elevator escapades, the cool railings and stairwells, the coal lift, the basement, and so on. Even if it’s not really Florin Court. 🙂
-Poirot’s sneezes are hilarious. 😀 In general, hypochondriac Poirot is great. In the book, Poirot invents an excuse about having a head cold to explain why he can’t sniff at the bottle he finds, so he asks Donavon to do so. Very clever for the scriptwriter to actually give Poirot a cold for the sake of the storyline.
-I like the idea (not in the original Christie) that Mrs Grant moved into the flats where her rival lived to deliberately to taunt her husband Donavon. An added advantage is that it gives a plausible explanation to the book’s description of the flat being over-full of furniture and other items.
-Showing the delivery of the note by Mrs Grant to Pat’s flat. We learn in the book that a note was sent to Pat, who assumed the woman just wanted to complain about the piano or something. Not only is Pat blasting music in her flat, but she’s dancing with her friend Mildred, which is a good explanation for why Mrs Grant doesn’t just charge in right away and ask to speak with Pat then and there.
-Poirot’s reminiscences of an old flame upon seeing Pat is actually alluded to three times! “If I were your age, monsieur, without doubt I too would be in love with her.” That’s a pretty revealing statement for Poirot, and brings his love interests in the series up to, what, three? As I note in this other blog post, it is, I believe, about the first example in the series of Poirot’s wistfulness at his own missed opportunities in personal relationships.
-There are few moments of deliciously creepy irony in the episode, such as Mrs Grant’s body being covered by the curtain (the play they all had gone to see was “The Deadly Shroud”), and the contrast of the discovery of the murder with Pat and Mildred’s singing.
-“I suppose you’re inured to this sort of thing, M. Poirot?” “No, no, no, on the contrary, I think it [that is, the omelette] is very nice.” A humorous intro to Poirot’s love of omelettes.
-EVERYTHING relating to the play is gold. 🙂 “How could a stage play compare to the real-life cases of Hercule Poirot?” The humor in Poirot not solving the case because “the writer is an imbecile!” was hilarious, and gives him something to talk about with the young people back in Pat’s flat. The fact that he mentions the denouement of the idiot police inspector just as Japp is entering and overhearing the conversation is brilliant! The bad acting in the play is pretty funny. And from what we can glean about the plot of “The Deadly Shroud,” Poirot actually seems to be correct in that the culprit (the daughter-in-law) doesn’t make sense as the murderer. That is probably its own in-depth blog post, but have a close watch of those scenes and see if the motive, lines of inheritance, etc. make any sense to you!
-That sort of innocent, pleading exchange between Poirot and Japp when the former asks to search 36B is funny and reminiscent of Four and Twenty Blackbirds, when Poirot is trying to wheedle a contact out of Japp so he can follow up a line of investigation. Japp grudgingly gives in after some sweet talking. Philip Jackson is SO GOOD.
-I just finally noticed that the metal contraption that Donavon plows Hastings’ car into is actually the little stand across from the flats where the old woman was selling teas and things (the workman from the moving crew shouts for her to get some tea ready as they were almost done in the opening scene). A nice little detail to tie the ends of the story together, although it seems a bit unusual that the stand was just closing up for the day well after 11 at night…
-Poirot’s matchmaking trait– the first we see in this series, but repeated very many times at the end of several episodes.
Things I Didn’t Love:
-“Birds do not run”? Poirot must be quite ill to be making silly statements like that. 😉
-In the episode, unlike the book, Donavon isn’t making any of the suggestions about fire escapes and service lifts to try to get someone else to suggest the coal lift (which is what he wants); others do. It would make more sense to me if he were the one subtly angling towards that point.
-No commentary is given for the block capitals of “John Frazer’s” note and why Poirot finds that suspicious.
-Poirot suggests that bulb might have been replaced between the time they tried it and came back? Someone would have to be awfully speedy and sneaky about that…
Things That Confused Me:
-Hastings offers Poirot a whiskey during the intermission, which I think is unique in the series. At other times he seems to have a much better knowledge of what Poirot wants for refreshment (compare Spanish Chest and the opera).
-The maid happened to be out between 5 and 10 on her night off. Coincidence, or did Donavon know somehow?
-Dynamics between young people could be stronger, although Pat and Mildred are very convincing as friends. But where did Mildred disappear to in the second part of the episode, anyway…?
-Also, if Pat is “Poirot’s type,” how do we reconcile this with Countess Rossakoff? She seems diametrically different.
-Why did Donavon go back into 36B to retrieve the letter that Poirot had taken out of his pocket? Why would he have hoped to find it back on the table again?
-We have an early indication in this script that Hastings does not actually room with Poirot when the latter informs him: “She lives in the flat below me in Whitehaven Mansions.” At the same time, Hastings seems to have such easy familiarity with Poirot’s flat that one simultaneously could assume that he lives there– the way he walks up to the flat and hangs out in the kitchen after the play (it’s after 11, and he’s not even just walking Poirot up to the flat. He takes his coat off like he’s visiting for awhile, and I’m not sure that the receiving of a check is really a good enough reason for it). And he’s later asked by Poirot to escort Donavon “up to the flat” and make him some coffee. This doesn’t bother me, but I can see how fans could be confused about Hastings’ omnipresence.
