One of the first cookbooks I received as a newly-married (it was a gift from my mother) was French Country Cooking, so Elizabeth David is an old friend. She is credited with changing the way the British middle classes ate by introducing a generation of British cooks to Mediterranean food such as pasta, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salami, aubergines, red and green peppers and courgettes. Her descriptions of dishes caught the imagination of a post-war generation.
Ms. David's earlier cookbooks are remembered not only for the recipes, but for vividly described landscapes and the harbors and marketplaces of the Mediterranean. Articles in Vogue, House and Garden, The Sunday Times and The Spectator helped to spread her influence throughout a country whose culinary efforts resulted mainly in fish and chips and spotted Dick.
Many chefs, including Simon Hopkinson, Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters, say David was a great inspiration to them.
"Her esthetic is about simplicity and a kind of fragrance," Ms. Waters said. "She had a great sense of the seasons and always about life around the table -- the setting, the conversation. It was always more than just the food because her recipes were not very specific, to say the least. I remember being frustrated, but it made you think."
Ms. David led rather a racy life for the times (she was born in 1913 and died in 1992) which was never much talked about, but exposed in an unofficial biography by Lisa Chaney. After a patrician, cosmopolitan upbringing, Ms. David studied art in Paris, became an actress, and ran off with a married man with whom she sailed in a small boat to Italy, eventually making their way to Greece where they were nearly trapped by the German invasion of Greece in 1940. They escaped to Egypt where they parted. She then worked for the British government, running a library in Cairo. She married there, but the marriage didn't last long. It appears she led a spicy private life, but she certainly learned valuable lessons from cooks in France, Italy, Greece and north Africa.
After the war, David returned to England, and, dismayed by the gloom and bad food, wrote a series of articles about Mediterranean food that caught the public imagination. Books on French and Italian cuisine followed, and within ten years David was a major influence on British cooking. Her cookbooks were, in addition to the recipes, wonderful pieces of travel writing. In 1960, Mrs David published her masterpiece, French Provincial Cooking, a book that may be read as literature, as a work of reference, and as a splendid and representative collection of recipes.
Because I had some fresh raspberries in the fridge and not too much time, I chose a quick and simple dessert recipe from Summer Cooking, an interesting collection of seasonal dishes relying on fresh ingredients and fresh herbs.
The recipe was entitled Raspberry Shortbread....the shortbread part intrigued me. I always think of shortbread as a kind of thick cookie (which I couldn't imagine with fresh raspberries) and as expected, this certainly didn't result in a cookie. Perhaps the British definition of shortbread is not the same as mine? At any rate, this shortbread turned out to be more of a fruit crumble. And while it certainly was tasty, I confess I've made crumbles I liked better.
I have posted her recipe and instructions verbatim.
From Summer Cooking by Elizabeth David
6 ounces flour
3 1/2 ounces moist brown sugar
2 ounces butter
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pound raspberries
a little white sugar
Put the raspberries in a fairly large shallow pie dish, strew them with white sugar. Cut the butter into very small pieces and crumble it with the flour until very well blended. Add the sugar, ginger and baking powder.
Spread this mixture lightly over the raspberries and smooth it out evenly, but do not press down.
Bake in the center of a medium oven for 25 minutes. Can be served hot or cold and is excellent.
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