Cinnamon and Gunpowder
Nervous chef Owen Wedgwood (who always travels with his own whisks) is the unfortunate witness to an attack at a dinner party one summer evening in 1819. His employer Lord Ramsey, one of the owners of the Pendleton Trading Company, meets his fate at the end of pirate captain Mad Hannah Mabbot’s jade-handled pistols. Before Wedgwood can escape to the pantry, Mabbot and her fearsome horde kidnap him and drag him off to the infamous Flying Rose. Mabbot makes a deal with Wedge: his life for a three-course meal every Sunday. Though the crew of the Flying Rose is a far cry from the dukes and duchesses of England and the hardtack and rum of a pirate ship a far cry from his usual provisions, he agrees. As Mabbot sails the seas in search of the notorious thief the Brass Fox, Wedge creates such surprising dishes as tea-smoked eel, crab croquettes, and rum-poached figs.
Cinnamon and Gunpowder is glorious, great fun. Difficult to pin down, it sails between a culinary novel, a travelogue, a romance, and a rollicking adventure. From the fiery, erudite Mabbot, “Shark of the Indian Ocean,” to resourceful Wedge, Brown creates memorable characters, even down to the most minor in the cast, like the foul-mouthed, scorpion-raising, knitting first lieutenant Mr. Apples. These characters are brought together with prose to sink one’s teeth into, such that I read with a pencil in hand to eagerly underline choice phrases. I do confess to finding Wedge’s menu at times to be deliciously anachronistic and worldly for a chef from Georgian England (Ravioli? Mole sauce?), but I forgave him once my taste buds began tingling. This book is as layered and flavorful as one of Wedge’s meals. Cheerfully recommended.