Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Year in Books: February

Before we run out of February here is my book for the month: An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, a compilation of the journalism of Elizabeth David.  I adore reading Elizabeth David's cookery writing, she wrote as well as she cooked, so that her pieces are pithy, inspiring and taste good to read, odd though that statement sounds.  She had a real skill in recalling a place and a time, so that as she travels you walk through markets, taste, smell and eat with her.  If she did not like something, a restaurant, or the sample tinned pies sent by publicity departments with an optimism born of lunacy, or the British practise of taking other countries' dishes and bastardising them, she could be devastating.  In the case of one restaurant she adds in an after-note that sometime after the publication of her piece the restaurant had lost its Michelin star!

The pieces are a whole mixture and show the sheer variation that can be achieved when writing about food, there are short biographies of key figures like Mrs Beeton and Marcel Boulestin, an account of the invention of tinned tomatoes, numerous wonderful travel pieces (she would have made a good travel writer), various aspects of the history of food are covered, as well as the more usual pieces containing recipes.  I cannot recommend this book enough, her writing is a joy and her passion for good food, properly made, is inspiring.

I would love a kitchen like this

Elizabeth David began writing on her return from Egypt in 1946, where she had been working during the war, because she missed the food of the Mediterranean and the sunshine.  When her first book, A Book of Mediterranean Food, was published in 1950 food was still rationed and many of the ingredients were largely unobtainable, except sometimes in small shops in Soho, but the book was wonderfully aspirational, a reminder that food could be something more than a problem to be solved.  She went on to write a number of books on European food, which were followed by a few more scholarly, in depth books on English food, including a superb book on bread.  Although she died two decades ago, many modern chefs still cite her as an inspiration and if you love food I would recommend you get hold of her books and start reading.  The books are still in print, although second hand copies are available more cheaply and two colour books compilations of her recipes have been published more recently, At Elizabeth David's Table and Elizabeth David on Vegetables This Guardian article has more about Elizabeth David, her extraordinary life and her legacy.

If you knit and have heard of Elizabeth Zimmermann then you may understand more when I say that what Elizabeth Zimmermann was to knitting in the second half of the twentieth century, Elizabeth David was to food.  I often associate the two of them in my mind, they were born at a similar time into a similar social class and both were determined, opinionated women who pursued their passion.

You can find the other blog posts in the Year of Books here


  1. oh I love reading cookbooks! that sounds wonderful x

  2. Thank you for this great review, I think Elizabeth David and Zimmerman are true heroines xox

  3. Oh yes, such a lovely book, and I totally agree about the Elizabeths David and Zimmermann! x

  4. Thank you everyone, it's a great read :-) And Laura this year in books thing is great, thank you for setting it up

  5. Another title to add to my list ... I need more reading time as well as more time for my knitting! Great review :)