An extract from Memoirs from Mrs Hudson's Kitchen;
“The powers of a man’s mind are directly proportioned to the quantity of coffee he drinks,” so said Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832), a Scottish jurist, politician and historian. This maxim could easily be applied to Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson, since both often preferred coffee over tea throughout the day and into the night. A breakfast pot served hot and strong was mandatory. In Dr. Watson’s account of A Study in Scarlet the first mention of coffee was made.
Dr. Watson “rose somewhat earlier than usual” and I was so accustomed to his sleeping in that he was dismayed that “his place had not been laid nor my coffee prepared. With the unreasonable petulance of mankind [he] rang the bell and gave the curt intimation that [he] was ready.”
When Mr. Holmes worked relentlessly on a case, coffee served as a stimulant to both thinking and action, particularly after he stopped using cocaine. For Dr. Watson, who often lingered at various appointed locales to wait for Mr. Holmes, coffee served as a necessary pick-me-up, as seen in “The Naval Treaty.” In this adventure a spirit lamp was employed by the station commissionaire to brew the necessary beverage. Many cases required night time activity and coffee was an ideal elixir. At 221B, I roasted and ground our own coffee.
Although England is regarded as a nation of tea drinkers, this was not always so. During the 17th and 18th centuries coffee was king: the English consumed 10 times as much coffee as tea. Over 2,000 coffee houses sprang up in London and attracted a variety of patrons, from doctors, merchants and writers to politicians. Runners went from coffee house to coffee house to relay information on major events of the day. On December 23, 1675, King Charles II made a proclamation to suppress coffee houses. Widespread citizen protests caused the rule to be revoked on January 8, 1676.
By the mid-1780s, however, tea made inroads due to pressure from the powerful British East India Company to cut import duties. Private traders who brought coffee from Britain’s West Indian colonies did not wield as much political clout, so tea prices dropped and consumption increased. Tea was also easier to prepare – no roasting or grinding required. But the taste for coffee under the right circumstances remained.
I have noticed that many coffee shops are again appearing in London. Savory dishes now use coffee as an ingredient. It tenderizes and adds robust flavour and, like wine, coffee also has aromatic flavour notes — berries, caramel, cocoa, flora, nuts and spice. When added to savory recipes, coffee should be treated as a spice and freshly ground coffee is always preferable.
Iced Coffee Mousse – Serves 2
Ingredients: 1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin, 2 Tbsp. water, 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated), 1 1/2 tsp. instant espresso powder, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 cup well-chilled heavy cream.
Mode: In a small saucepan sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it soften for 2 minutes. Add milk and espresso powder and heat the mixture over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the powder is dissolved. Remove the pan from heat, stir in the vanilla, and set the pan in a bowl of ice and cold water, stirring the mixture every few minutes until it is thick and cold. In a small bowl beat the cream until it just holds stiff peaks and fold the coffee mixture into it gently but thoroughly. Spoon the mousse into 2 chilled long-stemmed glasses and chill until ready to serve.
Coffee Beef Stew– Serves 4
Ingredients: 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil; 1 ½ lbs. lean cubed stew beef; 2 onions, thinly sliced; 1 garlic clove, minced; 2 green bell peppers, halved, seeded, thickly sliced; ¼ cup all-purpose flour; 5 Tbsp. dry white wine; 5 Tbsp. strongly brewed coffee; salt and freshly ground pepper to taste; fresh thyme; bay leaves.
Mode: Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add meat and cook, stirring often, until browned on all sides. Remove meat and keep warm. Reduce heat to low and add onions, garlic and peppers, and cook over low heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Sprinkle in flour and cook, stirring continually, for 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually stir in wine and coffee. Increase heat to medium and bring to simmer, stirring constantly. Return the meat to the pan, season with salt and pepper to taste, add a few sprigs of fresh thyme, two bay leaves, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer 1 hour or until meat is tender. Remove bay leaves and serve hot.
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