A black cherry cocoa with Miss Marple

This is how I imagine a perfect autumn evening. Ideally, I’d like to have a hot cocoa date with the real Miss Marple. Or rather, Jane Marple as she is portrayed by Margaret Rutherford in the four 1960s films directed by George Pollock that our wonderful Disney Sea adventuring and emergency washing machine providing pal Sb introduced the duck and me to last year. Sb told us that she had just discovered the series herself a few months prior and that upon watching the 1961 Murder She Said, she knew she had to share this cinematic experience with the duck and me because we would immensely enjoy it (same as Sb, we had known of Miss Marple beforehand, but had never actually seen any of the films). Sb was right!Cherry cocoa duck and MargaretHere is the duck posing next to the cocoa concoction – or cocoction? – we made to accompany today’s friend recommendation: a black forest gateau hot cocoa inspired by the one they served at Epcot several Christmases ago, but with cherry syrup (can’t let the main ingredient in Phryne Fisher’s Cherry-flavored Mystery go to waste) instead of cherry liqueur, and our very own copy of the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films that, of course, we had to invest in so that we could have hot cocoa dates with our quick-witted British lady detective pal anytime. If you’ve never seen these films and/or wonder how we made this cherry hot cocoa in need of improvement, do read on:

Madam, either you will have to cease knitting, or I will have to cease judging

This is the third line in the 1964 Murder Most Foul, the third film in the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple series, and one of my absolute favorite introductory lines (that follows a hilarious opening sequence with no dialogue but a superbly communicative hand). It is uttered by the judge in the titular murder case that a noisily knitting Miss Marple is a juror on. She does cease knitting, but not without retorting that it helps her concentrate.
The Miss Marple films are, first and foremost, murder mysteries. But they are also charmingly comedic, primarily through Jane Marple’s characterization as a shrewd unmarried old lady who doesn’t hesitate to take things into her own hands, inimitably embodied by the fantastic Dame Margaret Rutherford. The duck and I enjoy seeing how she solves the mysteries introduced at the beginning of each film that become increasingly murderous throughout; what makes this one of our favorite film series, however, is seeing how she, Miss Jane Margaret Rutherford Marple, solves them and interacts with myriad equally eccentric characters in the process. Seeing that we still had lots of leftover sour cherry syrup in the pantry made the duck and me decide to try and (re-)create the aforementioned black forest gateau-inspired hot cocoa. Because we’re quite happy with the cocoa recipe we made last winter, we decided to use it as a base. So, we grabbed some oat milk, sugar, salt, vanilla, and cocoa powder to go with the cherry syrup. We also decided to add some coffee for a deeper flavor and plant-based whipping cream as a more neutrally flavored substitute for the coconut milk we used last time.

The last time Margaret Rutherford solves a feature-length mystery as Miss Marple is in the 1964 film Murder Ahoy, which was actually the duck and my introduction to the Miss Marple film series. While all films feature their fair share of eccentric characters, this one takes the cake. Let’s take Captain Sydney De Courcy Rhumstone as an example; he displays such exaggerated behavior and reactions that he would be entertaining to watch by himself. His interactions with a stubborn Miss Marple, however, who consistently outwits him, are what made us fall in love with this film and Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. Murder Ahoy is the only film in the series that is not based on a particular Agatha Christie Miss Marple novel and you can easily tell if you’ve seen the other three films that are noticeably subtler. The duck and I adore the quick-witted crosstalk that is featured in all Miss Marple films and leads to phrases like “Marple her name, marble her nature” (uttered by Ackenthorpe in Murder She Said). But we also enjoy characters that create comedy through their actions and attire alone, like the Captain in Murder Ahoy or the doctor who – mini spoiler alert! – appears thrice in this film, and each time he hectically gets ready while still explaining the cause of death because he has to attend to a baby that is due. Due to the cherry syrup being sweet on its own, the duck and I decided to slightly alter our original cocoa recipe: We combined 1.5 teaspoons of cocoa powder, half a teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch of salt in our mug of choice. Then we added a teaspoon (5 ml) of cherry syrup, hoping we’d manage to reproduce the characteristic black forest gateau flavor.
cherry cocoa 2
What cannot be easily reproduced is Miss Jane Margaret Rutherford Marple’s wardrobe that, combined with her facial expressions, adds a light layer of comedy even to otherwise more serious scenes. Sb, the duck, and I love Miss Marple’s costumes. One of our absolute favorites is the dress she wears during her accidental audition in Murder Most Foul: It features a sort of bobble/hydrangea(?) in the middle of a waterfall neckline, and it’s paired with her cape that comes with an attached scarf and is a recurring character in the film series. Even though the duck and I don’t know much about fashion, Miss Marple’s outfits bring us immense joy, and we are thrilled whenever she sports a new one. In fact, there isn’t a single one that we don’t adore for all its details. We also adore deep chocolate flavors which is why we decided to use an espresso shot rather than hot water to dissolve the cocoa-sugar-syrup mixture. Well, we poured an entire single espresso over our concoction, added a tiny bit of vanilla, and then used a whisk to mix everything together. I think this is where things started to go wrong, you know, flavor-wise.cherry cocoa 3
When things go wrong, Miss Marple is on the spot – quite literally, as she, like many other fictional detectives, seems to have murders-happen-all-around-me-but-not-because-of-me-syndrome. Unlike most fictional detectives, Miss Marple begins her sleuthing journey rather by accident, after a lifelong obsession with murder thrillers; she stumbles into solving her first real-life murder mystery after witnessing a mysterious murder at the beginning of Murder She Said. The duck and I actually watched Miss Marple’s origin story last so that we experienced the introduction of the recurring characters after we had already seen them in other films, like Inspector Craddock, her skeptical police force counterpart, or Mr. Stringer, the local librarian who feeds her thriller addiction and soon becomes her trusty sidekick (we love the innocent relationship between Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer, portrayed by Margaret Rutherford’s real-life husband, Stringer Davis). Fortunately, each film features a self-contained plot, which means you can easily follow the action without having watched any other film in the series. Unfortunately, our oat milk wasn’t in a frothable mood. So, we ended up pouring about 150ml of warm, not very frothy, milk over our cherry-espresso-cocoction. Because of the lack of foam, our hot cocoa looked rather sad in its big mug…

