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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

ELIZABETH DAVID’S CHRISTMAS (article first published : 2004-01-4)

Considered the doyenne of British cookery, Elizabeth David was once described by Paul Levy of The Time Literary Supplement as “the original domestic goddess”. Throughout her distinguished career, she wrote many articles on Christmas food, testing her recipes and honing her skills on her sister’s family, which included five children.

She strongly believed that Christmas had become too commercialised with major pressure placed on those responsible for the catering and the cooking as well as the frenzy of shopping, the presents, the tree, the decorations, etc. and the whole season could be termed The Great Too Long.

She put together a file of articles, recipes and notes, intending to publish them as a book. These plans were closely discussed with Jill Norman who worked with her for many years but the publication never came to fruition. However, in the last box of papers to be sorted after Elizabeth David’s death in 1992, Jill Norman came across the original substantial file containing her papers.

Now the literary trustee of Elizabeth David’s estate, Jill Norman decided to complete the process they had started 14 years previously. She is a Glenfiddich trophy winner in her own right and a leading authority on herbs and spices. She has put Elizabeth David’s Christmas together in the spirit which Elizabeth intended with her introduction, the recipes and the articles that still have an interest today.

As the photographer, she chose Jason Lowe who instinctively understood the need for simple unfussy images. Compared to the rich and dramatically presented photographs to be found in most cookery books today, the images could be considered rather uninspiring.

Simply presented with little layout design, the publication reads more like a notebook than a cookery book with Elizabeth David’s own comments, often very humorous, and historical facts accompanying the recipes.

This is not your busy average cook’s quick user-friendly collection of recipes with a list of ingredients followed by step-by-step instructions.

This is rather an academic meandering through about 150 ideas for Christmas fare for experienced cooks. The fare itself would be more suited to those in northern and colder climes than for those enduring the heat of a South African Christmas, particularly during a searing festive season such as the one we’ve just experienced!

It also epitomises the British style of cooking before Britain entered the Common Market and people’s tastes became a bit more adventurous.

Elizabeth David’s Christmas is published by Penguin Books and retails at R180. – Cherry MacIldowie




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