30 May 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food: The Joy of Eating

1872 - 1942

In honour of cherry pie a special eulogy should be written, one not restricted to the limitations of page or space.  The sensitive hand of a Gaugin is required to portray the bowl - a bowl of Old Staffordshire in flowing blue, into whose heavenly depths the luscious crimson of juicy fruit was pitted.  And only the epicure in taste and touch can gauge for you the exact amount of sugar which will temper the acid and still leave free just the right tartness to tingle the palate and tease the tongue.  My mother, however, knew her cherry pie.  She compounded a mixture of flour, lard, and water, rolled it into a nicety of depth, neatly fitted it to a tin, and filled it not quite to the top with cherries reeking of crimson juice.  A second crust embellished with an embroidered scroll was laid over the top, pinched down around the edges to melt with its mate, and the whole brought to a state of consummate perfection in an oven of slow-baking temperature.  Served, not warm, never chilled, but just fresh, a cherry pie like this without doubt one of the items in those Olympic feasts which gave rise to the phrase 'foods for the gods'.

The Country Kitchen

Cherry Pie à la Mode by Hall Groat II

23 May 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food: The Joy of Eating

1893 - 1978

24 October 1929.  It was a ravishing sou' westerly morning.  In the afternoon it poured with rain and I shopped at Barkers, buying a pineapple and half a stilton, and thinking how scandalously easy it was to be kind, when one had money to spend.  In the morning I had decided henceforth I only cared for easy loves.  It is so degrading to have to persuade people into liking one, or one's works.  Let be.  Then I made damson pickle three 2lb pots.

15 February 1930.  (London) A cold, pretty day, very young - bright sunshine one minute and next everything black and growling.  Dorothie Machel to spend the night.  We dined off mulligatawney, chicken with almonds and an orange soufflé that was out of breath, but made a good custard.  After dinner D.M. and I fell to duets, and the house rocked with our attack of the scherzo and finale of number 5.


Still Life with a Pineapple by George Walter Harris

19 May 2014

Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim

If you are in the mood for something chilling and scandalous this book would certainly fit the bill.  Published anonymously in 1921, the title refers to Vera Wemyss who flung herself onto the flagstone patio from a window in her palatial home.  Fifteen years of marriage to a controlling, narcissistic, misogynist completely withered her self-esteem to a point beyond despair.  This character, Everard, was based on Elizabeth von Arnim's second husband, Francis Russell, the elder brother of Bertrand Russell.  If the characterization is even remotely true, exposing him in print this way must have been incredibly cathartic.

The novel is set in 1920 and opens with twenty-two year old Lucy, half in shock over the death of her dear father.  His body is being laid out by two women from the village.  Father and daughter had barely arrived in Cornwall to spend August and September in a pretty cottage to enjoy the fresh air.  A lovely change of scenery from their home in the London borough of Bloomsbury.  Clearly, vacations should be viewed with much trepidation as Lucy's mother had died barely twenty-four hours after arriving at their summer house one July, several years earlier.

Standing by the garden gate, staring at nothing while lost in grief, Mr Wemyss strolls past.  Recognizing the look of someone adrift he stops for a chat.  His wife, Vera, has died only two weeks before and with the details of her suicide available in the papers he is in hiding from public opinion.  So quickly does he ingratiate himself into her sphere that Miss Entwhistle, Lucy's aunt, assumes Wemyss must be a close friend.

'In the dark under the mulberry tree, while her aunt talked softly and sadly of the past, Wenyss had sometimes laid his hand on Lucy's, and she had never taken hers away.  They had sat there, content and comforted to be hand in hand.  She had the trust in him, he felt, of a child; the confidence, and the knowledge that she was safe.  He was proud and touched to know it, and it warmed him through and through to see how her face lit up whenever he appeared.  Vera's face hadn't done that.  Vera had never understood him, not with fifteen years to do it in, as this girl had in half a day.  And the way Vera had died'....'the determination to do what suited her, to lean out of the dangerous window if she wished to....'

Thoroughly taken with the idea of having a father-figure in her life once more, Lucy, allows herself to be led to the alter.  I was so hoping that the suspicions of Aunt Entwhistle would outweigh her Edwardian etiquette of  ladylike decorum but no.  As you can probably guess, once a wedding ring was on Lucy's finger she became Everard's next victim to bully at will or for entertainment.  She immediately begins to shrink under the horror of being expected to sleep in Vera's bed, sit at her dressing table, look in her mirror...or worse, gaze from the very window where Vera flung herself to escape life with a despicable man.

