The setting: a gloomy, old estate in Cornwall, England, full of dark rooms and stodgy bachelors.
The title character: a mysterious woman who arrives suddenly, her only companion a trunkful of rumors.
The mystery: Did she do it? Or is she gravely misunderstood?
The twists: early deaths, cryptic letters, poison, accidents, a hanging.
Even if you can’t pinpoint the elements that define it, the Gothic feel of My Cousin Rachel will draw you in immediately. Our narrator is Philip, young heir to the Ashley estate and deliciously unreliable in his narration. How are we to determine motive and action when the storyteller is utterly besotted with the woman in question and unable to think with the thinking part of his body? The point of view is genius, giving the reader reason to doubt on every page. The author herself states, “In the writing of the novel, I turned myself so completely into Philip, I was beguiled, and she could have poisoned the entire world and I would not have minded.”
Daphne Du Maurier weaves the web with precision, writing with suspense, intrigue, and turns of subtle humor. The reader is kept unbalanced, vacillating between verdicts of guilt vs. non-guilt. Or is it even that simple? I’ll leave it for you to decide.
Ready to discuss this fascinating book? You are in luck! This is the first in a series of Book Club Guides that I am creating especially for my email subscribers. Packed full with everything you need to wow your book club: ice-breaker questions, thought-provoking discussion questions, and unique ideas for food and decor. Don’t miss out! Visit this link and enter your email to get instant access to this book club guide, plus many more to come.
Years ago, I visited England. I didn’t drive to the Cornwall region; however, I was told by many people before going that I would hate the food. I’m still baffled by this. I loved English food and discovered the best of all meals: the ploughman’s lunch. Hearty bread, a selection of cheeses, pickles, and sometimes fruit or cold meats– what could be better? I could live on the ploughman’s lunch. The food described in My Cousin Rachel is classic Cornish fare. Their Christmas dinner is magical (reminding me of The Bracebridge Dinner from Gilmore Girls or a dinner at Balmoral Castle after a royal hunting trip.) They feast on “roast goose, roast turkey, sides of beef and mutton, great smoked hams decorated with a frill, pastries and pies of all shapes and sizes, puddings bulging with dried fruits, and between the heavier fare were platters of that delicate fragile pastry, airy as thistledown, that Rachel had concocted with the Barton maids.” Where can we find such a Christmas party?
In many ways, the food described in the book highlights the contrast of light and dark, airy and heavy that is depicted in the two worlds. Florence, to Rachel, is bright, sunny, and full of life. Cornwall is cold and damp, the manor is old and full of dark rooms and shadowy hallways. The air seems heavy in contrast with the bright Sangalletti villa. Philip, of course, revels in this. He retreats with his pipe to the library every evening, content with the four walls around him. Although he humors Rachel with her wish to bring the airy, thistledown pasties to the Christmas dinner, he prefers the simple fare of his region: plates of cold meats and pies– so many pies. Don’t be thinking apple pie. Think meat pies, a.k.a. Cornish pasties, and keep reading because I’m going to show you how to make them.
I’m adapting this recipe from Simply Beef and Lamb, a U.K. based recipe site. Being the busy mom that I am, and writing to kindred busy moms, I’m making it even easier. These lamb and apple Cornish Pasties are good hot or cold, and could easily be frozen and reheated later. I can’t promise that your kids will eat them (I’m not a fool), but the fact that they are wrapped in pastry and called “pies” will at least intrigue them.
You can see by the pictures that I am neither a chef nor a food photographer. Maybe I should start a blog titled “Ugly Food that Tastes Good” because, man oh man, these tasted amazing! Don’t be intimidated. I’m sure they would be even better with homemade crust, so if that’s your jam, go for it. My opinion is that Pillsbury has made a lot more pie crusts than I have, so I’m going with the “mostly homemade” version of this recipe. It was easy as pie, I promise.
Literary Meals: My Cousin Rachel with Easy Cornish Pasties
Enter the Gothic world of My Cousin Rachel in Cornwall, England with this book review and guide to easy and tasty Cornish pasties with a simple apple chutney.
- For the Cornish pasties:
- 1 lb. lamb meat, chopped fine
- 1 large or 2 small Granny Smith apples, cored and finely diced
- 1 red onion, peeled and finely diced
- 1 medium potato, peeled and finely diced
- 1 cube of concentrated stock or bouillon
- 1 T cider or water
- 1 T fresh thyme
- salt and freshly milled black pepper
- enough pie crust dough to equal 4 pie crusts (I used two packages of Pillsbury rolled pie crusts, but you are welcome to make your own, if you’re ambitious like that.)
- one egg, beaten
- 2 T milk For the Simple Apple Chutney:
- 2 large or 4 small Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped
- 1/2 cup red onion, peeled and diced
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 T grated orange peel
- 1 t ground cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Place the chopped lamb into a zip-lock bag or bowl and add the salt, pepper, and concentrated stock or crushed bouillon. Toss to coat and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
- Mix the lamb together with the apple, onion, potato, cider or water, and thyme. Combine well and set aside.
- Divide the pie crust dough into 12 equal parts. (If using the pre-rolled crust, divide each crust into three equal pieces.)
- Roll each piece into a ball and roll out on a floured surface until approximately 6 inches diameter.
- Scoop the filling into the center of each circle, taking care not to overfill.
- Mix the egg and milk together and brush the edges of each pastry circle. Bring the edges of the pastry together and press firmly. Fold edges over and crimp to give a neat finish.
- Place on a greased baking sheet and brush with egg wash. Bake for 45-50 minutes. (If crust starts to brown too quickly, lightly cover with aluminum foil for remainder of cooking time.)
- While pasties are baking, mix all chutney ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 30-40 minutes. Uncover and bring back to a boil for approx 5 minutes to reduce the liquid. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Serve the pasties with a side of simple fruit chutney and a pint of cider.
I haven’t yet watched the newest movie adaptation, but plan to do so soon, as I’ve never met a Rachel Weisz character I haven’t liked. Have you watched it? Tell me your thoughts!