A Life In Recipes By Martin Olson

Category: Celebrities

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The biography of Elizabeth David. she is the best cookery writer of late 60s. A Life in Recipes


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A LIFE IN RECIPES INC. 2018 A Life In Recipes Elizabeth David Biography Martin Olsen 393 P O C O M A S D R I V E D A L L A S T E X A S - 75204

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 2 A Life in Recipes The late British food writer Elizabeth David was ­fiercely private and abhorred interviews. She appeared on television just once in 1989. The hour is filled with gushes of praise for David the most important influence on cooking in Britain in the last 50 years. Only halfway through does she enters leaning on the arm of her friend and editor Jill Norman. White hair elegantly swept up she is wearing a red scarf and one of her trademark white shirts. At 75 her face is still beautiful despite a sagging jaw from a cerebral hemorrhage suffered years before. Over lunch at a restaurant the program’s host wine writer Jancis Robinson works without success to draw her out. David holds her glass of wine like a security blanket. She answers slowly and looks around as if losing patience her speech is somewhat slurred another effect of the hemorrhage. Yet she remains clearly in control of the situation and throws most questions back at Robinson. Asked why she wrote her first four books in just five years she responds tartly: “Why do you think anyone writes books” off course for money. David relaxes a little only when the chef an old friend brings out a bottle of wine and a plate of small zucchini fried with their blossoms on. From what region is the wine she asks and who grows the beautiful vegetables

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 3 “Of all the spectacular food markets in Italy the one near the Rialto in Venice must be the most remarkable” — the written words from David’s Italian Food quoted by an actress at the program’s close contrast sharply with the awkward interview. “The light of a Venetian dawn in early summer — you must be about at four o’clock in the morning to see the market coming to life — is so limpid and so still that it makes every separate vegetable and fruit and fish luminous with a life of its own with unnaturally heightened colors and clear stenciled outlines. Here the cabbages are cobalt blue the beetroots deep rose the lettuces clear pure green sharp as glass.” I was introduced to Elizabeth David’s books only a few years ago and I fell instantly in love with her prose though her recipes did not attract me in the same way. As a prolific but untrained cook I am most comfortable with the tidy — almost clinically precise — recipes in magazines and the more careful modern cookbooks. David’s recipes were messier and appeared risky but they also tantalized me with glimpses of deeper riches. They had less detail but also more personality. As I began to examine David’s books more closely I also became curious about their author. If I followed the recipes I thought I might understand more about the writer of those eloquent phrases. I knew the recipes would require a little more work than I was used to but would the reward be greater Did David who did most of her writing during the 1950s and 60s and died in 1992 have anything to say to the everyday cook now Once in a newspaper column David reflected on what initially compelled her to write about food. It was just after the Second World War and she had recently returned to Britain from seven years abroad much of that time in Egypt. Although she had avidly collected recipes on her travels she had not put her experiences on paper. She escaped from London to visit Herefordshire with a lover though she certainly didn’t say that. There relentless winter rain the dismal food under rationing and boredom forced her “to work out an agonized craving for the sun and a furious revolt against that terrible cheerless heartless food by writing down descriptions of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking. Even to write words like apricot olives and butter rice and lemons oil and almonds produced assuagement” she said. “Later I came to realize that in the England of 1947 those were dirty words that I was putting down.”

