Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beating Austerity in the Kitchen (More or Less) - A blog about food and the people I've shared it with.

When I was on liberty in London as an N. R. O. T. C. midshipman more than half a century ago, I bought an English cookbook because I was charmed by its title: Beating Austerity in the Kitchen. It sounded so stiff-upper-lip, that much-admired quality of the English. The Second World War had been over for almost a decade, but life in Britain still seemed grim. London was pocked with bombed-out ruins, drabness was pervasive, and the food I encountered in the restaurants and hotels was hardly edible.

I stayed in a small hotel near Russell Square where breakfast was included in the modest cost of the room. Each morning at seven, the proprietor set out racks of cold, scorched toast and poured thin, lukewarm milk over bowls of cornflakes which by a quarter past seven were unrecognizable as such.

Buying a cookbook in post-war England was perverse, bordering on the masochistic. Beating Austerity in the Kitchen was a thin volume that might have been mistaken for a slender first book of poems by a chronically depressed poet had it not been for its bright yellow dust jacket festooned with red and blue rosettes. It contained a lot of information about preserving, storing, and stretching food that was still being rationed, and was written for the British housewife accustomed to preparing and eating the kinds of dishes Cyril Connolly had in mind when he wrote: “Oh, the superb wretchedness of English food, how many foreigners has it daunted, and what a subtle glow of nationality one feels in ordering a dish that one knows will be bad and being able to eat it!”

Apart from its gaudy dust jacket, the showiest thing about this modest book was the name of its author: Lady Peacock. Since by now the good Lady more than likely “has gone to get the prize for domestic virtue” (the translation of an inscription I once saw on an ancient tomb in Florence), she probably will not object if I borrow her title for these recipes my partner, John Copenhaver, and I have enjoyed through the years and would like to share with our friends in this new Age of Austerity when we may not be eating out quite as often.

Some of the dishes are a little extravagant to fit comfortably in a blog with a title that suggests restraint and frugality, but if you prepare them in your own kitchen, consider what you will save on tips alone.

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