“My idea of a good dinner is, first to have a good dinner, then discuss good food, and after this good food has been elaborately discussed, to discuss a good topic – with me as chief conversationalist.”
Sir Winston Churchill
During a visit to America, Winston Churchill was invited to a buffet luncheon at which cold fried chicken was served. Returning for a second helping, he asked politely, ” May I have some breast?” “Mr. Churchill,” replied the hostess, “in this country we ask for white meat or dark meat.” Churchill apologized profusely. The following morning, the lady received a magnficent orchid from her guest of honor. The accompanying card read: I would be most obliged if you would pin this on your white meat.”
One of the many Churchill stories
I’ve just finished reading a most insightful, as well as, delightful book: Dinner with Churchill / Policy-Making at the Dinner Table by Cita Stelzer
As I truly adore Winston, I adore dinner as well–cooking it and eating it—what could be bad about a book which combines both?! The answer to that little notion would be absolutely nothing— as it was /is a great little read.
I have always been one to tout the virtues of feasting and fellowshipping, as I’ve often written about such, extolling the virtues of “breaking bread” with family, friends and strangers–because after the breaking of said bread, the latter will no longer be a stranger. It seems as if the Prime Minister and I were and are on the same page. Lest I remind you that great minds think alike—
As I was reading through this tasty little morsel for the mind, I came upon a description regarding the cook whom the Churchills had hired when Winston was Prime Minister. As the Churchills entertained a great deal, at either N0. 10 Downing as well as at their permanent residence at Chartwell, they were in great need of a great cook.
Enter Mrs. Georgina Landemare.
Mrs. Landemare was married to one of France’s more renowned chefs yet she, herself, was no stranger to the kitchen. Upon her husband’s early death, Mrs. Landemare decided she would take on some temporary work and job assignments cooking for some of England’s more prestigious events. The Churchills first procured her services for the occasional weekend gala or banquet at Chartwell. It wasn’t until the war broke out in 1939 that she actually offered her services full-time to the Churchills, as her part for the war effort—what a brave woman! Following the war, Mrs Landemare remained cooking for the Churchills for the next 15 years up until her retirement in 1954.
Imagine my excitement when I read in Ms Stelzer’s book that Mrs. Landemare had actually written a cookbook in 1958 on behest of Mrs. Churchill! Oooooo, I just had to find a copy! Imagine—me cooking dishes, the same dishes, Winston would oooo and coo over—I felt the excitement rising.
First I had to find the book.
And just as I pretty much figured—the book was long out of print.
But leave it to my trusty Amazon— there just happened to be a copy or two that could be found, for a wee fee no doubt, from a used book source. And in this case, one located in the UK.
Well, I’m a sucker for my quests and goosechases so I picked the copy I thought was in the better shape, pushed the order button and proceeded to wait with grand anticipation.
I had thought that once the book arrived, I’d pick a fun little recipe and give it a go here—you know, for you and me. I’d highlight a particularly Churchillian looking dish, preparing it step by step, taking photos all along the way, all for our fun—your’s and mine. That whole Julie and Julia thing but this would be Winston, Georgina, and Julie.
The book made it’s way from there to here, safely arriving at the end of last week. I was so excited. I practically ran back from the mailbox. I gently unwrapped it, taking in that musty old book smell, gently opening the marvelous little tome as I began to sift through the recipes.
Suddenly it dawned on me. . .
There will be hurdles.
There will be the wading through the “translation” as it were. I know, you’re thinking how in the world can you mess up translating from English to English—well, since we are talking about US English verses UK English, there are some very distinct and subtle differences. Also I fear we will run into a bit of trouble with the measurements. . . but thankfully this book does enlist, on the whole, the imperialistic measurement system, none of that metric nonsense I never could figure out in grade school (there’s a post there somewhere).
Plus certain items that may be called for, say in the UK, may not be called for here in the US or exist here in the US. Then of course there’s our love of the step by step, spell it out in plain simple terms, which is not exactly the mantra of this little book– or– maybe it is and that’s actually part of the problem. Then there’s the hunting and the procuring the right ingredients here in the US, which may not be as easy as anticipated—enter the world wide web. . .
And of course there was that whole rationing of food items as that was such a very keen part of the UK throughout the duration of the war and beyond. Cooking and substituting became a way of life to the intuitive cook—as is the mark of truly any great cook. And then there’s that whole modern take on things verses the not so modern. . .and with the book being written in 1958, we’re talking not so modern.
Just let me share a few examples with you. . .
