Saturday, 27 November 2010

David or Goliath?- when two tribes go to war

The Lambasting and slaying of David.
Elizabeth David, deity, diva or devil?

It is the year 1950. David's first book French provincial cooking has been published. The first of many that laid the battlefield open for her enemies. She was an easy target, arrogant, female, posh, well travelled, a sharp character, bossy and a bit of a vamp

60 years on, it is now the year 2010. The Philistine army had gathered for war against David. The two armies faced each other, camped for battle on opposite sides of a steep valley. A Philistine giant measuring over nine feet tall and wearing full armour came out each day for forty days, mocking and challenging the Foodistas to fight his cause. His name was Hereward, more commonly known to some as Hayward. Chef Ramsay, the then king of west end dining, Oliver and the whole army were terrified of this modern Goliath. It was all very Wareing. This Darth invader, Hereward blogged in defence of the  British nation, whose gastronomic reputation was under fire. Outside influences on "our cuisine" were being promoted as negative and this was David's fault. "Who has the right to defy the culinary tradition of England?" These were dishes of which no-one in Britain had heard of. David turned in her grave hearing Hayward "word of mouthing" his daily defiance and could feel the great fear stirred within the cooks of England. When the giant criticized, insulted and threatened, David didn't stop or even waver. Everyone else cowered in fear, but David ran to the battle,knowing that action needed to be taken. David did the right thing in spite of discouraging insults and fearful threats.  David responded "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy God´s culinary army. Her exhortations to her troops were often amusing - unless you are able to keep your own hens and cultivate a comprehensive herb garden, her insistence that one's omelette must be made using only new-laid eggs, or that one must have just the right variety of fennel were simply not practical for the conscientous objectors.
No war grave was left unturned - Mrs Beeton stirred too - look at the spices she was citing in her recipes. Everyday food items had been imported for centurys...
 If only David  had been alive to volunteer to fight Goliath. It might have taken some persuasion but King Hale and Queen Jill Norman would have agreed to let David fight against the giant.This is how the battle scene might have looked. Dressed in  simple tunic, carrying a shepherd's staff, slingshots and a pouch full of stones, David approached Goliath. The giant cursed, hurling threats and insults.
To David´s loyal troops her food literature was considered a canon. Cannon to left of them cannon to the right of them, into the valley of death rode the 600, to the enemy her writings were cannon fodder, they were regarded as expendable in the face of artillery fire.
David chose not to wear the King's armour because it felt cumbersome and unfamiliar. David was comfortable in a pair of  simple slingshots, a weapon she became skilled at using. Voices rang in her head "God will use the unique skills he's already placed in your hands, so don't worry about "wearing the King's armor." Just be yourself and use the familiar gifts and talents God has given you. He will work miracles through you".
Should up and coming young chefs need to know who warrior David was, no it wouldn´t make a blind bit of difference or hamper development and progress in the ranks of modern kitchens.The fact is that her books and approach are important in how food writing has got to 'now'. It is a recognised practice for people coming up in any profession to jump over the shoulders of giants, emulate others in their field in order to get ahead faster and forge their own path. Young cooks don't need to know who she was.What is more important is that today, her allies,culinary officers General Slater, Lt. col F-Whittingstall and Major  Hopkinson acknowledge her influence. The David camp was not known for its military precision. Novices may find the recipes difficult to deal with at times, as she  perhaps expected a degree of confidence and common sense (even intelligence!) from her readers. What is wrong with old time measuring with tumblers and liqueur glasses, who measures things so precisely in their culinary work. Back at home rationing had been enforced David so understood what this was like. she taught a whole generation to  make Cheese pudding ( "Is there a nutmeg in the house" ) as a frugal supper dish. Something my dear mother proffered us as children growing up in the 50´s, and something I still make today. Elizabeth David's contribution to postwar British culture is hard to estimate.
So what legacy has this battle left us with. The general vapidity of telly cookery. Its all aboard the Nigella Express, armed with journals busting at the seams with the ridiculous concept of  `fashionable food.´ Don´t get me wrong The Domestic goddess had her place in 'How to Eat', when she was a food-writer rather than a 'lifestyle' brand. This is something David never aspired to. She was never  a "celebrity" - her only branding was  Divertimenti. David wanted a shop where the staff would know about what they were selling, and where all the beautiful batterie de cuisine that she herself would use could be found. Little did she know that her first small premises would, by 2010 have blossomed into culinary Aladdins caves, with cookery schools attached.
She was refreshingly down-to-earth in her approach to cooking equipment -  David wrote in a magazine article about her ideal kitchen (this is also reproduced in 'Is there a Nutmeg...' that she would be perfectly happy with the very ordinary Cannon gas cooker from her actual kitchen in London (should  there not be a blue plaque on her house?).
Her books are dated I have to say, but surely we  find it interesting to know the history behind a dish before we cook it. Cassoulet( French Provincial Cooking p.448), Les queues de boeuf des vignerones ( a story in itself)( French Provincial Cooking p.404), cheese pudding( Is there a Nutmeg...p.131), I have already mentioned, peperonata ( Italian Food p.247), boef daube( French Provincial Cooking p.392). The basis of her approach was a genuine love of food and an intellectual interest in how and why it was prepared. For Elizabeth David, food and living were inseparable, her recipes are a diary. In order to understand her you need to read one or both of the biographies: "Elizabeth David" Lisa Chaney, questionable, and Artemis Coopers "Writing at the kitchen Table"- the authorised biography, to form a true and unbiased profile of David.Her scholarly work on British cooking should also be remembered - although her projected series of books in this field was never completed, the anthology 'Is there a Nutmeg in the House?' contains many articles and pamphlets that resulted from her researches, including numerous very practical recipes.
Meanwhile on the other side of Europe Matthew held Fort, while eating up Italy. The tactics here are the same that should be applied to the David camp, manual versus novel. Their books should be read twice, first as a novel and then again as a cookery book.
David's faith  caused her to look at the giant from a different perspective. Hayward was merely a mortal man defying an all-powerful God. David looked at the battle from an other´s point of view. If we look at giant problems and impossible situations from an others perspective, we realize that we will be supported.. When we put things in proper perspective, we see more clearly and we can fight more effectively. She travelled researched accurately and brought the Mediterranean home to us. We should count ourselves lucky.Surely the most exciting thing about all this is how national cuisines have been influenced not only by external influences but also by wars, travellers and migratory patterns.