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 4 David never shied away from doing what she ­wanted in her writing or anything else. She minced no words made no pretences and rarely humored others. She insisted on being accepted on her own terms and her countrymen obliged. Over 1.25 million copies of her 11 books have sold in Britain since 1950 when the first A Book of Mediterranean Food appeared and many continue to sell steadily. She reached an even broader audience during the three decades she wrote for newspapers such as the mass-market Sunday Dispatch and magazines including Vogue and the intellectual Spectator. Her obituary in The Financial Times read “It is hard to convey just what Elizabeth David… came to mean to the post-war generation of Britons who were starved of sunshine warmth and alternatives to roast beef and cabbage.” For those who want the details of David’s private life both Artemis Cooper in Writing at the Kitchen Table and Lisa Chaney in Elizabeth David tell the story of a well-bred but rebellious teenager whose father died when she was 10 and whose mother was at best capricious and at worst neglectful. At 16 Elizabeth was shipped off to Paris where she studied art and first experienced good food. Beautiful and self-possessed she returned to London to be presented at court. Then against her mother’s wishes she joined a theater troupe and on the eve of World War II sailed away from England in a yacht with a lover a fellow actor who was not only married but Jewish. In Antibes she met the writer Norman Douglas who became a mentor to her and they remained close until he died a dozen years later. On their first parting Douglas gave her a copy of his book Old Calabria in which he scrawled: “Always do as you please and send everybody to Hell and take the consequences.” Elizabeth had already proven herself able to do that. She spent the early years of the war in Greece and Alexandria Egypt then went to work for the Ministry of Information in Cairo where she met Tony David a young British officer in the Indian Army. Elizabeth had had a series of tempestuous relationships and Toney’s steady devotion and the respectability of marriage appealed to her so they were wed in 1944. But by the time she returned to England two years later the strictures of marriage were already chafing. That and her husband’s inability to provide a dependable income led to their breakup. Obliged to support herself in 1949 she asked a friend in publishing to help her land the job of cookery correspondent for Harper’s Bazaar. About her personal life David remained always quiet and friends of later years often assumed her husband had died. In a letter to Julia Child thanking her for a favorable review of French Provincial Cooking David explained with some embarrassment that she was not a widow as Child had

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 5 written but had been divorced from Mr. David. She added “I suppose it was because of his total fecklessness that my cookery writing turned into a full-time job.” It was her work at Harper’s Bazaar that led to Mediterranean Food a year later followed a year after that by French Country Cooking and by Italian Food in 1954 the year that food rationing finally ended in Britain. These books along with David’s articles A life in recipes popularized the kind of rustic cooking we now take for granted — fresh local ingredients prepared in the simple regional styles of France and Italy — a kind of cooking that until then was almost unknown in British and American kitchens. Dishes such as risotto and bouillabaisse had appeared in some prewar British cookbooks but Elizabeth David went beyond recipes her descriptions made people want to cook and eat the food. She wrote about the Atlantic coast of France where “those mussels of Normandy so small and sweet in their little shining shells” were cooked in their own liquid and piled in a tureen with fresh cream and chopped tarragon. She described eating the earliest tangerines of the season at dawn in southeastern Spain: “Their scent was piercing and their taste was sharp.” Cassoulet toulousain David explained was “the genuine abundant earthy richly flavored and patiently simmered dish of the ideal farmhouse kitchen. Hidden beneath a layer of creamy golden-crusted haricot beans in a deep wide earthen pot the cassoulet contains garlicky pork sausages smoked bacon salt pork a wing or leg of preserved goose perhaps a piece of mutton a couple of pig’s feet or half a duck and some chunks of pork rind. The beans are tender juicy moist but not mushy aromatic smells of garlic and herbs escape from the pot as the cassoulet is brought smoking hot from the oven to the table.” David avidly pursued the historical and cultural context of each recipe liberally sharing what she found with her readers. She described a way of life in which food was a vital source of pleasure. Against the backdrop of wartime privation David’s early work was escapist literature at its best. Readers could savor a dish through her prose even if they couldn’t taste it. David’s influence endures. Jane Grigson another important English food writer said “She completely transformed cookery writing — made it into a

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 6 respectable intellectual pursuit.” David was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and she was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her “contribution to the gastronomic arts.” France honored her with a Chevalier du Merite Agricole. Many of today’s high-profile British food professionals from Terence Conrad to Jamie Oliver credit David with being a major influence as do regular home cooks. An English friend of mine started cooking from David’s newspaper and magazine articles in the 1960s and still occasionally digs them out. A few months ago to the disappointment and even irritation of some in Britain the Schlesinger Library at Harvard announced that it was acquiring Elizabeth David’s papers it already has those of Julia Child and M.F.K. Fisher as well as more than 16000 cookbooks. Apparently no British library was inter­ested in or able to take on the extensive David collection and the Schlesinger as the leading research library for English-language culinary history was the best home that could be found. All of which is somewhat ironic as David was not overfond of the United States and her popularity here has never approached the mass level it reached in Britain. In some ways David’s more limited reputation in America is easy to understand. We did not need her in the way the war-battered food-rationed British did. Nor did she enjoy here the broad repeated exposure that her newspaper and magazine articles provided in Britain. Even so her American following is surpris­ingly small considering how many of our most influential chefs and food writers — James Beard Julia Child and Alice Waters among them — credit David with recognizing what may be the most important current movement in food: the reverence for terrier. David was one of the first to honor cooking that allowed the freshest finest regional ingredients to shine — what she called “cooking smacking of the soil.” There is a lot for American home cooks not just professionals to appreciate in Elizabeth David. The sensuality of her descriptions is grounded by the pragmatism of her recipes which offer a refreshing change from the chattiness of most modern cookbooks. David’s careful background research well-matched literary quotes and exhaustive bibliographies make her books worth owning even if they never make it into the kitchen.

