An Interesting Dinner With Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie

She’s the queen of crime.  The best selling author of all time.  As it so happens, a great consumer of cream (yes, just plain clotted cream out of the jar).  And it’s her 125th anniversary this year.

Of course I am referring to the late, the great, the impossible to emulate Agatha Christie.

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on September 15, 1890 in Devon, England into a middle class family. She was home schooled largely by her American father, and taught herself to read by the age of five.  Like the Bronte sisters, Agatha invented imaginary friends, played with her animals, attended dance classes and began writing poems when she was still a child.  Her father died when she was eleven, and she grew very close to her mother. She was an accomplished piano player but was too shy to play in public. By the age of 18 she began to write short stories that were later published.

In 1912, Agatha met Archie Christie. They married on Christmas Eve 1914 after Archie returned from war in France, while Agatha worked with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in a Red Cross Hospital. Archie returned to France two days later, and they didn’t see each other often until Archie was posted to the War Office in London in 1918.

In 1919, Agatha gave birth to her daughter, Rosalind, and John Lane of The Bodley Head accepted The Mysterious Affair at Styles for publication and contracted five additional books. Following the war Agatha continued to write, creating Tommy and Tuppence and Miss Marple. In 1922, she and Archie travelled across the then British Empire, promoting The Empire Exhibition of 1924. She became the first British woman to surf standing up in Cape Town.  She changed publishers to William Collins and Sons (HarperCollins).

After returning to England, Archie and Agatha began to grow apart.  Agatha’s mother died, and Archie fell in love with another woman. One night, Agatha disappeared.  She left her daughter behind and told no one where she was going; her car was found abandoned the next morning several miles away. After a high profile search, hotel staff at the Harrogate Spa Hotel recognized her and notified the police.  Agatha was suffering from amnesia and had no idea who she was.

She and Archie never reunited.  Agatha lived with Rosalind and her close friend and secretary Carlo following a course of psychiatric treatment in Harley Street.  She was not officially divorced until 1928, when she and Rosalind left England for the Canary Islands where she continued to write.

In 1929 she met her second husband, the archaeologist-in-training Max Mallowan.  They married on September 11, 1930 on the Isle of Skye.  They split their time between England and on digs.  Agatha averaged about two to three books a year.  During WW II,  Max worked in Cairo while Agatha remained in England, writing volunteering at the Dispensary at University College Hospital in London. In 1943, Rosalind gave birth to Agatha’s grandson Mathew, who she spent much time visiting.  She wrote as productively as ever, including her best selling novel, And Then There Were None.

By the end of the war, Agatha became less prolific. She spent much of the 1940s and 50s working with theatrical productions, and died on January 12, 1976, after a very long and successful career, and many happy years.

Here are some more interesting things about Mrs. Christie:

* She didn’t drink or smoke.
* She is the only female dramatist ever to have had three plays running simultaneously in London’s West End.
* Her first book waited five years before publication having been rejected by six publishers.
* Hercule Poirot was given a full-page obituary in The New York Times.

She ate cream out of the jar.  When you’re Agatha Christie and you don’t drink or smoke, you choose your vices wisely.

A recipe for Devonshire cream (and some scones to go with them:

Devonshire cream

Makes three cups.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup chilled sour cream
  • 1 cup chilled whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

1. Place water in small saucepan.
2. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.
3. Stir mixture over low heat until gelatin dissolves. Let stand just until cool but not set, about 10 minutes.

4. Place sour cream in medium bowl.
5. Stir in gelatin mixture.
6. Beat cream, sugar and vanilla in medium bowl until soft peaks form.
7. Fold into sour cream mixture in 2 additions. Cover; chill at least 1 hour.

(Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

Flaky Scones

p.s.  This is my favorite recipe for scones.  They came out right the first time and they were  delicious.  Like the apple pie recipe I included, this one comes from Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of the Bread Bible.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (8 ounces/ 227 grams) unsalted butter, cold
  • 4 ¼ cups (21.25 ounces/608 grams) unbleached all purpose flour, preferably Hecker’s
  • ½ cup (3.5 ounces/100 grams) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (9.6 grams) baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 grams) baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon (1.7 grams) salt
  • 2 liquid cups (16.3 ounces/464 grams) heavy cream
  • 1 cup (4.5 ounces/131 grams) currants

Directions

Oven Temperature: 400°F

1. Chill the butter. Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or freeze for 10 minutes.

2. Mix the dough. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter and with your fingertips, press the cubes into large flakes. (Or use an electric mixer, mixing until the butter is the size of small walnuts.)

Stir in the cream just until the flour is moistened and the dough starts to come together in large clumps. Stir in the currants. Knead the dough in the bowl just until it holds together, and turn it out onto a lightly floured board.

3. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F 30 minutes before baking. Have an oven rack at the middle level and set a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating.

4. Shape the dough. Lightly flour the top of the dough (or use a floured pastry sleeve), and roll it out into a long rectangle 1 inch thick and about 8 inches by 12 inches; use a bench scraper to keep the edges even by smacking it up against the sides of the dough. Fold the dough in thirds, lightly flour the boards again, and rotate the dough so that the closed side faces to the left. Roll it out again and repeat the “turn” 3 more times, refrigerating the dough, covered with plastic wrap, for about 15 minutes as necessary only if it begins to soften and stick.

Roll out the dough once more. Trim the edges so that it will rise evenly. (To use the scraps, press them together and roll out, giving them 2 turns, then roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick square and cut it into 2 triangles.)

Cut the dough in half lengthwise so you have 2 pieces, each about 4 inches by 12 inches. Cut each piece of dough into triangles with about a 3-inch-wide base and place them about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. (The dough will rise but not expand sideways.) If the dough is soft, cover it well with plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes or refrigerate for 1 hour before baking.

5. Bake the scones.  Bake the scones one sheet at a time: cover the second sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you bake the first one, then bake the second pan directly from the refrigerator. Place the pan on the hot baking stone or hot baking sheet and bake the scones for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges begin to brown and the tops are golden brown and firm enough so that they barely give when pressed lightly with a finger (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a scone will read about 200°F). Check the scones after 10 minutes of baking, and if they are not browning evenly, rotate the baking sheet from front to back. Do not overbake, as they continue baking slightly on removal from the oven and are best when slightly moist and soft inside.

6. Cool the scones. Place two linen or cotton towels on two large racks and, using a pancake turner, lift the scones from the baking sheets and set them on top. Fold the towels over loosely and allow the scones to cool until warm or at room temperature. (Since linen or cotton “breathes,” the scones will have enough protection to keep from becoming dry and hard on the surface but will not become soggy.)

Source: agathachristie.com

Source: 75 Facts about Christie

Source: Epicurious.com, Devonshire Cream recipe

Source: Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Scone Recipe

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