Of the ending...

'Katherine Mansfield replied to Dorothy Brett's critical opinion of Vera:

Isn't the end extraordinarily good.  It would have been so easy to miss it.  She carried it right through.  I admired the end most, I think.  Have you never known a Wemyss?  Oh, my dear, they are very plentiful!  Few men are without a touch.  And I certainly believe that husbands and wives talk like that.  Lord, yes!
You are so very superior, Miss, in saying half an hour would be sufficient.  But how is one to escape?

The ending wasn't what I expected but Mansfield was absolutely right.  A couple of years ago I read von Arnim's book Love and wasn't overly bowled over by it but this story was a winner with me.  This would make a terrific read during November's atmospheric cloudy weather or this summer to give you a chill!

'Lady Orpen in her Drawing Room' by William Orpen

16 May 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1913 - 1980

'I suppose old atheists seem less wicked and dangerous than young ones,' said Jane.  'One feels that there is something of the ancient Greeks in them.'
  Father Lomax, who evidently thought no such thing, let the subject drop and then somehow he and Nicholas were talking about parish matter, parochial church council meeting, Sunday school teachers and visiting preachers.  Jane lay back in her chair lost in thought, wondering about Mr. Mortlake and his friends.  Flora got up and quietly refilled the coffee cups, offering a plate of biscuits to Father Lomax.  But he refused them with an absent-minded wave of the hand.  Meat offered to idols, thought Flora scornfully, taking a biscuit herself and eating it.  Then, as nobody seemed to be taking any notice of her, she ate another and another until the clock struck ten...

Jane and Prudence

13 May 2014

A Silly Dog, An Assignment, and a Train Ride

What a morning.  Thunder began to shake the house just after 3 am which meant I was sandwiched in bed between a husband and a nervously panting dog compelled to repeatedly stand up, turn around, and plop down again.  I should just about be able to function for my shift at the library this afternoon but my friends at the pub quiz tonight might need to nudge me every now and again for any participation.

Posting has been scarce to say the least but I have been busily engaged in other bookish pursuits.  Last week I was assigned a VLS (visiting library service) customer as one of my goals regarding performance at the library.  The woman assigned to me still lives in her own home but getting out to the library is proving difficult.  Previously, these customers were known as shut-ins which sounds horribly institutional so thank goodness that term has been updated to something more positive and cheery.

Meeting with the head of the VLS department I was given a sheet of paper outlining my customer's name, the number of books, magazines, or movies she wanted, the name of the volunteer who would drop off the items and which week of the month everything was to be packed up and ready to go.  I had to ask..."What is the chance that my customer is a war-bride, an English ex-pat, a former member of the WI?" which brought the expected howls of laughter from my colleagues.  The head replied "Don't ask me that or I will challenge you and present someone completely opposite to what you want".  Just to show how flexible I am I replied that a Czechoslovakian cheese maker would also fit the bill.  Derailing agendas has long been a talent of mine.  As it turns out, once I logged on to my customer's profile her preferences are light British mysteries and BBC dramas....result!

Those of us on the circulation desk at the library regularly watch colleagues from the information desk appear in batches for monthly book review.  Since the reader's advisory we perform at circ is of the informal nature we are not included in these monthly reviews.  It was time for someone (me) to take the bull by the horns and ask how circ staff felt about a book club of our own and everyone is up for it!  My library circulates pre-packed book club kits containing twelve books and a reading group guide so access could not be simpler.  The majority vote is, so far, in favour of starting with Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky; two votes were for anything other than The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart.  My next challenge will be to find a central location for us to meet and to analyze our work schedule for a time when we are all available.  Actually, one of my colleagues has an unhealthy obsession with Skittles candy and favours Japanese anime so my toughest challenge just might be getting him to stay engaged in a book about occupied France.

Lastly, my husband and I took the train to Toronto this past weekend as the weather was absolutely perfect for strolling and a lunch in oh-so-trendy Yorkville.  It goes without saying that we browsed every bookshop we passed.  The cover on Stella Gibbons' Here Be Dragons caught my eye at Indigo...

'When Nell Sely moves from sleepy Dorset to Hampstead she leaves behind a childhood of dull teas and oppressive rules for the freedom of the big city.  Naive and only nineteen, she becomes romantically entwined with the wayward John Gaunt and falls in with London's bohemian crowd.  In this city of seductive, shifting morals, smoke-filled jazz clubs and glamorous espresso bars, Nell must master her new-found independence and learn to strike her own course.'

