12 March 2010

In an Eighteenth Century Kitchen

In our ongoing desire to do as little work as possible, we are offering up Famous Food Friday from Lucindaville. But you know that by now! Today's Famous Food Friday has a good bit of gardening involved as we are featuring Beverley Nichols. This is also a bit of a departure as Beverley Nichols didn't actually write his cookbook, he merely found it. Still we are giving him a pass because we like him. (Also we have been working on a gigantic "Brideshead" post and Beverly Nichols knew Evelyn Waugh whom he often refered to as "The Waugh of the Poses" because he believed Waugh to be a bigger poseur than he was!. Seriously, how can you not like someone that funny, but I digress...)

Beverly Nichols is often thought of as a “garden writer” but he was so much more. Nichols was a prolific writer, a novelist, a composer and yes, a gardener. Osbert Sitwell described Beverley Nichols as the original "bright young thing." He “ghosted’ the famous diva Nellie Melba’s memoirs. He wrote a series of detective novels, several books about cats, and even some children’s books. Still, he is best know for his book Down The Garden Path which has been in print for over 75 years.

Beverly Nichols believed he had found a dream garden at a Tudor cottage in Glatton, Cambridgeshire. He knew of his reputation as an urbane and witty aesthete and he calculated that writing a book on gardening would appeal to the masses. Ironically, this calculation would begin his reign as a “garden” writer.

Nichol's "dream" garden before...

Nichols dream garden was a nightmare, but his vision remained in tact and as he wrote about his adventures, which he found as easy to write as years of readers have found it easy to read.

...and after

Down the Garden Path would be followed by A Thatched Roof and finally A Village in a Valley.

The Thatched Cottage

He changed the name of Glatton to Allways, a play on the popular Irving Berlin song, Always. In A Thatched Roof, Nichols writes of finding a cookbook tucked in a cupboard:

“Eagerly we leant over that book in the fading light – a golden October sunset that flooded onto the yellowing paper – yellow to yellow, with the grave black letters dancing before our eyes, as thought they were overjoyed to be read again. As we tuned the pages it seemed that there was a scent in the old room of ghastly sweetmeats; there drifted back to us the perfume of curious country wines, the aroma of forgotten preserves, the bitter-sweet flavor of kitchens which have long crumbled to dust.”

Nichols kept the book for thirty years before turning it over to Dr. Dennis Rhodes who meticulously researched the cookbook. The manuscript was printed on paper watermarked with a coat of arms and sometimes the word “Company”. That would suggest the paper itself came fro the Company of White Paper Makers whose main activity was between 1686 and 1698. In 1968, Cecil and Amelia Woolf published the manuscript. In an Eighteenth Century Kitchen featured illustrations by Duncan Grant.

To Preserve Damsons

Take a pound of sugar & Clarifie it & boy it to a full syrup & put a pound of yo Damsons into it & lett them boyl very leasurely till they are very tender yn set them to coole & 3 day after pour ye sirrup from them and put half a pint of Apple water into it & boyl it’s self till it is boyled to a quacking jelly & take ye scum off from it yn put it to yor Dansoms again boyling hot & so keep them for your use.

Spring is in the air and it is a great time to drag out your Beverley Nichol's books and give them a second look. Not to mention that there have recently been several nice reprints of his works.

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