-When we see Mrs Grant getting settled in her flat, she sits a picture frame, whose image we cannot see, on her table. When Jimmy and Donavon discover the body, a broken picture frame of the same type is at her feet, its picture removed! Nice touch. Something similar happens with Flossie Monro’s effects in a chapter of The Big Four. Something seems to be missing, though: the smashed drinking glass she had dropped when she was shot. No one takes heed of any such thing when the body is discovered, or attempts to avoid stepping on glass. Did Donavon dispose of it…?
-Fans debate: does Poirot pay for all repairs for the Lagonda at the end, since Hastings’ car (and a bit of heroic tomfoolery) was important in catching the murderer? It seems more likely to me that he was merely offering to fork over the ten pounds he had originally wagered.
Conclusion: I think it’s a great episode, very entertaining and humorous, and it highlights the personalities of Poirot, Hastings, Japp, and Miss Lemon well. Although it’s funny, it still manages to be both sinister and poignant in various places as well. It does raise an awful lot of open-ended questions, however.
Sometimes I think the art department for Agatha Christie’s Poirot must have been having so much fun… Did you know that multiple paintings in the series were basically tweaked renditions of Tamara de Lempicka’s works?
Lempicka was a celebrated Polish Art Deco artist. Her distinctive style shows influence of Cubism as well as Ingres-style portraiture. I had, some months ago, painted a tiny (reversed) copy of one of her works– a girl with gloves– for the cover of one of my miniature books.
In the Poirot episode One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, the board room of Alistair Blunt shows a portrait of himself and his wife Rebecca, done exactly in the style of Lempicka. This is historically fitting, since Lempicka painted a number of “celebrity” portraits for the wealthy and aristocratic in the ’20s and ’30s.
In fact, that painting above isn’t only in the style of Lempicka– it is basically a conglomeration of different Lempicka paintings: a portrait of Mrs Boucard and one Mr Tadeusz de Lempicki. You can see below how the face of the man has been changed to look like Alistair Blunt (Peter Blythe). 🙂
There is a similarly-styled portrait, a la Lempicka, in the episode The Underdog— a painting which hides the safe of Sir Reuben Astwell, the murdered man.
Again, it is based almost completely off of a legit Lempicka painting, Dr. Boucard.
The “remake” includes the test tube of liquid, which in Lempicka’s original has (presumably) some medical aspect, but which seems to have been cleverly re-imagined as relating to “Astwell Chemicals.” Like the Alistair Blunt portrait, the face is reconfigured to look like Sir Reuben (Denis Lill).
Interesting, no? 🙂
We found this local (Winnipeg-based) Belgian-style beer the other day. It’s called Le Sneak Belgique, a witbier made with coriander, orange peel, and black pepper. Did I mention that the can is adorned with a moustache?? 🙂
I had to bring it home and feature it in a blog episode of Poirot Gourmet. So I decided to pair it with miniature versions of Quiche Lorraine and a side salad with tomatoes, walnuts, balsamic vinegar and black truffle olive oil. 🙂 Lovely comfort food for autumn!
Remember that anachronistic Picasso print from Poirot’s first flat, from 1957? Well, I’ve just noticed that a bit later in the series, it was replaced with a different print. Here’s a shot from The Plymouth Express where you can see it over Hastings’ shoulder. It’s a mother and child painting.
Also, I’ve identified the picture. It is, in fact, another Picasso (Mother and Infant), one from 1922, in the artist’s much earlier neoclassical phase. Kudos to the art department for this fitting remedy. 🙂 The picture is part of the Continental influence of Poirot’s decor as well as blending in nicely with his many Japanese prints, which are similarly heavy on the linear outlining (and also very influential in turn-of-the-last-century European art). Japanese prints can be seen in various places in both of Poirot’s flats.
And if you haven’t noticed already, Poirot has a more cubist-style Picasso print (mixed media) hanging over his mantle. Violin is from around 1912.
Poirot seems so fond of Picasso that I thought I’d try tracking down that second print that’s behind Poirot’s shoulder in the Plymouth Express shot. Sure enough, that is a sketch called A Thousand Travelling Acrobats— a Picasso drawing from 1905.
Acrylic on 8″ x 10″ canvas board. I like to do the book titles as “vertical-axis” ambigrams (mirror-reflection style) for two reasons. First, the style better fulfills Poirot’s sense of symmetry than a rotational ambigram would do. Second, I’m thinking of them in terms of a book cover or a fixed display, and it’s sort of handy in that case to get the visual effect without having to physically rotate the thing.
I’m pleased with the legibility of this particular one… and also the elephant. 🙂