Recipes for Murder: Interview with Author Karen Pierce About Agatha Christie Recipes
Drink and dine with recipes inspired by the best-selling novelist of all time in Recipes for Murder: 66 Dishes That Celebrate the Mysteries of Agatha Christie, by Karen Pierce (Countryman; Aug 22, 2023).
Podcast Transcript: A Discussion with Karen Pierce About Agatha Christie Recipes
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic, …
Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:44
And join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.’
Sarah Harrison 0:56
Carolyn Daughters 0:57
Sarah! Today we have an interview.
Sarah Harrison 1:01
I know, I’m so excited to have some special episodes for you guys today.
Carolyn Daughters 1:05
Today we’re going to interview Karen Pierce. She is a detective-fiction devotee, food lover, and Agatha Christie superfan. She has attended and volunteered at several Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Conventions and has taken pilgrimages to Torquay and Greenway House, Christie’s hometown and home. She lives in Toronto, Canada. And she has written this amazing book that we have been poring over in recent days. It’s called Recipes for Murder: 66 Dishes That Celebrate the Mysteries of Agatha Christie. The book was just released in August .
Poisons, knives, and bullets riddle the stories of Agatha Christie, but so does food, which she uses to invoke settings, to develop characters, and, of course, to commit murder.
This to-die-for cookbook offers recipes written by the author for one accessible, easy-to-follow dish or drink for each of Christie’s 66 mysteries. Agatha Christie recipes include Fish and Chips at the Seven Dials Club, Literary Luncheon Meringues, Oysters Rockefeller on the Orient Express, Sixpence Blackbird Pie, Orange Marmalade from Gossington Hall, and more. Along the way, you’ll learn how to make an exquisite omelet, how to roast a leg of lamb properly, and how to serve perfectly timed steak frites.
Framing these dishes are insightful essays and headnotes that detail the history of the recipes, their context in Christie’s life and times, and the roles they play in the source works. Based on extensive research and investigation, all dishes appear traditional to their respective eras, so steak fried for 1923 but marinated and grilled for 1964.
Completing the collection, thematic menus assemble recipes for a Halloween murder mystery gathering, a “Christie for Christmas,” a book club buffet, and other occasions, making it a filling tribute to the grand dame of detective fiction.
Sarah Harrison 3:22
Welcome, Karen. We’re excited to talk to you about Recipes for Murder.
Karen Pierce 3:27
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to talk to you, too.
Sarah Harrison 3:31
I actually have a personal obsession with historical and themed recipes. And now I have an obsession with Agatha Christie recipes.
Karen Pierce 3:40
Well, this is your book, then.
Sarah Harrison 3:41
I know. It really is.
Karen Pierce 3:44
Can I just say something quickly about the steaks? The first steak in Murder on the Links is fried in eight tablespoons of butter.
Sarah Harrison 3:53
Karen Pierce 3:55
By the forties, it’s grilled, like on a flat grill, in three tablespoons of butter. And in the sixties or seventies, it’s marinated and thrown on an outdoor barbecue grill.
Sarah Harrison 4:11
No butter. Butter free.
Karen Pierce 4:14
Butter free. So interesting, eh?
Sarah Harrison 4:16
It is. I’m really excited, and you bring up a really cool aspect that you did in the book, which is to divide up the Agatha Christie recipes by decade. And Agatha Christie’s writing spans decades.
Karen Pierce 4:29
It really changes.
Carolyn Daughters 4:32
Tells us what prompted you to write Recipes for Murder?
Karen Pierce 4:37
Honestly, I’ve always wanted to write a book and I really haven’t been able to get the whole puzzle mystery thing down. Anyway, one day, I’m just surfing the net and I decide that I want to buy myself an Agatha Christie cookbook. And I can’t find it. It doesn’t exist. So then I thought, well, if it did exist, what would it look like? And then I just started doodling and spreadsheeting and thinking.
Sarah Harrison 5:10
I love that you were looking for Agatha Christie recipes.
Karen Pierce 5:12
The book has changed a lot. I mean, it was a 10-year project, and I just did in bits and pieces. It wasn’t like I was thinking, I’m going to sell this book. It was like, this is what an Agatha Christie cookbook should look like.
Carolyn Daughters 5:12
Karen Pierce 5:19
Yeah. Like the first recipe changed about eight or nine times. So it went through a lot of iteration. And this is what we have, which I’m really proud of and I think in the end worked really well.
Sarah Harrison 5:49
Yeah, it’s very cool. And it’s fascinating that you thought of it 10 years ago, and 10 years later still nobody had made it. It was just waiting.
Karen Pierce 6:02
When I would tell people about this great idea I’ve had, they would shocked. Like, shhhh …
Carolyn Daughters 6:06
Don’t tell anyone … So you have 66 Agatha Christie recipes in this book. Do you have personal favorites?
