This time of year, once the 'holidays' are repacked into their storage boxes and stuffed in the attic or basement, small pleasures return to everyday life. How peaceful to sit by the fire on a late Winter's afternoon when the necessary chores are completed for the day. Dinner preparations are done, the candles are glowing, we pour an aperitif, throw on another log and a shower of sparks crackle and pop on the hearth. Through the windows I watch the birds arrive at the feeders for their last meal as dusk descends. A large grey cat pads softly across the deck going who knows where for the night........snow is forecast.
The perfect time to pull out a new book.............received as a gift, purchased online, or with a gift card at a local bookshop, even borrowed from the library, or one that's been sitting on a shelf waiting patiently for you to find the time to open the cover and start reading.
Lucky me..............I recently received another beautiful book to read and review from publisher Glitterati Incorporated.
We English, often known for our eccentricities, have historically been at the forefront of the cooking scene, but not always described in glowing terms. The peculiarity of some foods, and cooking methods of such, have been much lambasted. The words, overcooked, mushy, grey, soggy, come quickly to mind. Travelers to the British Isles would return to their homeland bad-mouthing the poor and often inedible offerings, from ritzy London dining establishments to railway cafés out in the distant counties. Much of that was true at one time. However, away from the commercial restaurants there was always beautiful food being prepared in Britain's homes, be it the country estate of a wealthy duke, or the remote thatched farmhouse on a wild moorland......
.............and then there was Mrs. Charles Darwin.
Emma Darwin ~ 1840
Emma was married to her cousin Charles Darwin, both of whom were grandchildren of Josiah Wedgwood, of pottery and china fame. Charles became world famous as a 19th century scientist and intellectual, and was author of many books on evolution, including On the Origin of Species. Emma took time from caring for her husband whose health was poor, and giving birth to ten children, to run their household alongside several servants, like many Victorian women of her status. Responsible for the domestic space at their comfortable country home, Down House in Kent, including feeding the family and entertaining, she also directed the kitchen staff and kept the accounts.
In this beautifully photographed and illustrated book, based on Emma's small, handwritten recipe book, we not only are immediately absorbed by the story of this famous Victorian family in the brilliant introduction, we are also privy to viewing the original recipes written in Emma's own handwriting and the modern day versions of preparing some very interesting dishes. It's not known how much cooking Emma did herself, but her knowledge of the way a kitchen was run was good. Her recipes are what we call 'good plain cooking', but the chapter titled Puddings and Sweet Things shares marvelous rich desserts loaded with cream, eggs and fresh fruit, apparently loved by Mr. Darwin.
Guess where I'll be on these cold wintry days - whipping up some great new dishes, and not one will be soggy or grey!
Mrs. Charles Darwin's Recipe Book is a great book for cooks interested in the Victorian era kitchen, recipe book collectors, and those who enjoy British history and stories of famous families.
Available here from Glitterati, Incorporated.
All images from
Mrs.Charles Darwin's Recipe Book
Revived and Illustrated
By Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway
Published by Glitterati, Inc. www.glitteratiincorporated.com
Note: I feel a small personal connection to the Darwin/Wedgwood family. I discovered, while reading this wonderful book, that one of their china patterns was Wedgwood's EDME. I have a much-loved coffee service and a graceful vase in this plain but elegant pattern. Also, in the elegant and historic Hesketh Crescent where I often stay when visiting my hometown in England, one apartment displays a plaque by the front door. Engraved are dates in the Summer of 1861 when Charles Darwin stayed there with Emma, and their daughter Henrietta, while researching and penning notes for another book following the publication of On the Origin of Species, the book described by Thomas Huxley as, "the most potent instrument for the extension of the realm of natural knowledge which has come to men's hands, since (the 18th century) publication of (Sir Isaac)Newton's Principia."