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Famous in Paris, infamous in London, Verity Durant is as well-known for her mouthwatering cuisine as for her scandalous love life. But that's the least of the surprises awaiting her new employer when he arrives at the estate of Fairleigh Park following the unexpected death of his brother.
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Excerpt:In retrospect people said it was a Cinderella story.
Notably missing was the personage of the Fairy Godmother. But other than that, the narrative seemed to contain all the elements of the fairy tale.
There was something of a modern prince. He had no royal blood, but he was a powerful man--London's foremost barrister, Mr. Gladstone's right hand--a man who would very likely one day occupy 10 Downing Street.
There was a woman who spent much of her life in the kitchen. In the eyes of many, she was a nobody. To others, she was one of the greatest cooks of her generation, her food said to be so divine that old men dined with the gusto of adolescent boys, and so seductive that lovers forsook each other as long as a single crumb remained on the table.
There was a ball; not the usual sort of ball that made it into fairy tales or even ordinary tales, but a ball nevertheless. There was the requisite Evilish Female Relative. And mostly importantly for connoisseurs of fairy tales, there was footgear left behind in a hurry--nothing so frivolous or fancy as glass slippers, yet carefully kept and cherished, with a flickering flame of hope, for years upon years.
A Cinderella story indeed.
Or was it?
It all began--or resumed, depending on how one looked at it--the day Bertie Somerset died.
The kitchen at Fairleigh Park was palatial in dimension, as grand as anything to be found at Chatsworth or Blenheim, and certainly several times larger than what one would expect for a manor the size of Fairleigh Park.
Bertie Somerset had the entire kitchen complex renovated in 1877--shortly after he inherited, two years before Verity Durant came to work for him. After the improvements, the complex boasted a dairy, a scullery, and a pantry, each the size of a small cottage; separate larders for meat, game, and fish; two smokehouses; and a mushroom house where a heap of composted manure provided edible mushrooms year-round.
The main kitchen, floored in cool rectangles of gray flagstone, with oak duckboards where the kitchen staff most often stood, had an old-fashioned open hearth and two modern, closed ranges. The ceiling rose twenty feet above the floor. Windows were set high and faced only north and east, so that not a single beam of sunlight would ever stray inside. But still it was sweaty work in winter; in summer the temperatures rose hot enough to immolate.
Three maids toiled in the adjacent scullery, washing up all the plates, cups, and flatware from the servants' afternoon tea. One of Verity's apprentices stuffed tiny eggplants at the central work table, the other three stood at their respective stations about the room, attending to the rigors of dinner for the staff as well as for the master of the house.
The soup course had just been carried out, trailing behind it a murmur of the sweetness of caramelized onion. From the stove billowed the steam of a white wine broth, in the last stages of reduction before being made into a sauce for a filet of brill that had been earlier poached in it. Over the great hearth a quartet of teals roasted on a spit turned by a kitchen maid. She also looked after the civet of hare slowly stewing in the coals, which emitted a powerful, gamy smell every time it was stirred.
The odors of her kitchen were as beautiful to Verity as the sounds of an orchestra. This kitchen was her fiefdom, her sanctuary. She cooked with an absolute, almost nerveless concentration, her awareness extending to the subtlest stimulation of the senses and the least movement on the part of her underlings.
The sound of her favorite apprentice not stirring the...
DeliciousBy: Sherry Thomas