Karen Pierce 6:15
Well, my personal favorites change, and my love of Agatha Christie favorites all change as well. There are recipes I’m really proud of because they’re so old and interesting. And recipes that I’m proud of because I was so clever to have thought of them.
These Agatha Christie recipes are really a mix. One of the ones I’m most proud of is called Windsor Stew. I quite like this because it was a favorite of early kings George III and George IV in England. They lived in Windsor. This stew, or soup, was made of things that are from Windsor. So lamb and beef and parsnips and carrots and potatoes — root vegetables. The animals you saw on the land. I really liked that whole idea, but it fell completely out of favor. Apparently, Victoria did not like it, so it fell out of favor. And by the time of the Second World War, it was just reduced to brown soup. One of those sort of British bleh things. It was mentioned in one of the Agatha Christie books, so looked it up. I was quite curious about this brown, icky soup, which had such a glorious name as “Windsor soup.” It’s a really great recipe. I made it for my family. And I took bowls of it and containers to everybody I knew and asked what they thought of it. And they all thought it was the best soup/stew they’ve ever had.
Sarah Harrison 8:08
I love that. Did you make all the Agatha Christie recipes? Is that your process?
Karen Pierce 8:13
Yes. And I had three other women who also helped. And that was to ensure that I wasn’t blindly looking at these Agatha Christie recipes. You know, saying two cups in the recipe, but my head knows it’s only one. I just do the one no matter what the recipe said. So I had other friends try that as well. And other times I would source a recipe and say, you try it first, and then let me try it. Particularly with the baking stuff, because I’m not as good a baker some of them were. And So three other women, mostly. And then, of course, friends and family had to taste and try numerous things over the years. It’s a lot, 66 dishes.
Carolyn Daughters 8:59
That’s a lot of books. And a lot of recipes.
Karen Pierce 9:04
Yes, and we’ve thrown some out, so I’m gonna say we were closer to about 80 recipes that we’ve gone through.
Sarah Harrison 9:14
Tell me about the Agatha Christie recipes you had to throw out.
Karen Pierce 9:17
Pita bread. Well, I was trying to make pita bread the way they would have made it in the ancient times — without yeast. It just really didn’t work. It was very chewy. I like to say there’s a group of ladies who know why there’s no pita bread in Recipes for Murder.
Carolyn Daughters 9:39
Which was pita bread associated with?
Karen Pierce 9:44
Murder in Mesopotamia. It’s a lovely scene where the nurses are talking to the head archaeologist, and he makes her see the whole communal way of life and the communal hearth in the middle of the town. Everybody came to bake their own breads daily.
Carolyn Daughters 10:03
I that her historical mystery?
Karen Pierce 10:08
Oh, no, that’s the ancient Egypt one, Death Comes as the End. This is just an archaeologist. This is based on some of her travels, certainly, with Max and it can be said that some of those characters were drawn directly from life.
Carolyn Daughters 10:20
Which is so interesting because Agatha Christie traveled a lot. And the Agatha Christie recipes in the book really reflect that. These are not just British recipes, though the British recipes are amazing. It’s really a global collection.
Karen Pierce 10:38
I did try to do that. I tried to match things to where we were happening. Because I mean, that’s what Christie does with the food. She talks about the food in the era and in the time and the place where it’s being eaten. And The Caribbean Mystery is a very good one for that. I like it for two reasons. One, there’s a marvelous scene where Michael, the proprietor of the hotel, is trying to talk Miss Marple into having a nice bread pudding and she’s like “no, I’m in the Caribbean! I’ll have a passion fruit sundae, you ninny. Off with him! It not only shows you where we are in time and place, but it also shows you this spunk of Miss Marple.
Carolyn Daughters 11:28
Absolutely. Our podcast is called Tea Tonic & Toxin, and I think you have a recipe in the book for a perfect cup of tea also a couple perfect cups of coffee, which we both love as coffee and tea drinkers. But Agatha Christie also had experience with poisons, so there’s this other element to her. The flip side or the other side of the food and drink.
Karen Pierce 12:01
Carolyn Daughters 12:02
Yes. It can be the food and drink that Poirot loves because he’s a gourmande, and then it can also be the food and drink that kills. Can you talk about this a little bit, because food and drink in one respect or another really play a big role in Agatha Christie’s books.
Karen Pierce 12:20
They do, and I did a podcast with All About Agatha, and Kemper and I broke it into the top 10 Agatha Christie recipes based on how she used it. And what I broke down surprised him because the one that should have been at the top is probably Murder in Three Acts because three people die from poison in their food. So that really should have won, but something else won because it was just more foodie. That one always comes to mind. Three Act Tragedy, where the poor clergyman meets his end from a poison cocktail. And then the doctor meets his end from poison in his whiskey. And then poor Mrs. Rushbridger dies from eating a poison chocolate. So Agatha Christie got her full poison out in that episode, for sure. But in the Agatha Christie book you started with, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, they spent a whole lot of time trying to figure out whether the poison was in the coffee, or the cocoa, or the hot milk g. And it’s very unclear where that poison came from. So Agatha Christie plays with it a bit. She makes it a bit of a mystery.
