Among the most treasured items on our bookshelves is a collection of volumes from Persephone Books. Elegant in their simplicity, these little volumes have identical dove-grey jackets and lovely endpapers copied from vintage fabric. Inside, the books contain nearly-forgotten stories and wisdom from women – and a few men – of the early to mid-20th century.
We discovered Persephone Books while looking for a reprint of Florence White's Good Things in England, a classic collection of regional recipes from 1399 to 1932. Founded in London in 1999, Persephone is passionate about publishing "mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women." Their 81-title catalog includes reprints of carefully chosen novels, short stories, diaries, and cookery books.
Among the highlights of Persephone's catalog are books about self-sufficiency, local food, and frugal cooking. Such themes are remarkably relevant to our own culinary, cultural, and economic climate, and these books provide us with glimpses of what cooks were doing in 1920s-40s England – scrimping, scavenging, gardening, and making simple yet nourishing meals. Alongside tips and recipes, readers can gain an appreciation for the ingenuity and fortitude of these cooks and writers. And who can resist a recipe for Great-Grandmother's Pound Cake (Good Things in England, p.287)?!
These are our favorite food-related titles from Persephone Books. They can be purchased on the publisher's web site (links below), at their London shop, and on Amazon.com.
|Good Things in England by Florence White (1932) Filled with 853 traditional and regional recipes, this book is White's "attempt to capture the charm of England's cookery before it is completely crushed out of existence." The author is considered the first freelance food journalist.|
|Good Food On The Aga by Ambrose Heath (1933) Aga cookers are icons of English kitchens, but even readers who aren't fascinated by period details can enjoy this cookbook. It has charming illustrations and recipes organized by month to emphasize seasonal cooking.|
|They Can't Ration These by Vicomte de Maduit (1940) Writing in wartime, the author encourages his readers to "pick up our baskets and knife and go grubbing" for wild edible plants and animals. He includes recipes and advice on food storage, herbal remedies, and gardening.|
|Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson (1940) This is a diary, and though it isn't just about coping with food shortages, it is an engaging account of daily life during the war. It's an inspiring example of perseverance under conditions much more difficult than our own.|
|Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll (1922) Lady Jekyll was a famous hostess and these are her witty essays originally written for The Times. The life described in this book doesn't fall under the category of austere times, but it is an entertaining look at hostessing and housekeeping.|