Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

by Jerome K. Jerome

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Describe how George made the Irish stew. What was Montmorency's contribution to it?

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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?

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The narrator relates this incident in Chapter XIV of Three Men in a Boat. George offered to cook supper one evening:

He … suggested that, with the vegetables and the remains of the...

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cold beef and general odds and ends, we should make an Irish stew.

Such a dish is often made with leftovers from previous meals. It consists of some kind of meat, with the addition of potatoes, onions, and various vegetables. George took the lead in the cooking. Harris and the narrator were given the job of peeling and then scraping the potatoes. They weren’t good at either task, and they ended up with only four usable potatoes. To make up for the loss, the men raided their food hamper and added as many random vegetables and pieces of meat as they could find.

Even Montmorency, the fox terrier, got into the act. He brought a dead water-rat to the men, seemingly to donate it to the stew. According to the narrator, the three men devoted serious discussion to adding the rat to the mix. Harris thought it would work. George said he had never heard of putting water-rats in Irish stew, and he was against the idea. Harris answered that they could certainly try something new.

The narrator never tells us if Montmorency’s gift was used in the stew. He did admit that it “was a dish with a new flavour, with a taste like nothing else on earth.” The reader is left to decide what was really put into the pot.

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