Sarah Harrison 13:52
That was interesting, too. Because like the steak, you had the multiple coffee recipes. Is that having to do with how coffee changed over the years or how they made it? I think the first one was about how drip coffee was a new thing rather than a percolator?
Karen Pierce 14:09
Well, the percolator had just been really invented even though there wasn’t a large amount of electricity. But in fact, it was the percolator that goes on top of your stove. And the percolator is the up and coming new thing, the new invention. This is how upper-class folks are now having their coffee, percolated. Whereas the contrast I was drawing was to the Europeans, who were still soaking the beans and dripping it out. And what’s so interesting about that is if you read the very last book, Curtain, which is set back at Styles, they’re now using a very fancy percolator, and the Europeans are still using a very fancy drip system. What goes around comes around.
Sarah Harrison 15:06
That’s so interesting. Do you have a favorite way to make coffee?
Karen Pierce 15:08
The worst time for coffee was probably in the 70s when it was Mr. Joe’s coffee or Joe Namath’s coffee machine or something. But the resurgence of beans and all of that stuff really brought it back to the same good coffee that Poirot was having back in the teens and the twenties.
Sarah Harrison 15:30
How do you make your coffee?
Karen Pierce 15:33
I go to the corner shop. He makes the most delightful oat latte. So when I have coffee on the weekends, that’s what I do. But other than that, I use a French press.
Sarah Harrison 15:58
One of the things that interested me, o you’re in Canada. A lot of these Agatha Christie recipes are British. A lot of your audience is American. And there are a lot of different methodologies in there is. For example, I cannot go to the store and buy pudding rice or camp coffee or things like that. Do you have those available where you are?
Karen Pierce 16:23
No, I put in what would be the normal thing. One of my favorite ones, though, for that interesting bit, is the coffee cake.
Sarah Harrison 16:39
Yes, I looked at that, too, where they put coffee in the cake.
Karen Pierce 16:43
That’s right. A coffee cake in Britain is simply cake that tastes like coffee. It’s flavored coffee cake. Like you’d have strawberry or chocolate or something. Whereas in North America, a coffee cake is a certain kind of cake that’s served with coffee. It’s kind of crumbly, maybe with some fruit or cinnamon. Yeah, completely. You’re talking about two different things. The big issue comes with the creams and the milks. I tried to put in there what can be a substitute.
Carolyn Daughters 17:24
Because Agatha Christie had a love of cream. I think you say in the book since age 11 or some some very young age.
Sarah Harrison 17:31
We share that, yes.
Karen Pierce 17:32
Yes, would have a cup of cream. That was her thing. Her big treat was a cup of cream. Now she did grow up in Devon, which is famous for their cream teas, and when she grew up her family was quite wealthy. She was young, and there were tables and tables of great food. So this kind of taste for rich food comes by naturally. But her whole life, she never drank alcohol. She would always celebrate with a cup of cream. Everyone else would be having champagne or great red wines, and she’d have a nice cup of cream. And that’s right up to the day she died, I think, because I know for her eightieth birthday party, her cup of cream was on the menu.
Carolyn Daughters 17:36
Sarah Harrison 17:46
I love that.
Karen Pierce 17:59
Agatha Christie loved her cream. And can I tell you my other favorite cream story? When she was living in Baghdad, she was on a dig. She wanted some cream. Well, she got her man in the kitchen to go out and milk the buffalo for buffalo milk, which she made into cream and made profiteroles for dinner.
Carolyn Daughters 18:56
I love profiteroles.
Sarah Harrison 18:59
I don’t think I’ve had one.
Karen Pierce 19:00
But would you have thought of milking a buffalo?
Carolyn Daughters 19:02
No, never. To be fair, I would also not think of milking a cow. I like profiteroles delivered on a little plate at a restaurant.
Karen Pierce 19:14
I think the milking the cow is more of a thing we could think of. Buffalo? It just seems like, wait a minute, aren’t they just roaming the range? I mean, how do you milk a buffalo?
Sarah Harrison 19:25
Yeah, they’re giant.
Karen Pierce 19:26
You think about these massive water buffaloes in the Middle East. The picture of it all is just too much for me.
Carolyn Daughters 19:34
I know. I wish we had a picture of it. I think a profiterole is like a tiny wrap or a sort of like a little crepe almost. But it’s crispy and then has the cream filling inside. Does that sound correct?