“Sad” is not a word I would use to describe the Miss Marple film series (unless you’d ask me how I feel whenever I have finished watching one of the films and realize that I should probably get some sleep rather than watch another one). I’ve already mentioned that much of the comedy comes from Miss Marple’s demeanor and witty exchanges among the characters; the murder suspects tend to know each other well, either because they are related or because they live and/or work together. This can lead to extensive bickering or to a mischievous boy telling his relatives with a big smile to “better get your alibis ready” (Alexander in Murder She Said) after learning that Inspector Craddock will question them all. In addition to such exchanges that are not only amusing but also do a great job characterizing the many suspects and thus adding to the mystery aspect, these films also feature moments of pure slapstick, like a comically shot and edited sequence in which Miss Marple and Mr. Enderby exert themselves attempting to remove his boot from his swollen ankle in Murder at the Gallop (1963). The soundtrack, framing, and editing often add to the acting in these kinds of wordless comedic sequences. Speaking of soundtracks, have I mentioned how much the duck and I love the opening theme? Hearing it means an instant smile on our faces; what more can you expect from one of your favorite film series? When we prepared the vegan whipped cream with a hand mixer, we didn’t expect much. The texture turned out different from that of dairy whipped cream – as did the taste – but it was fluffy enough to help hide the failed frothing attempt, so the duck and I were happy. We were so happy, in fact, that we decided to sprinkle a bit of cocoa powder on top as garnish.

Our happiness did not subside until we tried our cocoction. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t bad per se. But since we had modeled this hot cocoa on a particular beverage that itself is based on a cake, we ended up somewhat disappointed. If we ever decide to try again, we will do a few things differently: Firstly, we will heed the advice from Nope, Not Pam and use instant espresso for deepening flavors; instead of deepening the chocolate flavor, our huge espresso shot led to this tasting a bit like mocha which is nice, but not what we were going for. We would also add more cocoa powder and cherry syrup for more intense chocolate and cherry flavors and we would use barista-style oat milk for an almost guaranteed frothiness (having had success with regular oat milk before somehow made us think that successful frothiness was a given rather than a run of good luck). Well, the duck and I never claimed to be good recipe creators, and this was definitely more drinkable than our maple apple coffee last year. So, I’ll see this as a valuable learning experience with a result that gets a bit more enjoyable if you experience it with a sleuthing Miss Jane Margaret Rutherford Marple on the screen. If, for whatever reason, you haven’t yet experienced the 1960s Miss Marple films and are as much a fan of detective stories as the duck and I are, I highly recommend checking them out. You could watch them chronologically or randomly, like the duck and I did the first time. They’re perfect for a (remote) movie session with friends or whenever you feel like watching a fun and witty British detective story! A few weeks after we had finished our Marple movie sessions, the wonderful Sb gifted me a literary Miss Marple experience for my birthday in the shape of Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library. Even though the literary Miss Marple is not the same as the cinematic Miss Jane Margaret Rutherford Marple, I wouldn’t mind having a hot chocolate with either of them.

Have you read or watched any of the Miss Marple stories? Who is your favorite fictional detective?

5 thoughts on “A black cherry cocoa with Miss Marple

  1. Seven degrees of separation all all that! I have seen Murder Ahoy many times as late my uncle was in it (young sailor as she comes off the ship). Family folklore has it that she was quite impressed with him and wanted to assist with his acting career. How true this was, I don’t know. Whatever opportunity there was, he squandered it. But he is definitely in the movie 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nope, Not Pam says:

    Miss Marple was a staple in my childhood reading. My Nan used to lend me her books and I read them all. I haven’t seen the movies, but they sound quite delightful. Duck certainly seems to enjoying the beverage creations, but I think the espresso might have helped 😁. Tell Duck “Bottoms Up” from me

    Liked by 1 person

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