Mince-pies and Christmas dessert followed the pudding. The older members of the party then retired for a welcome siesta before the tea-time ceremony of the lighting of the Christmas tree. Hercule Poirot, however, did not take a siesta. Instead, he made his way to the enormous old-fashioned kitchen.
„It is permitted,” he asked, looking round and beaming, „that I congratulate the cook on this marvellous meal that I have just eaten?”
There was a moment's pause and then Mrs Ross came forward in a stately manner to meet him. She was a large woman, nobly built with all the dignity of a stage duchess. Two lean grey-haired women were beyond in the scullery washing up and a tow-haired girl was moving to and fro between the scullery and the kitchen. But these were obviously mere myrmidons. Mrs Ross was the queen of the kitchen quarters.
„I am glad to hear you enjoyed it, sir,” she said graciously.
„Enjoyed it!” cried Hercule Poirot. With an extravagant foreign gesture he raised his hand to his lips, kissed it, and wafted the kiss to the ceiling. „But you are a genius, Mrs Ross! A genius! Never have I tasted such a wonderful meal. The oyster soup…” he made an expressive noise with his lips. „- and the stuffing. The chestnut stuffing in the turkey, that was quite unique in my experience.”
„Well, it's funny that you should say that, sir,” said Mrs Ross graciously. „It's a very special recipe, that stuffing. It was given me by an Austrian chef that I worked with many years ago. But all the rest,” she added, „is just good, plain English cooking.”
„And is there anything better?” demanded Hercule Poirot.
„Well, it's nice of you to say so, sir. Of course, you being a foreign gentleman might have preferred the continental style. Not but what I can't manage continental dishes too.”
„I am sure, Mrs Ross, you could manage anything! But you must know that English cooking – good English cooking, not the cooking one gets in the second-class hotels or the restaurants – is much appreciated by gourmets on the continent, and I believe I am correct in saying that a special expedition was made to London in the early eighteen hundreds, and a report sent back to France of the wonders of the English puddings. 'We have nothing like that in France,' they wrote. 'It is worth making a journey to London just to taste the varieties and excellencies of the English puddings.' And above all puddings,” continued Poirot, well launched now on a kind of rhapsody, „is the Christmas plum pudding, such as we have eaten today. That was a homemade pudding, was it not? Not a bought one?”
„Yes, indeed, sir. Of my own making and my own recipe such as I've made for many, many years. When I came here Mrs Lacey said that she'd ordered a pudding from a London store to save me the trouble. But no, Madam, I said, that may be kind of you but no bought pudding from a store can equal a homemade Christmas one. Mind you,” said Mrs Ross, warming to her subject like the artist she was, "it was made too soon before the day. A good Christmas pudding should be made some weeks before and allowed to wait. The longer they're kept, within reason, the better they are. I mind now that when I was a child and we went to church every Sunday, we'd start listening for the collect that begins 'Stir up O Lord we beseech thee' because that collect was the signal, as it were, that the puddings should be made that week. And so they always were. We had the collect on the Sunday, and that week sure enough my mother would make the Christmas puddings. And so it should have been here this year. As it was, that pudding was only made three days ago, the day before you arrived, sir. However, I kept to the old custom. Everyone in the house had to come out into the kitchen and have a stir and make a wish. That's an old custom, sir, and I've always held to it.