May 26 is World Dracula Day, a day which celebrates the publication of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula in 1897. Dracula is full of fascinating characters and one of the strangest is 59 year old R.M. Renfield, forever remembered as a fly eating maniac.
Renfield is a character who appears spasmodically in Dracula but his brief appearances are both fascinating and instrumental to the narrative. We never know how Renfield came to be a patient at Dr Seward’s sanatorium as his personal history is a mystery. What we do know is that he has a particular fascination for blood. He devours live animals beginning with flies and quickly works his way up to spiders and birds. He even asks the doctor if he can have a kitten. Dr Seward calls his strange patient zoophagous, a term he devises to describe Renfield’s blood-thirst for live animals.
Renfield also has a connection with Dracula. From the moment Dracula’s ship nears England, Renfield is aware of its approach. Soon after Dracula moves into Carfax, Renfield twice escapes, runs to Carfax, and talks with Dracula. Renfield offers his allegiance to the dark vampire, as he desires the gift of eternal life that only Dracula can offer. In an interesting discussion with Dr Seward, Renfield becomes uneasy when they discuss souls. Renfield initially does not want to be responsible for the souls of those who may die at his hands, but it is a responsibility he eventually and reluctantly accepts.
When Renfield meets Mina, a guest at the sanatorium, he has a change of heart. Knowing that Dracula will come for her, Renfield warns Mina to leave. It is only through Renfield that Dracula can enter the sanatorium, as he needs an invitation. Renfield allows Dracula entry but regrets his actions when he sees Mina again. She is pale and withdrawn, a consequence of Dracula’s attacks on her. Renfield has grown quite fond of Mina and does not like the fact that Dracula is feeding from her. He decides to stop Dracula when he next tries to gain entry into the sanatorium through his window. In a show of strength, Renfield grabs Dracula as he begins to materialise in the room. The two struggle and Dracula fights off Renfield, delivering him a killing blow. As Renfield lies dying, he confesses his sins to the vampire hunters. He tells them that Dracula has attacked Mina and that he is with her now. He dies hoping that his brave actions can save Mina’s life and also his soul.
As a tribute to Renfield, I couldn’t resist making Garibaldi Biscuits. These pastries filled with currants are named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian general who led the struggle to unify Italy. What does that have to do with Dracula or Renfield? Well it’s the various nicknames of these pastries that are my inspiration. The look of the squashed currant filling has given rise to nicknames such as Fly Cakes, Fly Pie, Fly Sandwiches, Flies’ Graveyard, Flies’ Cemetery, Squashed Fly Biscuits and, my favourite, Dead Fly Biscuits. I think that Renfield would like these delicious (although fly-less) biscuits that won’t weigh heavily on his soul.
Dead Fly Biscuits
2/3 cups dried currants
2 tablespoons marsala wine
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
80g (1/3 cup) cold unsalted butter, chopped
1/2 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
Place the currants and marsala in a bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.
While the currants are soaking, start the dough.
Place the flour, butter and a 1/4 cup of the sugar into a food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Turn out into a bowl.
Add the milk and mix until it forms a dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper (approximately 20x30cm / 8x12inches).
Divide the dough in half.
Roll one half between two sheets of baking paper to fit the baking tray.
Place the dough on prepared tray.
Combine the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar with the cinnamon.
Sprinkle two tablespoons of cinnamon sugar over the pastry.
Drain the currants, discarding the marsala, and spread the currants over the pastry.
Roll the remaining pastry between two sheets of baking paper and place over the top.
Lightly roll with a rolling pin to squeeze the layers together.
Score the surface to mark out twelve rectangular slices.
Brush top with beaten egg.
Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon sugar.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Cut along the score marks to separate the slices.
These are usually eaten cold but they are delicious hot too. 🙂