The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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August 16, 2020

Only connect: Miss Pemberton and Ms. Kaye-Smith


"I must congratulate you on your excellent war cookery, Miss Pemberton," said Mr. Villars. 'This would make Mrs. Chapman jealous, Verena."

"Indeed it would," said Mrs. Villars. knowing full well the measure of her excellent cook's contempt for anyone's cooking but her own. "May I guess what's in it, Miss Pemberton? I have found rice and mushroom and little bits of bacon and tomato, I think, and I suspect paprika."

Miss Pemberton smiled grimly.

"'And I would have said that the rice was cooked in veal stock, bit I know Fletcher's had no veal this wek, nor had Bones," said Mrs. Turner.

"Stock from a rabbit," said Mrs Pemberton less grinly. ...

"There is something else," said Mrs. Turner, "but I can't quite spot it. You ought to write a cookery book, Miss Pemberton." ...

(same dinner party, several pages later)

"Excuse me one moment, Downing," said Mr. Holden. "The word Virelais somehow reminded me of it. Oatmeal! I know it would come to me."

His hearers looked at him with stupor, but Miss Pemberton, whose mind was very acute, allowed her face to relax into an expression not remotely connected with approval.

"You are right, Mr. Holden," she said. "I thickened the stock with it."

"By Jove! I knew there was something," said Mr. Holden. "Look here, Miss Pemberton, you simply must do a cookery book for us. I know Coates would jump at it. May I put it up to him and get him to write to you? If you can do it as a series of articles with a literary flavour and some good quotations, we could get them into a high-class women's magazine first, and then publish it in book form. Will you consider it?"

"It depends what you offer," said Miss Pemberton. "We will talk about it later. Will you go on, Harold?"

It was just a coincidence {or possibly the realization that in our gradual, sort-of, step-skipping return to normal, I have library books that I'll actually have to return soon :)} that I read these two books one almost after the other, but to go from Miss Pemberton's fictional cookery book to Ms. Kaye-Smith's real one was delightful no matter how it came about.  

Over the last few months I've found myself doing as much comfort-rereading as new reading, and this has included picking up again with reading Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire novels in order, starting over again because it was more fun than figuring out where I had left off.:) I went almost right from Cheerfulness Breaks In to Northbridge Rectory because of the unforgivable way that Thirkell ended the former {with Lydia Keith, (finally!) newly married to Noel Merton, receiving a telegram} and even though overall I enjoyed Cheerfulness more, I relished every scene with proud, hen-pecking, affectionate, cranky Miss Pemberton in it.

Early in the war I realized that I ought to learn to cook. ... I remembered the upheavals caused by the last war in my mother's home and I did not want to be caught unprepared by any later stages of this.

      Cooking was my main anxiety, partly because I had no experience of it -- whereas I had done my fair if clumsy share of sweeping, dusting,  and bedmaking -- and partly because I knew that for ordinary housework I had a reservoir of local talent to draw from, whereas the local cooks had inspired me only with dread of their tender mercies.

      Besides, though I had not actually practiced the art, I was deeply interested in it and had a passable knowledge of its theory. Ever since I became a housekeeper in my own right I had been careful to engage good cooks and had enjoyed planning meals, trying new ideas, introducing new recipes and new kinds of things to eat. I could not bear the thought of being left in inexpert hands or floundering helplessly by myself through a painful system of trial and error.

I had borrowed Kitchen Fugue from the college library {that's the one that's actually due soon} because after reading Talking of Jane Austen I went looking for more that she had written. In it, she describes learning to cook, in middle age, under war time restrictions, after growing up with servants and having never done so before -- with recipes, and menus, along with childhood memories, gardening, keeping rabbits,  living with cats, her own "literary flavour and some good quotations," and other non-cooking tangents. In her book, Miss P., who lives in genteel poverty, would probably not have described cooking as a creative outlet, though doing it well may have secretly been one for her.  I enjoyed Kitchen Fugue; still, I'm left with a longing now to read Miss Pemberton's book. 


Northbridge Rectory, by Angela Thirkell
Virago Books, originally published in 1941
Read on my Kindle

Kitchen Fugue, by Sheila Kaye-Smith
Harper and Brothers Publishers (1945)
Borrowed from the college library



4 comments:

JoAnn said...

They both sound lovely! I seem to have stalled on Angela Thirkell... will get back to her eventually.

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

I had no idea Kaye-Smith had written a cookbook. She seems to have tried her had at pretty much everything as far as I can see. And I'm always delighted to be reminder of Barsetshire so thanks for these excellent excerpts!

Karen K. said...

I was agog at the Cheerfulness Breaks in cliffhanger as well -- I was anxiously awaiting mention of Lydia in Northbridge Rector and thought Thirkell had forgotten and was going to keep me hanging! I loved this one though I thought it started a bit slow, now I need to keep going and move on to Marling Hall.

I also own Speaking About Jane Austen which came highly recommended to me by the former leader of my Jane Austen society group. Still haven't read it but I did read Joanna Godden which I loved. I also own another of her novels called Susan Spray that I picked up in a used bookstore, looks intriguing. Now I'll have to look for her cookbook.

Audrey said...

My theory is that she DID forget ... and suddenly remembered about halfway through and tossed in a sentence about them. :) All part of the fun.

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