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 7 But they should make it into the kitchen. Over the past few months I have cooked dozens of Elizabeth David recipes for my husband and two small boys and for friends in my modest kitchen. My family still remembers a quick weeknight supper of moussaka with zucchini allspice and mint followed by a tender lemon and brown sugar cake. For a friend’s birthday celebration a lamb stew with sweet white wine and chickpeas was rich and delicious. I made sweet little crêpes dintless “a nice dish for children” and delicate almond shortbread to serve with coffee after a dinner party. We enjoyed the simple pleasures of sautéed mushrooms with a little thick cream of bananas halved and baked with butter brown sugar and orange juice and of grilled chicken rubbed with lemon juice and herbs “perhaps one of the nicest foods at any time.” In the depth of winter I longed for summer when I could sit on my deck and follow David’s directions for pesche in vino bianco: “Into your last glass of white wine after luncheon slice a peeled yellow peach. Leave it a minute or two. Eat the peach and then drink the wine.” Three of David’s books have been particularly rewarding. French Provincial Cooking 1960 is a lusty celebration of “the climate the soil the ingredients the saucepans the stove even the way of arranging the food upon the serving dish of folding the napkins and setting the table as well as the French attitude of mind towards food and the very smell of their kitchens while they are cooking.” Scattered through the text are gems of common sense. On hard- boiled eggs with mayonnaise: “In the search for originality the most obvious dishes are forgotten.” Spices Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen 1970 is the cumbersome and somewhat misleading title for a ­lovely variety of well- flavored dishes from many countries. An Omelet and a Glass of Wine 1984 the first of two collections of her columns and articles delivers a broad sampling including recipes and intriguing hints about her life. To give fair warning modern American cooks who venture into Elizabeth David’s realm will encounter hurdles. She was generously respectful of her readers but also demanding in a way that food writers at least now can rarely afford to be. David had no interest in being her reader’s best friend or in holding the cook’s hand through each step. The recipes lack an easy consistent format — a challenge for both American and British cooks today — and David refused to make changes for the American editions. In a 1963 letter to Julia Child David wrote of French Provincial Cooking “It isn’t doing too badly in the States all things considered…it was after all written for this country and here people can cook by it but in the US it’s probably mostly just for reading.” Even Alice Waters admitted to frequent frustration. Only

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 8 sometimes is there a clear list of ingredients key instructions may be missing and where quantities are specified not always the case the American cook must frequently convert from British weights or teacups to American cups and tablespoons or guess how many saffron filaments would cover a sixpence. Perhaps three-quarters of the recipes I tried required additional information or insight sometimes because I was in a different time and place from David’s original audience and sometimes because David assumed knowledge that even a 1950s British cook was unlikely to have. Despite these challenges only a few recipes truly failed in my kitchen: a chocolate cake came out as dry as chalk because David does not give clear instructions on how to mix the delicate batter a chicken “roasted” on the stovetop never achieved the promised crispness because it could only steam in the covered pot and a raspberry shortbread was dusty and bland. These were the exception however. Most problems became obvious and were surmountable during cooking either through guesswork or finding the missing information in a book by someone else. Pork chops slowly baked with potatoes white wine and juniper berries for example suggests that cider can be used instead of wine but doesn’t tell Americans for whom Prohibition changed the meaning of “cider” that the cider should be hard. Roast chicken subtly flavored with ham fennel and bay leaf calls for dried fennel stalks not easy for me to find — two phone calls to more expert friends established that fresh fennel stalks and a dash of fennel pollen a fashionable ingredient that one of them gave me would do the trick. The roasting time for the chicken was also double what was needed. Selman’s Pilaf from David’s Sudanese cook in Cairo includes step-by-step instructions for cooking the rice admittedly the most important part of a pilaf followed by this single sentence: “Have ready a savory preparation of small pieces of cooked mutton fried onions raisins currants garlic tomatoes and pine nuts if you can get them or roasted almonds all sauted sic in dripping with plenty of seasoning.” Exact proportions and amounts are not of course crucial here but for a novice a little more guidance would have been helpful. Overall though a cook with some experience and an enterprising spirit will find many of David’s recipes worth making and will learn quite a bit in the process. Here for example is ragout de mouton à la catalane from Mediterranean Food:

