How lovely it is to experience a literary dinner party, with succulent food, staff to cook, serve, and clean up the mess. Writing historical novels presents a fresh set of issues when serving up a good old-fashioned home cooked meal. The Cat Carlisle series, which takes place during the Second World War, speaks to a time when women’s roles—along with class distinctions—were changing. Many of those who worked in service left their domestic endeavors to work in an office, shop, or factory. This left many a middle-class woman to her own devices in the kitchen. Some were lucky enough to have people come cook for them, but by the time 1940 rolled around, cooks were in short supply. (Good help was hard to find!) When I wrote the dinner party scene in The Silent Woman, I imagined what I would do to cope in that situation.
Years ago I stumbled across a wonderful UK bookshop, Persephone Books. This lovely shop reprints fiction and non-fiction by mostly mid-twentieth women writers. Their list is amazing, and they are known for wonderful end papers in the books, which are sold with an accompanying bookmark.
My go-to cookery book for The Silent Woman was Good Things in England by Florence White. The Persephone catalog blurbs the book as follows: ‘One of the great English cookbooks, full of delightful, delicious recipes that actually work.’ In The Silent Woman the sit-down dinner consisted of roast lamb with a port wine sauce, haricot green beans, and stewed mushrooms. As for me, I don’t cook big dinners anymore, but I enjoy writing about them. It’s also very interesting to read cookbooks from this time period. So much is conveyed by the way people cooked and took their time over their food. Just another reason that I love writing historical fiction. I get to spend time reading these wonderful cookbooks and plan decadent meals that I will never have to actually cook.
I’ve attached a photos of a few recipes from the Good Things in England Cookbook. I have yet to try these recipes. If any of you are so inclined, I’d love to hear the results. And for those who are interested, stop by Persephone Books and peruse their site. Here’s the link: http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/