Karen Pierce 19:50
It’s kind of Italian. You know, leave the guns, take the cannoli. It’s very close.
Sarah Harrison 19:59
Now, you’re a cook yourself, and you say your mother and grandmother were also cooks. Were they professional, or were they just wonderful home cooks?
Karen Pierce 20:08
We’re just all home cooks. I first enjoyed big family dinners at my grandmother’s house. And what it looked like with plates and plates everywhere and lots and lots of food. It was always good hearty food. My mother was a bit more, you know, well, it was the sixties and the seventies, so she was trying spaghetti and dishes from the Galloping Gourmet. Things like that. So we had a much more exotic food there, but we just all really loved food, and her parents loved good food. It’s just always the way it was. I grew up feeding people. I spent most of my twenties feeding my friends and feeding the people I worked with. I just liked to cook. I like good food. And I really like the camaraderie of feeding your your people. It’s important to me.
Sarah Harrison 20:12
Yeah. I love that. And I agree with that as well. I was making some of your Agatha Christie recipes from the book to try out, specifically from the Agatha Christie books we’ve read.And some others that intrigued me.
Karen Pierce 21:12
Were you amazed at how easy Oysters Rockefeller was.
Sarah Harrison 21:29
Well, all except for shucking the oysters. I was like, man, how do I get these shucked. Then it’s pretty straightforward. I actually wanted to ask you about the Oysters Rockefeller. Are you really good at shucking oysters? Do you do that a lot?
Karen Pierce 21:44
Yes. I love oysters. My daughter loves oysters. We took a course and shucking. We have a little wooden thing. We have great knives. We have the good towel. We can both shuck. That’s what I’m doing for my birthday this week. I’m gonna buy myself two dozen oysters and just come home and shuck them and eat them.
Sarah Harrison 22:08
That’s awesome. Yeah, I love oysters, but this was actually our first time making them at home. And so we were googling videos and trying to get a knife set on Amazon. I was like, Ah, how do I do this? This oyster is crumbling.
Karen Pierce 22:24
My daughter does have stitches in one hand from an early venture.
Carolyn Daughters 22:30
A forever memory.
Karen Pierce 22:35
But anyway, my point was how easy it was. I’ve always thought that was a difficult dish. And I was so shocked. Oh, this is a cinch. Why don’t people do this all the time? Because you can go to your fish store and ask for half a dozen shucked oysters. And they will do that.
Sarah Harrison 22:54
Oh, really? Our grocery store didn’t shuck them for us.
Carolyn Daughters 22:58
Time for a new grocery store.
Karen Pierce 23:01
Carolyn Daughters 23:01
Karen, how did you choose Oysters Rockefeller for the Murder on the Orient Express chapter of the Agatha Christie recipes?
Karen Pierce 23:09
When I reread Murder on the Orient Express looking for food references, there really wasn’t much. There was only a description of the type of food that was being served. And so it was the finest cheeses from Ireland or France and the finest smoked salmon from Ireland or Scotland or something. But the whole thing was the best of the best of the best. And they didn’t really have specific recipes. I was thinking, lobsters, oysters. I had originally started with caviar, but there’s really not much to caviar. How to serve it, maybe. And then I started to think, well, I’m sure that the richest American would have influenced these high totin chefs on the most prestigious railway car of Europe. So it’s a fit Oysters Rockefeller it was. And then when I found out how easy it was. It wasn’t a three-page recipe. I was delighted. So that’s why it’s there.
Carolyn Daughters 24:18
It’s making this recipe more accessible. So long as they can shuck the oysters or get their grocery store to shuck them.
Karen Pierce 24:26
Or you got the equipment. So many people go, oh, I’m not sure I like raw oysters. Okay, well let me Rockefeller them. And yeah, they’re really lovely.
Sarah Harrison 24:39
Yeah, they were good. We just finished them off last night. So I can attest to that. You also said you found for some recipes from historic menus. Tell us about that
Karen Pierce 24:55
Very much. In the twenties and the thirties, I don’t have as many cookbooks. I have a lot of cookbooks that start around the forties. So I wasn’t really too sure what home cooks would do. And don’t forget, in that time, you’re still talking about servants and class structure and stuff like that. So what I did was I started to find on the internet menus from cruises and train rides and hotels and from all over the world. So you could really get an eye on what people were eating. And they were mostly first-class and second-class menus as well.You can really see what people were eating. Then I would try to expose that on whatever I was doing. A really good example Peril at End House, where Agatha Christie has this wonderful big meal for all these people tosupport the sailing. And I wondered, Well, what does a woman who’s actually poor but has this great big house in Cornwall, what is she going to be serving for dinner in the twentiess? So I had a look around and found how it would be set up. And that’s where I got most of those from. And a thing I found was so very odd. Olives and celery were served as the first course on almost every one of those menus. I couldn’t figure it out. Olives with something else. Okay. Celery with something else. Okay. But no, it was olives and celery.