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 9 2 lbs. of leg or loin of mutton an onion 2 cloves of garlic a tablespoon of concentrated tomato purée or ½ lb. of fresh tomatoes ½ lb. of bacon herbs ½ lb. of chick peas see p. 139 white wine or port. Cut the meat and the bacon into thick squares brown them on each side in pork or bacon fat or oil add the garlic and the tomato purée or the fresh tomatoes skinned and chopped and plenty of thyme or marjoram or basil and 2 bay leaves. Pour over a glass of sweet white wine or port. Cover the pan and cook very gently for 2 hours until the meat is tender. Have ready the chick peas soaked and cooked When the mutton is about ready put the drained chick peas and the meat mixture together into a fireproof dish put a layer of breadcrumbs on the top and cook in a gentle oven for an hour until a slight crust has formed on the top and the chick peas are absolutely soft. This is how I “followed” the recipe: I cooked the whole thing in an ovenproof skillet from the start. I used leg of lamb and regular slab bacon though I suspected that the bacon in the Catalan region of France would not be smoked. I cooked chickpeas according to her directions later in the book but did not include the salt which can make beans hard they took less time to cook than she said maybe she had old chickpeas plus I was concerned they would turn to mush after cooking for another hour in the oven. I added the onion missing from the instructions chopped before the garlic which I also chopped she doesn’t say and sautéed until translucent for “herbs” I used two tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves. I deduced that the white wine should be a Muscat based on David’s information that the dish can be made with either port or sweet white wine presumably from Catalan France where the grapes would be Muscat. A glass of wine she says elsewhere is six ounces but I used one cup and added more when I saw the dish getting dry. For the final cooking I used about three-quarters cup of coarse breadcrumbs and I decided on a gentle oven of 250 degrees F. I admit that I was a little skeptical of using Muscat with the delicate lamb but it yielded a ­delicious and not overly sweet dish with much more depth than the many lamb stews I have made with dry white wine. By contrast sometimes David wrote a recipe with great precision and occasionally ironically for one of the simplest dishes. Following David’s instructions in An Omelet and a Glass of Wine I beat a tablespoon of finely

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 10 grated Parmesan into three eggs poured in an equal amount of cream then added diced Gruyere after the egg mixture started to cook in half an ounce of melted butter. I tipped the pan twice to spread the omelet at which point the cheese had started to melt just as David said it would and folded the omelette in three before removing it to a warmed dish to eat “instantly” as instructed. The omelette was almost as good as her voluptuous description: “What one wants is the taste of the fresh eggs and the fresh butter and visually a soft bright golden roll plump and spilling out a little at the edges. It should not be a busy important urban dish but something gentle and pastoral with the clean scent of the dairy the kitchen garden the basket of early morning mushrooms or the sharp tang of freshly picked herbs sorrel chives tarragon.” The ability to communicate the taste of a dish was one of David’s strengths and her fine palate was noted by all who knew her. After she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1963 however she never entirely recovered her sense of taste and the emphasis of her writing changed. David continued to write articles and books although the establishment of her eponymous kitchenware shop in 1965 — and subsequent struggles with her partners — diverted her energy and attention until she withdrew from the business eight years later. She had always taken pride in her research but the loss of reliable taste buds and a period of convalescence during which she retreated into her deep library of historic cookbooks may explain the emphasis on history over flavor in David’s later work. In her 1977 English Bread and Yeast Cookery as more than one critic noted the facts are impressive and so is the amount of salt. A car accident in that year brought further health problems and although David actively participated in the selection of articles for An Omelette and a Glass of Wine and helped launch the serious and somewhat eccentric food journal Petites Propos Culinaires she no longer had the endurance to complete major projects on her own. Her final posthumous Harvest of the Cold Months a history of ice and frozen confections was pulled into shape by her editor. Though David was often prickly she was devoted to her friends and well known for inviting them to enjoy food and wine around her kitchen table. There was no fuss. She frequently served straight from earthenware pots and always mixed the salad with her hands. In the London Times a few years ago Artemis Cooper her official biographer described an evening like so many others during the 50s and 60s when David invited a group back to her home for an impromptu dinner after drinks out. “Elizabeth found a chicken in the fridge” Cooper recounts “dropped it picked it up and started hacking it with a cleaver all the while smoking a cigarette.” Her guests were a little taken aback

