Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Game on, Elizabeth David...
I recently had a birthday, and for said birthday a lovely family friend gave me a cookery book (everyone seems to have picked up on my exciting new-ish obsession for cookery books...).
I got Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking, first published in 1960.
Elizabeth David is considered responsible for bringing French and Italian cooking into the British home (along with now ubiquitous items such as olive oil and the courgette). In a Britain worn down by post-war rationing and dull food, she celebrated the regional and rural dishes of the Mediterranean rather than the fussier food of the gourmands and aristocrats. David's style is characterised by terse descriptions of the recipes themselves, accompanied by detailed descriptions of their context and historical background, and often laced with anecdotal asides. She was often scathing of bad food, including much of the food of England that she and her readers had grown up with.
I used her book in conjunction with Mrs Beeton for one dish of my latest and greatest dinner party, so I was most distressed to read this quote from her.
"If I had been given a standard Mrs Beeton instead of Mrs Leyel's wonderful recipes," she said, "I would probably never have learned to cook."
I find it endlessly interesting that a woman who was born in 1913 and was given her first cook book age 19 (The Gentle Art of Cookery by Hilda Leyel) saw Mrs Beeton as the epitome of boring and bland British Cookery, whereas I, born 70 years later, find Mrs Beeton inhabiting a fascinating world of interesting ingredients and ideas. Things that were common place for Mrs Beeton and for Ms David are strange and unusual for me. And no doubt things that are ordinary for me would be bewildering for Mrs Beeton or anyone else of that era.
Anyway, I'll not hold Ms David's poor opinion of Mrs Beeton against her, as really... she didn't know any better.