Carolyn Daughters 25:15
Wow. And those are two foods that people from my experience either love or hate.
Karen Pierce 26:47
I know! But they were the number one hors d’oeuvre on all those train rides. And all those cruises. I was fascinated by taht.
Sarah Harrison 26:59
What is your favorite historical sort of recipe or menu that you looked up?
Karen Pierce 27:07
Well, I think it was finding a really good recipe for seed cake, which is Miss Marple’s favorite from her youth in At Bertram’s Hotel. So I tried a couple of different seed cakes. And I don’t mind saying I really I couldn’t find anise seed, so I got anise seed stars, and I sat for almost four hours picking the seeds out of the anise seed stars. I won’t do that again. I actually found some somewhere, and I said oh my god, a whole bag of them! So remember to do that. But that was fun because that was a very old pre-Victorian cake that was really popular. And when Brits do cake, they don’t just do cake that has a bunch of frosting on it. They do cake. It’s more like we would have a piece of maybe sponge cake or a really nice cookie. Really lovely cookies with some ice cream. That’s a nice dessert. Brits did cake in the same way. But they also did cake that people would take a hunk of, put butter on it, and eat it like it was a sandwich as well. So cake did a lot of work. So this seed cake, which was at the same time not that sweet, but really quite lovely. I really enjoyed that. That was quite a surprise. I enjoyed it a lot.
Sarah Harrison 28:44
I ended up making the little castle puddings. It’s one of my favorite of the
Karen Pierce 28:48
Yes! That’s our third little castle pudding.
Sarah Harrison 28:54
Tell me about that.
Karen Pierce 28:57
Well, we started with one, and they just made these little rock-hard castles. We just couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Everything looked right. And so then the next one wasn’t quite as rock hard, but we ended up taking a big syringe and trying to shoot the jam into it to soften it up. Anyway, I finally said to heck with it, and I went back to the drawing board and found a whole other version of it. We then made it, and it was so delightful. We said “yea,” we got it! That was a bit of a tricky one. Again, an older cake. So there’s not many new versions of it. But that’s what I mean by the sort of cake pudding thing that the Brits do, and they do quite well. Did you like it?
Sarah Harrison 29:53
Oh, we loved it. Even my four-year-old liked it. It’s not too sweet. but it has the cream fraiche on top and then marmalade as well. And that turned out to be delicious. It was really good. I liked it a lot. I’m reading another cookbook right now on historical puddings. Like, that’ll be a cool crossover.
Karen Pierce 30:24
And when you say “pudding” in Britain, it could mean anything. You know, toad in the hole is a pudding, Yorkshire puddings are puddings. Or you could get a chocolate mousse.
Sarah Harrison 30:37
Steak and kidney pie is a pudding. Dumplings are a pudding?
Karen Pierce 30:42
Yeah, they use that word a lot, as they do cake. So it’s almost like they have cake, they have pudding, and they have roast.
Carolyn Daughters 30:52
The three components of any meal.
Karen Pierce 30:56
Carolyn Daughters 30:58
Sarah, you also, I think, experimented with vegetable marrow.
Sarah Harrison 31:02
Oh, yeah. As our listeners know, when there is food in a book, I inevitably bring it up in the podcast because I have this interest and obsession. And I love all the Agatha Christie recipes. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Poirot is growing vegetable marrows, which we don’t have here in the States. Tell me what you found. From my googling, it sounded like it was just a zucchini that grew extra large. Is it just a large zucchini, or is it a different relative of the zucchini?
Karen Pierce 31:44
Yeah, it’s really an overgrown zucchini.
Sarah Harrison 31:53
Have you grown them? What is the secret to a marrow? I know the book uses zucchini.
Karen Pierce 31:59
I have not grown them. I’ve grown zucchinis. Oh, my God, they’re crazy. They just keep growing. No, this is one where I relied on my British friend who lives in the Netherlands. She did get her hands on a true marrow. It just looks like an overgrown zucchini. You’re good to use a zucchini.
Carolyn Daughters 32:27
It’s my understanding that they’re difficult to grow.
Karen Pierce 32:29
I think it’s just really the temperature and the way it works. They’re just well known in Britain. We probably don’t grow them here because they’re fairly tasteless. They make zucchini tasteless.
Carolyn Daughters 32:47
In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Poirot has retired to a small village, and he is growing vegetable marrows and flinging them over the fence. They were certainly difficult for him to grow, I will say.
Sarah Harrison 33:03
Usually when you let a vegetable grow too long, you don’t want to eat it. Because it does become tough. It loses its flavor.
Karen Pierce 33:14
Like those pumpkins they grow, you know, the 2,000 pound pumpkin. I mean, what are you doing with that?
