Review by Barbara Langworth
Mrs. Langworth published selections from the original edition of Recipes from No. 10, edited and annotated for the modern kitchen with the help of Lady Soames, in Finest Hour 95–115.
Georgina Landemare, Churchill’s Cookbook London: Imperial War Museum, 176 pages, £9.99 / $20.
It is 14 October 1940. London is being attacked. Churchill is dining with friends at 10 Downing Street. When a bomb hits Horse Guards Parade, Churchill has a “providential impulse.” He goes to the kitchen and prevails upon the cook, Mrs. Landemare, and the other servants to go to a shelter. He returns to the table only to hear a crash and realizes the house has been struck. Returning to the kitchen with his detective, they find deadly fragments of a large plate-glass window that has been blown to bits in a debris-strewed room.
With this dramatic scene Phil Reed, director of the Churchill War Rooms, introduces us to Georgina Landemare, the Churchills’ indomitable cook. Raised in Tring, Hertfordshire, she had been a kitchen maid in manor houses before marrying the well-known French chef Paul Landemare. From him she learned the fine art of cooking and after his death in 1932 became a much-desired cook for banquets and parties at homes of the Good and the Great. Hired at Chartwell for weekend house parties, she consistently impressed Clementine Churchill and the rest of the family with her delicious food and elegant presentations.
Mr. Reed’s introduction provides a concise review of Mrs. Landemare’s years with the Churchill family from the onset of war in 1939 until she retired in 1953 at the age of seventy. Five years later, Clementine Churchill prevailed upon her to write a cookery book. Recipes from No. 10 was published in 1958, containing “some 360 recipes…from pot-au-feu to a wedding cake,” as the jacket blurb stated. It sold very well but has long been out of print and can command a hefty price in the old book market.
The Imperial War Museum’s little volume has come to the rescue. A tremendous amount of interest in things Churchill was generated by the fiftieth anniversary of Sir Winston’s death in 2015, and many commemorations involved dining as Churchill did. What better reference book could there be than his cook’s own recipes?
Churchill’s Cookbook is not a reprint but an abridged version of the original with about 100 fewer recipes. It also replaces the charming sketches by Selma Nankivell with more mundane illustrations (the stick of butter illustrating the chapter on “Biscuits” is distinctly American). Good additions are the interesting facsimiles of Mrs. Landemare’s handwritten recipe slips that line the endpapers, and a helpful conversion chart.
But beware! You are told to add many unfamiliar ingredients: live lobster spawn, William pears, oiled butter, blade of mace, ratafia biscuits, “two sets of brains,” juice from “undercooked ham.” While knowledgeable English cooks may have no trouble with these, they will be unfamiliar to others. American terminology can be quite different, for example: rasher (slice) of bacon, treacle (molasses), mixed (prepared) mustard, chicory (endive), rocket (arugula). Mrs. Landemare’s sugars need their own dictionary. Then there are her utensils: basin (bowl) and mincer (grinder), to name two. Would-be Landemarians may also puzzle over her oven temperatures, from “very slow” (250–300° F. ) to “very hot” (450°+). Thankfully, with a little help from Google, you can decipher almost anything—even “flageolets” (the first recipe in the book).
Mrs. Landemare was praised for her simple but elegant presentations. I have never been able to discover contemporary photographs, so it is up to each cook’s imagination to arrange a dish worthy of Sir Winston.
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