Then I flipped through the pages and spotted mention of Waterlow Park in Highgate.  It's a lovely park, even if the pathways and my sense of direction don't work well together, and I am really, really, really missing London so that sold me.  My husband enjoys anything considered a bit quirky so he brought home a copy of The Dead Father's Club by Matt Haig, a new favourite author since he thoroughly enjoyed his latest work The Humans.

That's all from me at the moment.  I have a date with a lint brush and my bed linens...oh that dog.

8 May 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1892 - 1985

My first kitchen was a stone-floored cottage in the Yorkshire dales.  It had a thick rag rug on the heart and a ceiling rack that held thin brown oatcake.  When soft and newly made, the oatcake hung in loops, which later dried out stiff and brittle.  The stone slab where it was baked made a little separate hearth at one side of the fireplace.  Thie high mantelpiece had a polished gun over it, and on it two china dogs and brass ornaments.  The window, almost blocked by red geraniums in flower-pots, was set deep in the thick stone wall; and most of the light came through an open door that gave onto the moor.  Fresh mountain air and the smell of cooking always filled this brightly polished kitchen.  I can remember a basin of mutton broth with a long-bones chop in it.  A man reached up to lift down a flap of oatcake to crumble into the broth, and I remember the warm, safe feel of the big sheepdog I leant against.  I remember, too, being carried high on the farmhand's shoulder and feeling him drop down and rise up as he picked white mushrooms out of the wet grass.  Once a week a wagonette ran to Skipton to take people to market.

My next kitchen was in a convent of French nuns at Skipton.  It had a high ceiling and a sense of space and peace.  The wooden tables were scoured white as bone, scrubbed along the grain with sharp river sand and whitening.  The wide range shone like satin; the steel fender and stands were rubbed bright with emery cloth.  In the wintry sunshine brass pans and silver dishcovers glittered on the cream plaster walls.  To prevent clogs slipping the flags were lightly sanded, and the hearthstone was white as drifted snow.  At one side of the fireplace stood an iron coffee-grinder; at the other sat a black-gowned little Sister, with white coif and blue apron, slicing vegetables, her clogs laid beside her and her white-stockinged feet on the rolled-back hearthrug...

My largest kitchen, masculine and enterprising, was at a boys' school.  Being 'northern' the bread was homemade, rising each week in a huge tub before the fire.  Piles of Yorkshire teacakes came daily from the baker, and a new gas-stove supplemented the oven range.  It was here I first realised the specialities of England, for my enterprising mother sent away to her Welsh home for small Welsh mutton, as she thought the large Yorkshire sheep very coarse.  We had bilberries from the mountains in leaking purple crates.  From the east coast came barrels of herrings and boxes of bloaters, and cream cakes in wooden shelved hampers from 'Buzzards of London'.  Apples came from Gloucestershire, and cream, in hygienic containers that weighed a ton, from Devon.  From the north came sacks of oatmeal.  Oxfordshire sent crates of wonderful fruit, Moorpark apricots, and apricot hams.  The beef was local; all the pressed beef and brawn moulds were learned in that kitchen and are genuine Yorkshire recipes from the dale farms.

Food in England

2 May 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food: The Joy of Eating

1882 - 1941


Here was my soup.  Dinner was being served in the great dining-hall.  Far from being spring it was in fact an evening in October.  Everybody was assembled in the big dining-room.  Dinner was ready.  Here was the soup.  It was a plain gravy soup.  There was nothing to stir the fancy in that.  One could have seen through the transparent liquid any pattern that there might have been on the plate itself.  But there was no pattern.  This soup was plain.  Next came beef with its attendant greens and potatoes - a homely trinity, suggesting the rumps of cattle in a muddy market, and sprouts curled and yellowed at the edge, and bargaining and cheapening, and women with string bags on Monday morning.  There was no reason to complain of human nature's daily food, seeing that the supply was sufficient and coal-miners doubtless were sitting down to less.  Prunes and custard followed.  And if anyone complains that prunes, even when mitigated by custard, are an uncharitable vegetable (fruit they are not), stringy as a miner's heart and exuding a fluid such as might run in misers' veins who have denied themselves wine and warmth for eighty years and yet not given to the poor, he should reflect that there are people whose charity embraces even the prune.  Biscuits and cheese came next, and here the water-jug was liberally passed round, for it is the nature of biscuits to be dry, and these were biscuits to the core.  That was all. The meal was over.

A Room of One's Own

'The Kitchen' by Vanessa Bell