Sarah Harrison 33:18
Yeah. You’re just looking at it.
Karen Pierce 33:21
You’re not growing that. I don’t know why Agatha Christie had Poirot retire to grow marrows.
Sarah Harrison 33:31
Of all things.
Karen Pierce 33:32
I mean, it just seems like an incredibly ridiculous thing. Retired to grow roses, maybe, but marrows? It’s very funny. Yeah, but that was a very traditional recipe, that stuffed marrow. Absolutely. Every Brit I know had that as a kid.
Sarah Harrison 33:54
I even looked it up for the episode in BBC’s best marrow recipes, and stuffed marrows was on there. I made that this week. And it was very tasty as well. I enjoyed that.
Karen Pierce 34:10
Well, my friend who ended up mastering that recipe and sending it back to me, her vegetarian daughter had a taste of it and thought it was fine. High praise indeed.
Sarah Harrison 34:21
It’s stuffed with beef.
Carolyn Daughters 34:27
I saw the recipe I have not tasted the recipe but it looks delicious.
Karen Pierce 34:33
It worked out pretty well mine was smaller because I used smaller zucchinis. I use like four or five of them and just scraped out the centers and lined them that way. Then it makes more like one per person rather than the slices do you have to do with the marrow. But it’s not a bad little recipe.
Carolyn Daughters 35:00
We’re coming up on Halloween and there are Halloween dishes included in the Agatha Christie recipes. There’s a whole Halloween menu in the book.
Karen Pierce 35:12
Well, I think I started off with the Jolly Roger cocktail because pirates just go with Halloween. They’re a Halloween fixture. That’s from Evil Under the Sun and the Jolly Roger Hotel, which is a real hotel. I thought that was a good start. And then we moved on to the jack o’ lantern eggs, which are really just hardboiled eggs that I fancied up the yolks orange and then we have a little bit of a green onion top to put a little head on it. And then black food coloring is better than trying to make anything else yourself to put little dots there. That was lots of fun. And we chose I chose roast partridge for the meal. I felt this is similar between the turkeys of Thanksgiving and the chicken of the summer. They were traditionally killed at this time of the year, late September, October. It just felt right, pheasants. Kind of an unusual and different thing. And then of course, we have boiled potatoes from one of the scariest mysteries Agatha Christie wrote.
Carolyn Daughters 36:53
And Then There Were None.
Karen Pierce 36:57
And then of course, the “to die for” chocolate cake, which is from A Murder Is Announced. Now the true story on that one. The list of ingredients in there, Jane Asher of British fame made that cake and copyrighted that cake. I could not use that cake. So I developed a different “to die for” chocolate cake. Mine replaces the raisins with espresso.
Carolyn Daughters 37:29
I think that’s a pretty good trade.
Karen Pierce 37:30
It’s kind of a more fun thing for chocolate.
Sarah Harrison 37:32
I didn’t know you could copyright a recipe. That’s news to me.
Karen Pierce 37:37
You can’t really, but she’s kind of made it very famously hers. I just didn’t want to do Jane Asher’s cake. So we all got our heads together, the cake people and I, and decided that this version of the chocolate was also to die for.
Carolyn Daughters 38:02
Next year, we’re going to be reading And Then There Were None. In your forward to this particular recipe, boiled potatoes, you talk a bit about how it’s sort of a bridge. The book starts out with these really fancy dishes. And there are two servants serving them. Various events transpire. Nearing the end of the story, they’re eating out of tins. And so hese potatoes are sort of the bridge between we’re scrambling to find anything to eat, and it’s still kind of a lovely meal. Can you talk a little bit about these potatoes?
Karen Pierce 38:46
That’s what I figured. Because in the first meal, those potatoes were probably trimmed or scalloped or something lovely like that, right? And in the end, they’re cold in a can. So somewhere in the middle, somebody took some fresh potatoes and just boiled them. They didn’t do anything else. They just boiled them. So that’s how I kind of felt. When you get to murder number five or six, that’s how you’re starting to feel All right, I’ll just put them in the pot, but I’m not doing anything else. That’s why I put them there. I really thought about that one for a bit. And I don’t know why boiled potatoes just came into my head. The perfect bridge between standing in the kitchen eating spam, and sitting at a table with 12 guests being served a glorious meal.
Sarah Harrison 39:42
For each recipe, you pulled a quote from the book, which I loved. And that one particularly sticks out in my head because they talk about cold ham, cold tongue. and boiled potatoes. And I, of course, cold tongue. Is that one that’s just too far afield for a modern cook? Is tongue too hard to get a hold of? I’ve never had it, but it’s one of those things where I’m curious.
