The Downstairs Cookbook: Recipes From A 1920s Household Cook by Margaret Powell
|The Downstairs Cookbook: Recipes From A 1920s Household Cook by Margaret Powell|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Over 500 recipes which were in use in the 1920s accompanied by cooking hints and anecdotes about what it was like to be 'in service'.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: October 2012|
Margaret Powell began her life in service as a housemaid, but she had an interest in cooking (her mother wouldn't allow her to learn at home as food was too precious to waste) and by talking to cooks, watching what they did and making notes she eventually rose to be cook in the grand houses on the nineteen twenties. The Downstairs Cookbook is her collection of the recipes which she used, or which were current at the time. But it's more than that. Think of it as being rather like a visit to a good cookery school where you'd collect all those hints and tips which make recipes work and the anecdotes about life in a professional kitchen.
Firstly, in terms of the number of recipes here, it's real value. There are over five hundred: contrast this with many modern recipe book where we're expected to be delighted by the promise of 'over 120 new recipes!' Then the content will be padded out with glossy photos of artistically arranged food. The Downstairs Cookbook doesn't have a single picture - glossy or otherwise - and the only piece of artistry is on the front cover. You're getting content not glitz.
It is though, of its time. Bear in mind that these were recipes which originated in the twenties and were then first published in the eighties. It's obvious to say that times have changed, but tastes certainly have and so has equipment. Oven temperatures are given in Fahrenheit and you will have to remember to convert to centigrade (table at the front of the book) unless you have a particular penchant for burnt food. Measurements are given in pounds and ounces rather than grams. Gill consistently means a quarter of a pint, which confused me at first as when I was a child a gill meant a half pint - and usually referred to beer...
In terms of taste and attitude I was initially shocked to see a recipe for Larks' Tongue Pate, but it was of course, of its time. Food generally was for 'them upstairs' and meals had a number of courses which wouldn't be countenanced these days, not least because of the time involved. In consequence some of the recipes might feed fewer people (larger helpings because of a reduced number of courses) but most cooks with any experience will quickly spot this. My only other concern with the recipes was on the cooking of vegetables where the recommended times were rather longer than I would expect. Once again - if you've any experience in the kitchen it won't be a problem.
The range of recipes is excellent if very British. I won't say that you'll find every dish you could imagine here but you will find something for every occasion. It's particularly good on sauces although if I was being picky I would have liked advice about what the individual sauces accompanied.
The anecdotes at the beginning of each chapter are fascinating. They give a real sense of what it was like to be in service and also of how people - both upstairs and downstairs - ate in the twenties. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If you're looking for another book which will supply a recipe for every occasion then my standby is Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course. If you're interested in the way that food has changed then you might like to try A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright. And if you'd like to know more about Margaret Powell's life in service then you'll love Below Stairs: The Bestselling Memoirs of a 1920s Kitchen Maid.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Downstairs Cookbook: Recipes From A 1920s Household Cook by Margaret Powell at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Downstairs Cookbook: Recipes From A 1920s Household Cook by Margaret Powell at Amazon.com.
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