Lilla's Feast is more of a memoir than a straight cookbook. The book is a biography of Frances Osborne's great grandmother, Lilla Eckford. The catalyst for the book can be found in the Imperial War Museum in London. The museum holds a cookbook that was written in a Japanese internment camp in China during World War II. Lilla Eckford, or Lily Casey as she was known then, lived in Cellblock 20, Room 3. She subsisted on rotting vegetables and occasionally some donkey meat. In that cell she wrote a cookbook on whatever scraps of paper she cold find. Not recipes for the food or lack of it that she was experiencing, but a book that would remind her of the safety and plenty of home. There are recipes for cream puffs, blancmange, beef, jugged hare and mulligatawny soup. It is her best effort to keep humanity in a situation that was unconscionable.
Here is a recipe from her time in China.
To serve say five people: 3/4 lb vermicelli (boiled until soft), 3 large onions, 1/2 lb pork cut into dice when fried in margarine until tender. Chop the onions and fry until golden brown, shell the shrimps about 4 ozs, prepare the vegetables then cut into small pieces. If garlic is liked, chop a very small piece. Boil the vegetables.
When all is ready, add onions, drained vermicelli, pinch of salt, chopped pork, vegetables (about 2 1/2 lb), shelled shrimps. Put into a saucepan and heat until very hot.
Sometimes and omelet is made and placed on to, also dry rice is served in a small bowl, with drops of soya sauce over.
Lilla proves to be an anachronism, a Westerner in the East of China and Japan and in later life, more of an Easterner in England. For years she fought to be compensated for losses she suffered in China. For nearly sixty years she waged a letter writing campaign, until she received a small check when she was nearing 101.
While Frances Osborne may be a bit sentimental about Lilla, it is still nice to see that in our most desperate times it is often the food of our childhood that unites us.
Frances Osborne's other great-grandmother was the notorious Idina Sackville, who we posted about at Lucindaville.