50 Women Game Changers in Food: #14, Elizabeth David

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.

Raspberry Shortbread

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.

Join Mary from One Perfect Bite and all the other participants in this fun series.

Val - More Than Burnt Toast

Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green
Jeanette - Healthy Living

- Ciao Chow Linda


  1. I've never heard of that lady before, but her raspberry shortbread looks delicious. A great dessert.



  2. Elizabeth David, I am learning from reading your post and others, was a remarkable woman. Each post I visit I learn more about her. I am thinking that she is the most interesting so far (other than Julia Child of course) and certainly has lead a fascinating life. From escaping the Nazi's, to dabbling into the art world, to leading a spicy, ohh la la private life, and on to bringing the wonderful flavors of the Mediterranean to all of our lives, it seems she's done it all.

    Your shortbread/crumble is a tasty example. Can you imagine being a guest at her dinner table. Her conversations would have never been dull or boring. What an exciting woman. Makes me want to go out and buy one of her cookbooks, which believe it or not in my huge collection, I do not have. (sigh)

  3. I love her and really enjoy her writing. I've never tried one of her recipes though!

  4. I just love that first photo of her - makes her look so innocent and pure doesn't it? Ha! This raspberry shortbread is making my mouth water. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Elizabeth certainly led a spicy life both in and out of the kitchen. It was very interesting to learn more about her and about a version of a crumble before unheard of.

  6. Love shortbread and raspberries. Luckily, the Knight doesn't like raspberries, so I won't be making these...

    I might need to read that biography. Sounds fun!

  7. This is such a wonderful recipe! I would imagine any summer berry could be included with or instead of the raspberries! Simple and sweet!

    Great post about ED - she was a stunner and way ahead of her time!

  8. Yes daaahling, here in England shortbread also refers to a thick and crispy delicious cookie, but the ingredients she used are similar (maybe its just done differently). I'll have to look out for her book, I'm curious to see her recipes, as she was such an interesting woman who lead a very full life.
    *kisses* HH

  9. Gosh, this sounds like a version of a fruit crumble, my favorite thing in the world. Your photo makes me want to gobble it down. I don't often cook with raspberries, I guess because I think they're too delicate to do much with. But this recipe seems perfect for them.

  10. Elizabeth David is new to me, but I think I want to learn more! Private racy life, humm? Sounds like my kind of woman...



  11. It looks good, Barbara... but yes, more a crumble than a shortbread.

    My ex's mother, bless her soul, had about 10,000 cookbooks... well nearly. I for some reason didn't get the David bug till much later so she wasn't part of my early cooking days. Now that I know about her.. she was a cool broad and wrote about food and history in a most accomplished way. I think her books and friends were charming and I loved the book about her... now I want to see the movie!!!

  12. This was very interesting, as I knew nothing about Elizabeth David - Fascinating how one personal can revoultionize a country's cuisine.

  13. While not what I pictured when I heard the name of the recipe, either...it still sounds delicious. Crumbly and raspberry laden is just ad tasty!

  14. What a nice tribute to Elizabeth David, and a simple straightforward recipe from her collection!

  15. A wonderful tribute to Elizabeth David, Barbara! I'm going to grab this link to include in post I did about her a while back. Just wonderful and, that Raspberry Shortbread sounds divine!!!

    Thank you so much for sharing...

  16. A lovely tribute to Elizabeth David. The shortbread looks so delish, esp. served with ice cream.

  17. i love these tribute posts, i feel like i'm learning so much! the shortbread looks and sounds fantastic!

  18. What an enjoyable read about her life! Yes, spicy too :) A shame the crumble wasn't as good as it sounds.

  19. Thanks - great post about this fascinating woman!

  20. as long as there are rapsberry I am ready !!pierre

  21. Great post and delicious!!! Gloria

  22. Elizabeth David is one of my favourite food writers - her prose and erudition are extraordinary. But I don't consider her recipes something to follow. They inspire, but they are untrustworthy!

  23. Elizabeth David was a marvelous writer and culinarian--and while she hasn't received the same attention and praise for her work as Julia Child, for instance, she deserves it for her prose alone.

  24. I think of her every time I'm looking for the nutmeg.

  25. she changed the game, and i didn't even know it. thanks for the introduction and story, barbara, and the recipe looks easy and delicious!



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