The first stumbling block I ran across was Mrs. Landemare’s constant call for a “gill”
“A gill of cream”
“a gill of oil”
“a gill of water”
What in the heck does a fish have to do with any of this I wondered.
Then there was the call for “oiled butter” How does one oil butter—isn’t butter greasy enough?
Everything is to put into a basin. Would that be the kitchen sink or somewhere in the bathroom?
“Add a knob of butter”—now you’re talking. . . I wonder how many tablespoons the average doorknob measures.
Mrs Landemare will have us bake in “a slow oven”, “a medium oven”, “a cool oven,” yet “the oven should not be too hot”—no clue there.
When adding the butter to the flour, one is to “rub it together”—between my hands, my fingers. . .hummm
When mixing, one should beat things for 20 minutes or longer, be it eggs, sugar, cream—I’m thinking that is by hand so surely a mixer could cut that by at least half.
Measurements come in a wide variety: 1 teacup, 1/4 teacup, 1 coffecup full, 1 salt spoon, 2 breakfast cups or a dessertspoon full. . .hummmmm. . .but I do like the call for one wineglass of rum—my wine glasses are those rather large balloon types–could make for a little fun or a little disaster in the kitchen. . .
There is the “bare 1/2 oz of yeast” —bare? does that mean naked or minimal?
the 2 tablespoons of Kümmel —what is Kümmel?
dark foot sugar, caster sugar or Demerara—-still trying to figure out the dark foot business
a call for French sago or the 1/2 pound of nouille paste—again, what???
the need for the crushed ratafia biscuits–what??
the whole Vanilla essence verses Vanilla flavoring–whatever happened to good ol extract?
one should mask the top of the pudding with the jam—really?
pour contents into castle pudding cups–mine don’t look like castles
grated suet–I thought we fed that to birds
I need to increase my variety of flour as she calls for rice flour, potato flour, self-rising flour and good ol plain flour.
one example of say, I’m guessing, chocolate sauce is to:
“Melt 6 bars (yet she often calls for a slab–is a slab bigger than a bar?) of chocolate (would that be a hershey bar, milk, dark, unsweetened, bittersweet, 70% , 60%, 3.5 oz??) in a gill of water (again how much water can a fish gill hold?) add 1 oz of sugar and a knob of butter (again my happy place of excessive butter but I fear it might make things a tad greasy) Cook 5 minutes (cook on what, low, med, simmer? Should it be in a bowl over simmering water, over direct heat ???)
And just for fun I’ll offer her recipe for a wedding cake. No need here anymore for that but I was quite taken by, first the list of ingredients and then secondly by the “simple” preparation—
3 lbs. butter
4 1/2 lbs sugar
4 lbs of currants (tiny raisins for you and I)
4 lbs sultans (raisins for your and I)
2 lbs peel (I’m thinking maybe lemon?)
1 lb chopped almonds
4 1/2 lbs plain flour
1 lb glacè cherries (I think those candied types)
1 teaspoon spice and cinnamon mixed (I suppose it’s your call on the spice)
1 gill of brandy (I was hoping for the wine glass)
Grated rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon (which takes me back to that whole 2 lbs of peel business)
Cream together the butter and sugar, preferably with the hand (hummmm—don’t wear your rings) until very light.
Beat in the eggs and sifted flour alternately (all freaking 36 of them and 4 1/2 hefty pounds)
Beat all together for 10 minutes (I’m thinking that is again, by hand)
Add gradually all the fruit (does that include the peel?), spice (remember, your call) and grated rinds.
Finally stir in the brandy (just a gill no wineglass?)
Cover a baking sheet with salt or sand ( whoa, sand??!!) Line the tin (would that be the cake pan?)
or tins ( layers or one giant thing) with greaseproof paper (hummm) and place three thicknesses of brown paper on the outside of the tin. (What?!)
Place cake mixture in tin, or tins, stand (how’s that work?) on the prepared baking sheet (with the sand) and bake in a moderate oven (not slow or cool, but moderate) for the first two hours, lowering the heat slightly for the further five hour. ( 7 hours to bake a cake??!!)
Once I settle on a recipe, I’ll let you know—it won’t be the wedding cake, but I’ll find us something tasty. . .
Until then I’ve got to find some dark foot sugar.
***PS–Please, all my UK friends, forgive my ignorance—I’m learning–it is obvious that Mrs. Landemare had the gift of the intuitive—she cooked and created by an innate sense and ability. A gift that can take others a lifetime to barely develop—hence why the Churchills loved her.
Thanks to a little internet research I am uncovering the secret identity to gils, ratafia, and oiled butter—but the dark foot sugar—still a mystery. . . .