Elizabeth David
Guy Lochhead, 11/03/12
(1913-1992) A significant figure in British culinary history. She was born to a rich family in Sussex, England. As a schoolchild, she studied at the Sorbonne and lived with a French family for two years, which led to her love of travel and of other countries’ food (she hated contemporary English cooking). She left home young to travel round the Mediterranean with her married lover, but their plans were halted by the outbreak of the Second World War. They fled to France, Corsica and Italy, and were deported to Greece (they landed on the day Italy declared war on Britain). They settled in Greece, then Crete, then Egypt, where she worked for the Ministry of Information. She took on a marriage of convenience to Lieutenant-Colonel Tony David, but their month ended after an eight month posting in India. She returned to London in 1946 and began writing about cooking. In 1949 she published her first book, ‘Mediterranean Food’, which, along with her other books, massively changed the way Britain cooked. She wrote about food-travel for Vogue and opened a shop in Pimlico in 1965 selling artisan kitchenware. This has been the hardest evaluation for me to write… David basically set out the middle class’ aspirations in a way that has changed very little over the last sixty years. She introduced the taste of garlic, olive oil (in cooking), aubergines, courgettes, pasta, saffron and basil. She changed kitchen design to a more open-plan, “farmhouse” style, which I suppose pre-empted the city idealisation of country life, Country Life, Cath Kidston etc. I mean, basically she set the middle classes up with everything they want today, and I think a lot of that stuff is deluded, misleading and unachievable (at least in the way that David writes about it, for most people who are boring, sheltered and stuck). HOWEVER, post-war British food was SO BORING before her, and hearing someone talk about having pasta for the first time is moving and shakes me out of my complacency. This globalisation of tastes would always have happened. Finally, her writing style is absolutely brilliant. The recipes are not appropriated but always given with detailed descriptions of their context and historical background, and the occasional anecdote. They are concise but still get across the sheer joy and wonder of new foods and cultures. I am not a fan of everything David did in her life (marrying an English Colonel in India then returning to England to write for Vogue is beyond a joke) but her first book ‘Mediterranean Cooking’ was a culture-changer. When I think about this children’s programme, this blog, and my life in general, I have a recurring idea of a still-life oil painting of a fruit bowl brimming with local, exotic and extinct fruits. I suppose that’s what David actually achieved…

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