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


  1. Such good descriptive writing, isn't this? I can really see the kitchens she's describing (and I want the French one...)

  2. I love hearing about other kitchens, especially those belonging to passionate cooks. Very interesting quotes!