George's travel companions decide to help George make Irish stew. They decide this is a good way to use up leftovers, and they indiscriminately put everything they can find into the pot:
George said it was absurd to have only four potatoes in an Irish stew, so we washed half-a-dozen or so more, and put them in without peeling. We also put in a cabbage and about half a peck of peas. George stirred it all up, and then he said that there seemed to be a lot of room to spare, so we overhauled both the hampers, and picked out all the odds and ends and the remnants, and added them to the stew. There were half a pork pie and a bit of cold boiled bacon left, and we put them in. Then George found half a tin of potted salmon, and he emptied that into the pot.
Montmorency's contribution to the stew is a dead water rat, which may or may not make it into the pot, though the implication is that it does.
The stew-making incident is a classic comic anecdote based on sexual (and class) stereotypes of men unable to manage a simple cooking task. The audience laughs because even the least competent member knows he or she could do it better—or would not, at the very least, throw a pork pie into a stew. Some might also laugh because they identify with the incompetence. Mostly, however, the audience laughs because the humor relies on hyperbole
; the items that the men put into the stew is over the top. The rat, especially, is an over-the-top idea. The fact that they would consider throwing it in is both comic and dark, as it highlights the dangers of putting incompetent people in charge of the cooking.
The incident also shows J.'s sunny outlook—or is it his irony
? The text leaves it ambiguous as to whether the rat is in the stew:
It was a great success, that Irish stew. I don’t think I ever enjoyed a meal more. There was something so fresh and piquant about it. One’s palate gets so tired of the old hackneyed things: here was a dish with a new flavour, with a taste like nothing else on earth.
And it was nourishing, too. As George said, there was good stuff in it. The peas and potatoes might have been a bit softer, but we all had good teeth, so that did not matter much: and as for the gravy, it was a poem—a little too rich, perhaps, for a weak stomach, but nutritious.
It is up to the reader to decide if J. is being sarcastic or if he really likes the taste of the stew. Even if he does, would we?