Karen Pierce 40:11
It’s still going to be served in England. I mean, they still had black pudding and things like that, which my mother was just bragging that she found some tripe at her butcher’s the other day, enough for three meals. So she took it home and cut it up. Yeah, over the moon. I did not do tripe. I actually begged my mother to do the kidney recipe because nobody else wanted to do it. But I must say the canape Diane, which is a kidney wrapped in bacon, as long as I didn’t tell my nieces and nephews what it was, they loved it.
Sarah Harrison 40:48
Great. Good to know.
Karen Pierce 40:53
Tongue, head cheese, those are probably a step too far for me, so I didn’t include them as Agatha Christie recipes. I did venture into kidneys a little bit. Some of the older foods are a bit more, “Oh, really?” Let’s talk about the A Pocketful of Rye. So this one, I argued with my editor for some time, because I wanted to put it in the story of what a real blackbird pie was. And he wanted a recipe. So they’re both in there. But the real story of the blackbird pie — in medieval years, in big huge banquet rooms, they would wheel in this oversized pie that was filled with live birds. And they would peel the top back, and the birds would release, and they would sing. It was part of the show, it wasn’t really part of the meal. But he insisted we have a recipe. So then I had to go back to the drawing board, Google board, everything. I mean, did they ever cook blackbirds in a pie? And well, it turns out they did. And maybe only up to about the 1830s or so. After that, it was illegal to kill songbirds. But until then, they absolutely did make these pies with birds in them. So I got that recipe, and I did not use songbirds. Instead, I used Cornish hens, which are about the same size. I could have used the partridges, actually. And it’s a lovely pie. You can tell it’s old. And it’s probably not going to show up on any menu new and revised by Jamie Oliver. But, it’s an interesting trip into what these pies originally were like before the chicken pot pie.
Sarah Harrison 43:11
I mean, it couldn’t revive. I’ve been seeing a rabbit coming back. I’m a huge rabbit fan. I’ve been seeing rabbit pies and other sorts of dishes like that starting to be revived.
Karen Pierce 43:22
Game animals are certainly coming back, so who knows? Your husband goes out and brings back a few odd birds, and you have a recipe.
Sarah Harrison 43:33
We’re working on that side of it.
Carolyn Daughters 43:40
In the foreword to your book, Dr. John Curran talks a little bit about how the book with all these Agatha Christie mysteries came together. Can you talk a little bit about the dinner where you met him?
Karen Pierce 44:02
Well, I’m in Torquay, the south coast of Devon, England, right on the water there. It’s a weeklong festival, and it has had a lot of different iterations. But John Curran has been going there for 20 years. I’ve only been going there for like three or four. But the first time I went, I went on my own and just booked a hotel room and said, I’m gonna do this! It’s a dream of mine. So I booked in for the dinner at Greenway House, which is Christie’s summer home that she bought and has since turned over to the National Trust. So the National Trust puts on his dinner. It’s for about 20 people, and it’s in the proper dining room. And John is one of the speakers. I first met him there. I was so nervous, and I had written most of the draft of this book, and I was like, blah blah blah. And he thought I was a nut bar. But we became pretty good friends. And so then when I came back to the festival told him I had sold it, I just stopped him until he agreed to write the foreword.
Carolyn Daughters 45:27
The thing I love about this house. There’s a lot of things I love about it. But there’s this sideboard that Agatha Christie had where she kept the foods warm. So her guests had the ultimate level of food comfort. They could wake up whenever they wanted, they could stroll down and take whatever foods they wanted. And the foods were warm and ready for them whatever hour they chose to have them. I love this idea of the ultimate in comfort.
Karen Pierce 45:59
Oh, yeah, it’s that English breakfast served however you want. There’s a lovely scene in Dead Man’s Folly about that, too, where all the guests come down, and they all have different bits. The lady of the house just has coffee and toast. But there’s an architect staying there, and he just has cold ham. But Mrs. Brewster has a smaller helping of everything. And then, of course, Sir George has one of everything. And the same issue then in The Secret of Chimneys, where Lord Caterham looks at it all and goes, “Oh, can I have a boiled egg?” That tells you a lot about him, too. There’s pheasant, there’s everything out there, everything you could think of. “Can I have a boiled egg?”
Carolyn Daughters 47:02
Interesting. I hadn’t thought about food in this way, particularly, as a window into into character.
Karen Pierce 47:11
Absolutely. That’s one of the best things about Agatha Christie recipes. There’s are two wonderful scenes in The Hollow that show this perfectly. One is Gerda trying to decide what to do. It’s lunchtime. Here are the kids, they’re sitting at the table, and her husband, John, is not down from the surgery. Does she send the roast of back? It’ll get cold. But what if she sends it back, and then he arrives, and then he’s going to be angry because he has to wait for it. But if she leaves it here, then he’s going to be angry because it’s cold. She goes through this whole thing in her mind. You can tell that this is just an indecisive rabbit of a woman. And it tells you a lot about Gerda. On the other hand, Lady Angkatell, one of her luncheon guests has been murdered. And first and foremost on her mind is, well, we were having ducks for lunch, we can’t have ducks for lunch. And then she’s so grateful that the cook makes caramel pudding. Because cook knows it’s not our favorite, and you can’t have your favorite pudding when one of your guests has been murdered.