God bless you La David!!!

And oh dear poor old Jonathan Meades is now being vilified by his critics for living in France!!!! 

5 comments:

  1. Did You read the article in the Guardian recently about her?
    I have old copies of French Provincial cooking and French Country Cooking.I'm on her side.I don't measure things exactly,I don't think you need to its more about tasting(except for baked products of course).
    But I have to confess I feel a bit of a traitor as I've picked up a copy of At Elizabeth David's Table at a recent visit to Waitrose. Resplendent with full colour photography...

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  2. Bless you,at last I have an ally, who thinks the same way about these stalwart cookery writers.

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  3. Hey there,

    I've just stumbled upon you via the comments on the Guardian's Word of Mouth blog. I must say that it's a convenience that you're a cook in the Algarve and a fan of Elizabeth David and as such wonder if I could ask your advice? I've been looking for a Portuguese cookery book (not necessarily limited to cuisine from the Algarve) in Elizabeth's style ("intellectual, scholarly" and "written with experienced cooks in mind"), but have so far only tended to find books brimming with glossy pictures and lacking the depth of information we are accustomed to with David. Would you be able to suggest and particular books or writers?

    In answer to Richard Ehrlich's question in the Guardian article as to whether ED matters to "younger cooks", I can solemnly state, as a young(ish) cook. that she does!

    Now having read your post on ED I'm looking forward to reading, with interest, you previous posts.

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  4. There isn´t really a Portuguese equivalent to David, but I would suggest you start with "The taste of Portugal"- Edite Vieira, published in paperback by Grub Street.It is sufficiently academic with history and origins etc."Big Flavours and Rough edges, recipes from the Eagle in Farringdon has many authentic Portuguese recipes in it, Both these authors grew up in Mozambique."The food of Spain and Portugal", Elsabeth Luard is worth a look as she is of the David generation, although its content is 2/3 Spain to 1/3 Portugal.David Leites( American born son of an immigrant Portuguese family) book "The new Portuguese Table"
    is a must. You will find the link to his website Leites culinaria and the David Blahg on my list of Blogs I am following.I know you said you dont want books brimming with glossy pictures but Piri Piri starfish is one of the most beautiful culinary travelogues I have stumbled on, and the recipes are all authentic.I hope this has been helpful and that you will continue to follow the blog in future. If you like it please register as a follower and I can email you updates etc.You can contact me through the Casa Rosada website wwww.casarosada-algarve.com. Thank you.

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  5. Excellent, thanks with your help. I'll hot-foot it to Amazon straight away and look them up.

    I have seen Piri Piri starfish and was put off by the pictures. But I'll perhaps take another look at it.

    Cheers.

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