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 11 but David paid no heed and reportedly the chicken came from the grill well- seasoned and succulent. Even after she had suffered a stroke in mid-May 1992 David welcomed dear friends to her bedside for food drink and conversation. Her friend Gerald Asher in an obituary for The Independent wrote about the laughter caviar and bottle of Chablis he shared with her on the very day she died. Sharp to the end she dropped a historical reference into their conversation and gently chided him for missing it. As I cooked my way through David’s books and marked favorite recipes I found myself growing fond of her in the same way I would of a brilliant but demanding friend someone well worth spending time with but sometimes requiring a lot of effort. With that kind of friend I am tempted to keep the conversation light — to avoid difficult topics — and I was inclined to do that with David to stay on the surface of her writing simply absorbing her descriptions of markets and food and people. In a newspaper column David wrote about one of her favorite cookbooks The Gentle Art of Cookery by Mrs. C.F. Leyel and Miss Olga Hartley published in 1925. “What one requires to know about recipes is not so much do they work as what do they produce if they do work” A foolproof recipe for a boring dish she proposed was a bad recipe. “A book which tells you as Mrs. Leyel’s did that you can make a purée from fresh green peas and eat it cold and that a cold roast duck will go very nicely with the purée is not necessarily a bad cookbook because it does not tell you for how long you must roast the duck nor how many pounds of peas you will need for the purée.” Indirectly of course David was justifying herself. She couldn’t be bothered with people who weren’t willing to think for themselves. She expected nothing less from her readers.

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 12 Books by Elizabeth David 1. A Book of Mediterranean Food by John Lehmann at 1950 New York Review Books Classics 2002. 2. French Country Cooking John Lehmann 1951Penguin 1999. 3. Italian Food Macdonald and Co. 1954 Penguin 1999. 4. Summer Cooking Museum Press 1955 New York Review Books Classics 2002. 5. French Provincial Cooking Michael Joseph Ltd. 1960 Penguin 1999. 6. Spices Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen Penguin Books 1970 Viking 1981 — out of print. 7. English Bread and Yeast Cookery Allen Lane 1977 Viking 1985 — out of print. 8. An Omelette and a Glass of Wine Robert Hale Ltd. 1984 The Lyons Press 1997. 9. Harvest of the Cold Months Michael Joseph Ltd. 1994 Viking 1995 — out of print. 10. South Wind Through the Kitchen: The Best of Elizabeth David Michael Joseph Ltd. 1997 North Point Press 1998. 11. Is There a Nutmeg in the House Michael Joseph 2000 Viking 2001.

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Lifeinrecipes.com Page 13 Source and Authority Links  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_David:_A_Life_in_Recipes  https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0762094/  https://lifeinrecipes.com/  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0074t02  https://www.wattpad.com/657041415-a-life-in-recipes-by-elizabeth-david-a-life-in  https://medium.com/epublications/a-life-in-recipes-by-elizabeth-david-3f654d43a42a  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/life-recipes-arsalan-hussain/  https://www.evernote.com/shard/s403/sh/7d261eae-b7ce-4fd1-aa47- 80f61856b6d9/e305eac3775c51aeec43a67a0d0c4c70  https://publication.kinja.com/book-a-life-in-recipes-1830633208  https://www.cinemaparadiso.co.uk/rentals/elizabeth-david-a-life-in-recipes-176168.html

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