I came across this wonderful title recently in a second hand bookshop. I knew Molly Keane as a novelist who has had a number of works published as Virago Modern Classics, and couldn't resist picking up this title which seemed very different from the novels that I have read.
Molly Keane wrote the book when she was faced with cooking for her children, with only the assistance of her au pair. Her husband had died suddenly, and owing to straightened circumstance, she could no longer afford Nanny, and had to cope on her own. Predominantly a recipe book for use in the nursery, it incorporates a lengthy introduction outlining Keane's views on feeding children, but also Keane's memories of eating during her childhood and the various characters who taught her about food. We meet Elspeth the au pair (whose recipes feature extensively - such as Elspeth's orange yoghurt, and Elspeth's Eggs en cocette), Mrs Finn, the cook from her childhood. Quotations from this introduction are peppered throughout the text, personalising it in the way that most recipe books are today, but was less usual then.
"I feel strongly that to be acceptable, children's food should be varied, even a little startling, and pretty enough to please the eye"
The book is divided into Soups and stews ; savouries ; puddings ; cakes and biscuits ; cooking for festive occasions and provides a plethora of recipes falling into each category. Flicking through the book I found a mixture of the familiar (coffee and walnut cake, bakewell tart, swiss roll) and the less familiar (cabinet pudding, gur cake); whilst it is probably dated as a cookery book or instruction manual in how to feed children I felt that it was of its time and could be read nostalgically. There was also to my surprise, a final chapter on feeding dogs!
Definitely enjoyed reading this as a piece of social history, more than a cookery book.
Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham
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