09 April 2015

The Hostess Cooks

We just love us a hostess who can cook.  This is a charmer from the early 1950's.  It seems that after World War II, there was a bit of shift in homelife, especially in England.  The war provided more opportunity for jobs for returning soldiers and for many women.  Women who were once thought to automatically enter the employ of large land owners are servants in both the house and kitchen now saw other opportunities.  A professional class was emerging and the wives of these men faced an empty house that was theirs to tend. 

While it was once considered a necessity to have a cook, it was now more likely that wives would not only be the hostess in the house but the cook in the kitchen. The market was ripe for books explaining how to cook while also serving as a gracious hostess.  The Hostess Cooks by Viola Johnstone is one of those books.

The introduction by Lady Barnett extols Johnstone in a bit of round about way.  "I wish this book had been available when I was a new and inexperienced housewife."  Viola Johnstone was an actress for a time until she met her husband and, naturally, abandoned her career, but not before gathering recipe ideas on her travels.  As Lady Barnett tells us, "The is a vast difference between the information acquired by someone living and working in a country and someone who is there as a tourist."  She is sure, "...this book will do a lot toward solving your problems."

After repeatedly telling us that the author is not a trained cook, that she could barley boil and egg, and that she has traveled and worked abroad, we are then told that cooking or eating Chinese or Indian would be a waste when we could find perfectly good food in England presented by and actress who traveled but came home.

the basic idea behind this book is not particularly revolutionary -- know what you are going to cook.  Plan ahead.  Be gracious.  Rules to live by.

Johnstone is rather fond of chops,  both lamb and pork, but she seems to be a whiz with pork chops.  Her pork chops are cooked with a variety of ingredient that might make you look like the most Continental of cooks or at very least, get you booted off Top Chef.

There are pork chops with gherkins, with peaches, with cherries, with spaghetti, and my personal favorite, fired bananas.

Pork Chops and Fried Bananas

The pork chops can be fired in lard or pork fat.  This is an excellent and unusual accompaniment to pork. The bananas are peeled and sliced lengthwise down the centre, fried lightly in pork fat,sprinkled in very little sugar and served with pork chops.  Cider  may be used instead of white wine. And do not be afraid  to try this recipe with the bananas, it is most highly recommended.  Fried pineapple rings are also very good with pork chops.

All I can say is "be afraid, be very afraid."   As with many of this type of early cookbook, the recipes all fall in upon themselves.  The "Cider may be used..." hearkens back to her earlier recipe for these similar dishes.  In order to cook the recipe before you, one must read the recipes before it to get an idea of how one goes about it. 

That being said, I don't care how gracious a hostess you are, I am not eating pork and bananas!  This may be the rare occasion when one might offer this advice: "Stick to being an actress."

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