Sarah Harrison 48:30
It’s too celebratory.
Karen Pierce 48:31
You know everything you need to know about lady Angkatell in that little description, right? Throughout all the books, she does this really, really well.
Sarah Harrison 48:45
That’s awesome. You said you’ve been able to do some cooking shows with this book. Tell us about where you’ve been cooking with it.
Karen Pierce 48:54
Well, I cooked with one man in California. Now, he had the recipe, and he changed it up a little bit. I talked to him while he made it. That was really quite interesting. Then there was another one, very similar, different cook, different kitchen. But the 92nd Y has a series of web classes. So I’m doing English tea with Agatha Christie. We’re gonna do some tea sandwiches and the proper way to make black tea and the proper way to make green tea.
Sarah Harrison 49:42
Awesome. And then I know we’re reaching our time, but I just wanted to ask one more question. And listeners, we will get Karen for a second episode, but it’ll be a little bit different than this one. But cooking wise, do you have any favorite cooks or cookbooks, past or present, current or historical that really speak to you?
Karen Pierce 50:09
Well, I’m a great lover of Delia Smith. She’s a British one, and I do love hers. I like Ottolenghi, the new hit guy. He has lots of fun recipes. Honestly, mostly I just troll my mother’s recipes and figure out how I can change them up and make them different. Mostly inspired by something I see or read, and I’ll go, “oh, I should try something like that.” The other the Italian woman, Nigella Lawson. There are a couple of Italian ones I like. Lawson is the first Italian cook to introduce some flavorful dishes into the British culture in right after World War II. She’s the one that first started teaching them how to make spaghetti bolognese and, and things like that. I have a bunch of recipes that I’ve tried, which is fun.
Sarah Harrison 51:37
That is fascinating. Well, do you have any more books in the works? This one took 10 years.
Karen Pierce 51:46
I don’t know. I’ve been talking to my publisher about it. I think so. I think I might do another one. More Agatha Christie. Not really sure what angle. Maybe more from the characters’ points of views. Rather than going chronologically, going breakfast lunch, and dinner, and how they changed over the years.
Carolyn Daughters 52:11
I love that.
Sarah Harrison 52:12
You’ve got so much material.
Karen Pierce 52:15
Well, that’s it, because there’s 66 books and 140 short stories and 30 plays. I mean, there’s there’s just a lot of stuff. You can do a lot with Christie. She was very prolific.
Carolyn Daughters 52:27
No shortage of material.
Karen Pierce 52:30
No, no, it’s great.
Sarah Harrison 52:33
Awesome. Well, we’ve loved having you on and listeners, listen for the next episode. We will get to talk to Karen Pierce a little bit more about her book and especially about her love of Agatha Christie.
Sarah Harrison 53:14
Karen, where can our listeners find your book?
Karen Pierce 53:18
I have a small Instagram page called @recipesformurder. But you can get my book from any of the large booksellers. They all have it online. But I suggest you go to your favorite bookstore and ask if they can order it for you? Then they’ll bring in several copies, and your neighbors might get to read it, too.
Sarah Harrison 53:38
I love it. Awesome. Thanks so much.
Karen Pierce 53:40
It’s a great gift book.
Sarah Harrison 53:42
All right, Christmas season is starting.
Carolyn Daughters 53:45
For the mystery lovers in your life, this is a phenomenal book. Buy it for all your Agatha Christie recipes. You can also learn more about the mysteries and thrillers we’re reading at teatonicandtoxin.com. Share your thoughts on our website or on Facebook and Instagram @TeaTonicandToxin. And be sure to subscribe to our podcast so you never miss an episode.
Sarah Harrison 53:51
All right. Until next time, everyone, please stay mysterious.
November 19, 2023
Playwright, artistic director, and Renaissance woman Emily Schwartz joins Sarah and Carolyn to dish all things Agatha Christie. On a completely (un)related note, Emily, Sarah, and Carolyn have boarded the Simplon-Orient Express train in search of adventure. Listen in. And stay tuned …Listen →
November 6, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview Recipes for Murder author Karen Pierce about all things Agatha Christie -- her books, her life, the adaptations of her work. Let’s just say this amazing Christie superfan knows her stuff.Listen →
October 28, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview detective-fiction devotee, food lover, and Agatha Christie superfan Karen Pierce about her amazing new cookbook, Recipes for Murder. With 66 dishes from Christie's novels, what's not to love?Listen →