I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I picked up An Appetite for Violets. The words sinister and intrigue were indicated, so was some cooking. I sent up a prayer hoping this did not turn out to be one of those supernatural type ‘sinister’ books. And started reading this story set in the late eighteenth century.
Something sinister has happened at the Villa Ombrosa in Tuscany. A table is laid as if for a feast. But there are maggots and flies feasting on it. There is no body around. In a room upstairs, there is a mannequin wearing a pink dress with letter tucked in. The paper contains a large sparkling ruby – the Mawton Rose. A scent of violets permeates the air.
Thus begins this book, which was very different from anything I have recently read. Once you know the whole story, it seems simple enough. So the skill is in the way it is handled and presented to the reader, always maintaining intrigue and a slightly Gothic air.
It is the 1770s and the kitchen at Mawton Kall is in full swing. Biddy Leigh is an under cook who loves to experiment with new recipes, and the book has an abundance of them. The master of the house has married and his bride turns up. Lady Carinna is very temperamental and seems to have affection only for her dog. She has her eye on Biddy for some reason, making her maid and the butler jealous. There is a colored servant/ slave who hails from some remote island called Batavia. Biddy finds it easy to befriend him. Biddy is betrothed to a local youth and contemplates marrying him soon.
Lady Carinna comes up with the idea of traveling to Tuscany to her uncle’s estate. She wants Biddy to accompany her to do the cooking. Biddy Leigh faces a tough decision but does not have much choice. Her mentor and cook Mrs. Garland entrusts her with a veritable tome of recipes, passed down from generations of their Lady’s family, that is their master’s first wife.
Fricasse of Chicken
Portable Soup for Travelers
An arduous journey begins and it takes the whole traveling party months to reach Tuscany. An evil plan unfolds and Biddy is shocked to learn the part she is to play. Carinna has a suitor, a local Count, who showers her with gifts. But he is not the only admirer.
You will certainly be surprised by how the plot turns out. I was! There are tons of old English recipes which will delight ardent cooks and bakers. This seems to be a new trend, and I guess the jury is still out on how many recipes are too much. I felt the same while reading Blackberry Pie Murder. This is especially relevant when the book is a mystery and has some suspense in it.
An Appetite for Violets is just plain good fiction. Highly recommended for book lovers, and anyone who loves to read!