Stella Douglas’s editor calls her to come and see her in London. And so Stella ventures from the safety of Yorkshire where she is esconced with her recently widowed father, in fear and trepidation, knowing that the biography that she proudly wrote about an 18th century cook, has not been the success she had hoped. To her surprise though, she’s asked to write another book. This time, she’s requested to compile a history of English food and what English people enjoy eating. The theory behind it is to bolster the English population that is floundering after the war. Reminding them of their glorious food will surely boost morale … won’t it? The problem is that most English food actually originates from elsewhere.
Stella cleverly (she thinks) places adverts in various newspapers asking for submissions of favourite English recipes from housewives around the country. What she receives in return is an abundance of uninspiring recipes for potatoes and every type of oat and seedcake imaginable! I must admit, I thought this must have had something to do with rations and housewives needing to make the most of what was available – but nevertheless, this just wasn’t going to meet the mandate that Stella has! She realises that she’s going to have to step out of her comfort zone. If the recipes aren’t going to come to her, she’s going to have to go out and find what she needs. She decides she’s going to take herself on a road-trip to meet the housewives of England to talk to them about what they enjoy cooking, hoping to hear some stories along the way that she might be able to include.
Things don’t go according to plan – which Stella is beginning to expect with this project! She wonders if the women of England have any imagination whatsoever. Have they really just relied on ‘borrowed’ food all this time? But then her car breaks down (of course … what else could go wrong?!) and she meets Freddie, a charming and cheeky antique dealer who offers her an idea that’s really out-of-the box! So out there, that it might actually work!
This is a story of journeys: It’s Stella’s journey to becoming more self-assured and independent – no mean feat for a woman in the early 1930’s who was supposed to “know her place”. It’s also a food journey, how the way we eat has changed, and how the way we perceive food and eating habits has evolved … or has it? It was amusing to read about what housewives back then complained about. Some things don’t seem that differed to what we complain about today! But on her quest, Stella also discovers that there are some rather stark differences between the haves and the have-nots. Class differences are very apparent as are negative attitudes towards anyone who is “other” (i.e.: not English). We really do have to wonder if things have changed much or not.
All in all, this is a gentle, heart-warming book, well researched, and enormously interesting. I give it 4 stars and highly recommend it. Thank you to Random Things Tours …
Caroline completed a PhD in History at the University of Durham. She developed a particular interest in the impact of the First World War on the landscape of Belgium and France, and in the experience of women during the conflict – fascinations that she was able to pursue while she spent several years working as a researcher for a Belgian company. Caroline is originally from Lancashire, but now lives in southwest France. The Photographer of the Lost was a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick.