Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England

My favourite posh historian lady, Lucy Worsley, is back on the BBC with a documentary all about Dorothy Hartley and her iconic book, Food in England. Hurray!

I’d vaguely heard of the book before, because I like old cookery books from slightly posh people, but I didn’t know anything about Dorothy at all until I read this interview with Lucy in the Guardian at the weekend. Not only was I pretty gleeful at having someone new to obsess over, but the piece told me there was also a TV show to go with it. GLEEFUL, as I say.

Food in England hasn’t been out of print since it was first published in 1954. It’s not just a cookery book either; it covers everything from foraging and seasonal eating to sheep shearing and butchering and general advice about  all the interesting things you can find to eat and look at and enjoy in this green and pleasant land. Dorothy may have been the daughter of a private school headmaster but she wasn’t averse to going and sleeping under a hedge to get a real feel for the natural world and all its wonders – she just had that kind of level of interest in what she was doing.

I highly advise you to read Lucy’s profile on Dorothy here – I mean, how can this not entice you in?

She saw off would-be suitors with talk of Viking burial customs, and had a life-long habit of signing letters “D Hartley (Miss)”, to draw attention to her single status…

… Much more than a recipe book, it also covers fire, magic, fungi, Elizabethan households, salting and “tracklements” (sauces). “Overheard in Wigan market” is a not uncommon source for a recipe.

That was all it took to sell the book and the show to me. I guess I’m a soft touch and fairly predictable, but I also think there’s a lot to be said for having knowledge of mushrooms that you’re safe to eat and knowing how to gut a fish and light a fire in the rain all that good stuff. We could definitely all do with a few more of those skills, right?

Not entirely sure how many of the recipes you would want to eat today, but I’m pretty taken with Stargazey Pie and the kids on Lucy’s showed like it too so it can’t be all bad. A traditional cornish fish dish, it’s said to date back to pre-16th century and gets its name from the lil fish heads poking out the pastry. Here it is – might give it a bash this weekend?? Hmmm….

Stargazey Pie

Ingredients
6 tbsp breadcrumbs
150 ml milk
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
3 tbsp lemon juice plus zest
1 onion, chopped
6 pilchards/mackerel/herring, filtered with heads left on (EWWWWWWWW, get over it)
1 rasher of bacon, chopped
salt and pepper
150 ml good cider
225g puff pastry

Method
Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk and leave to swell a little then add the parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest and onion and mix well.  Divide the stuffing between the fish, spreading it over the flat fillets.

Fold them over then put them into a round ovenproof dish, tails downwards with the heads poking over the edge. Put the bacon, seasoning and cider all around and in between the fish.  Roll out the pastry to fit the dish. Press on, leaving the fish heads exposed on the rim.

Bake at 220°C/ gas 7 for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 190 °C / gas 5 and cook for a further 25 minutes.

The show was broadcast on Tuesday but you can watch it here and you can buy the original book here.

[Pictures: BBC]
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A bunch of books I got for Christmas

Not quite a Christmas ~haul post, but I did get rather a lot of books for Christmas and as I always enjoy seeing what people are reading, I figured I’d share.

Clearly I haven’t read all of them yet… Actually half of them are still in Sheffield because books = heavy, especially in a suitcase which is also stuffed with Christmas cake and cheese. I actually can’t remember what all of them are, but here’s what I’ve got from memory – and don’t forget you can follow my IRL-time progress on GoodReads.

1) Good Evening, Mrs Craven – Mollie Panter
A collection of essays covering a housewife’s life during wartime (this ain’t no party),  originally published in The New Yorker and now republished by Persephone.

2) Art Deco Complete – Alastair Duncan
Possibly the heaviest book I own, this glorious tome is packed with art deco porn. It’s coffee table stuff, if your coffee table can stand the weight.

3) The Temptress: The Scandalous Life of Alice, Countess de Janze – Paul Spicer
I really, really like biographies of rich women in the 1920s and this one ties in with another favourite ~scarlet woman – Idina Sackville, who was profiled in The Bolter (and in several Nancy Mitford novels). I’m quite into the Happy Valley business, so this should be a treat read.

4) 1920s Britain – Janet and John Shepherd
I’ll be honest. I added this to my wishlist in a bid to fulfil my desire to own every book about the 1920s on Amazon, without really reading much about it. I mean, it’s nice, but it’s basically a school textbook.

5) Westwood – Stella Gibbons
I’m well aware that this is a classic I should have read – forgive me, I’m on the case.

6) Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Yes, and this. My step-dad was vaguely horrified at my lack of Stella Gibbons reading, until I pointed out that as the person who raised me it was kind of his fault. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

7) Kitchen Essays – Agnes Jekyll
Another Persephone compilation, this time featuring a series of recipes and food essays written for The Times in the 1920s.

8) West End Front – Matthew Sweet
I’ve wanted this book for a while (since November 11 precisely) and it’s next on my list to read. If you’ve missed hearing about it, it’s essentially about life behind the scenes at the Ritz and other posh London hotels during the war – PROPER SCANDAL. If you like posh scandal, I also recommend a favourite trash read of mine – Stately Passions: The Scandals of Britain’s Greatest Houses by Jamie Douglas-Home.

9) The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Another classic I’ve somehow missed along the way. Added bonuses; it’s about a butler and it’s set in the 40s.

10) Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker
I added all of The Bloomsbury Group series to my wishlist and got four, which is a superb start. It sounds like a combination of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day x Mary Poppins, so looking forward to cracking on with it.

11) The Thirties: An Intimate History – Juliet Gardiner
In a bid to move on from my 1920s thing, I’ve got a book about the 1930s see?

12) The Brontes went to Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson
Another one from The Bloomsbury Group series – it just so happens to be a trio of sisters in a bohemian London family in the 1920s, that’s not my fault.

13) Love’s Shadow – Ada Leverson
Another Bloomsbury book! This one shows the slightly OTT covers they all have, which I’ve been attempting to disguise. Pretty sure anyone observing me reading this will assume it’s shit chicklit, when in fact it’s an Edwardian novel about a London couple. IN YOUR FACE, IT’S OLD-TIMEY-CHICKLIT.

14) The Penguin Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford
Well, you all know what this is. Of course as a Mitford monster I have read ’em all, but my life wasn’t going to be complete until I had this doorstopper-sized anthology too.

15) Henrietta’s War: News from the Home Front 1939 – 1942 – Joyce Dennys
A final Bloomsbury book – this one is described as a 1940s version of Adrian Mole, so I can only assume it will be amazing.

16) The World of Jeeves – PG Wodehouse
Well, it wouldn’t be Christmas without some Wodehouse.

17) Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City – Stella Dong
The Wallis Simpson biography I just finished got me pretty interested in Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s and a bit of searching threw up this book as a good source of stories. This is what I’m reading at the moment and while it is mega interesting, it’s less about casinos and opium and glamorous hotels, more about gangland murders and finances. Still, I’m only half way in so we shall see – it is totally fascinating though and a dead good read – again, my fault for not reading more reviews.

18) Straight on Till Morning: The Life of Beryl Markham – Mary S. Lovell
Mary S. Lovell wrote arguably the most famous Mitford biography, so this should be a good read. This book looks at one the most famous female aviators of the 1930s – check out some of my other favourite female fliers from the era here!

19) On Booze – F. Scott Fitzgerald
You’ve heard me harp on about this before – still amazing to get it!

20) The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
One more classic which I haven’t read before – I KNOW, guys. The real question now is, when will I ever be emotionally stable enough to read it? By the way, don’t panic – I have read other Greene, I’m not a total heathen.

Bryan Ferry at the Natural History Museum

Last night I went to this crazy party as a guest of Wella Professionals… Thousands of lords and ladies (real ones!) in white tie and top hat gear filled the Natural History Museum and essentially all ran around being awe-struck by the Gatsby-ness of it all. It was amazing. I mean, maybe if you’re a baron it’s part of your weekly social schedule, but for those of us that had to buy an outfit half an hour before and get changed in Starbucks’ toilet… it’s pretty great.

The best thing about the entire event (other than the thousands of pounds raised for children’s charities, I guess) was Bryan Ferry performing a half hour set under the diplodocus in the dinosaur hall. It was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. mostly for the surroundings but also because it was a barn-storming greatest hits set – and everyone loves a greatest hits set.

Today I’ve taken no end of grief for being in love with an ageing Tory, but the heart wants what it wants. As I said to Iso earlier, I disapprove of the politics of the Mitfords, PG Wodehouse and Johnny Ramone but I still dig ’em.

Anyway – today I’ve listened to Let’s Stick Together incessantly – how amazing is Jerry Hall in her Antony Price tiger outfit?

Ow ow ow owwwwww!

[Illustration via ShowStudio]

Fashion at Royal Ascot: Three Centuries of Thoroughbred Style

Last week I was invited to the launch of a book about Ascot style. As a sucker for anything to do with high society and/or fashion I obviously jumped at the chance and the tome in question, Fashion at Royal Ascot: Three Centuries of Thoroughbred Style  combines all the best bits of both.

Although the book appealed as soon as I read what it was about, it was the prospect of the launch itself that really excited me. As those who suffer my inanities on Twitter may have spotted, it was held at Heywood Hill – the bookshop synonymous with Nancy Mitford.

While anyone is obviously welcome to shop at Heywood Hill, the concept of snaffling free booze and mingling with Mitfords in such historical surroundings was an opportunity too good to miss. Even more exciting, a friend of my friends works there and showed us piles of secret Nancy leftovers hidden away in the basement while revealing all sorts of scandalous stories. Too much!

Above we see a shelf of Mitford literature including a few first editions that I inhaled greedily, Nancy’s favourite chair which some chump had just broken and which is now destined to a life in the cellar, and the pigeonholes where orders live now, but where secret letters and special packages once got smuggled.

Adding to the excitement was the presence of a genuine living breathing Mitfordonian granddaughter – alas and alack, I missed which one – and, even better, a speech from Stoker Devonshire – or the Duke, as he is also known. My Mitford dreams came true on Tuesday, I can tell you.

The book itself is a treat for anyone interested in fashion in history and is packed full of beautiful images as well as a good deal of commentary from the author, fashion critic James Sherwood. Released to coincide with the 300th year of Royal Ascot it celebrates three centuries of the event, from hats and handbags to royalty and rioting.

A coffee table-sized thing of beauty packed with pictures from Hollywood interpretations of the races to the likes of Luella and Todd Lynn’s involvement with the event. Obviously my favourite parts cover the 1920s and 30s, as seen above in what has to be the most stylish era of racing.

Now I just need to find a book about Henley style and all my upper class fascinations will be covered…

British Silent Film Festival at the Barbican

The British Silent Film Festival returns to the Barbican this week, with a four day programme of screenings, lectures and special events. Ideal for 1920s gooners such as myself as well as anyone with a broader interest in film, I’d hazard.

All the films will be accompanied by traditional music, with a stellar lineup of specialist silent film musicians. This from the site:

The art of the silent film musician features strongly in our line-up demonstrating how the language of film music developed and how musicians today take different approaches to accompaniment. We’ll be recreating the experience of cinema going from the Great War to the late silent period; looking at the unlikely relationship between radio and the silent film, celebrating the centenary of the birth of the British newsreel and hosting the world premiere of the restored musical score for the Russian fantasy film Morozko.

The pictures I’m most interested in are Twinkletoes – a slightly schmaltzy tale of a Cockney Colleen Moore who dreams of being a musical hall star; Helen of Four Gates – a recently rediscovered classic filmed in delightful Hebden Bridge; Pavement Butterfly – a German film set in Paris starring Anna May Wong as a go-go girl, bohemian and society gal; and Lonesome – a classic tale of two loners in New York who meet randomly and have an awesome day at Coney Island. You can see a clip of this much-loved film above!

The festival starts on Thursday 7 April and you can buy tickets for all shows and events at the Barbican website.

Teddyboy shapes at Celine

I haven’t paid much attention to the pre-fall collections this year. I’m guilty of wishing my life away more than most, but c’mon!! It’s not even the end of January 2011, and we haven’t enjoyed the summer collections, and I know fall collections are coming up in a matter of weeks but STILL. I don’t want to start worrying about next winter just yet, when we’re still in the midst of this one. HUMBUG.

One collection that has piqued my interest is Celine. Celine is always beautiful, and throwing in a teddy boy reference or two only makes it appeal to me more. I love a heavy drape coat, particularly when combined with a contrasting lapel. Bobby socks and heels are the perfect accompaniment, even though I maintain this look can only be carried off by 1% of the people that attempt it.

Nails inspired by the Express Building

Sticking with some kind of working girl vibe, my latest WAH nails take their cue from the old Express Building at 120 Fleet Street. It goes without saying that the Express is an utterly abhorrent paper, but this 1930s building is an art deco masterpiece, in a city where art deco architecture is sadly lacking (although not if you read this blog).

I only discovered the Express Building last year during Open House London, but ah, what a discovery it was. I can’t talk about architecture eloquently, so you should read this excellent blog about 120 Fleet Street instead. As the post mentions, the building appears in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, as the Megalopolitan Building:

The bells of St. Bride’s chimed unheard in the customary afternoon din of the Megalopolitan Building. The country edition had gone to bed; below traffic-level, in grotto-blue light, leagues of paper ran noisily through the machines; overhead, where floor upon floor rose from the dusk of the streets to the clear air of day, ground-glass doors opened and shut; figures in frayed and perished braces popped in and out; on a hundred lines reporters talked at cross purposes; sub-editors busied themselves with their humdrum task of reducing to blank nonsense the sheaves of misinformation which whistling urchins piled before them; beside a hundred typewriters soggy biscuits lay in a hundred tepid saucers. At the hub and still centre of all this animation, Lord Copper sat alone in splendid tranquility. His massive head, empty of thought, rested in sculptural fashion upon his left fist. He began to draw a little cow on his writing pad.

No offence to my subbing pals, eh? Definitely worth a nose when you’re in the area – it’s a truly remarkable building and you’d have no idea how amazing the interior was from the outside.

Nails from WAH, as ever – ask for Sophie, she’s the best.

The Forty Elephants: London’s first girl gang?

The holidays may well be almost over, but if you’re looking for something to read over the next couple of days… I heartily recommend this Guardian article on the Forty Elephants, a vicious all girl gang who terrorised the streets of London way back in the 18th century. WOWSER.

Led by the formidable Diamond Annie (whose punch was famous because it was studded with DIAMOND RINGS!), the forty-strong gang stole jewels and clothes, and were responsible for the biggest shoplifting operation ever seen in Britain.

I mean, just listen to this;

Dressed in specially tailored coats, cummerbunds, muffs, skirts, bloomers and hats sewn with hidden pockets, they mounted raids on London’s West End shops, where they plundered goods worth thousands of pounds.

… On the plus side, they threw the liveliest of parties and spent lavishly at pubs, clubs and restaurants. Their lifestyles were in pursuit of those of glamorous movie stars, combined with the decadent living of 1920s aristocratic flapper society. They read of the outrageous behaviour of rich, bright young things and wanted to emulate them.

Utterly fascinating, and made even more intriguing by the fact that there’s barely anything about them to be found anywhere online. The Guardian feature is actually a mini review of a new book by Brian McDonald, called Gangs of London. After two years covering the true crime desk at Waterstones, I swore I’d never read any more – but if this book promises any more on the Forty Elephants, I might have to change my mind…

The interesting picture at the top is the work of Bert Hardy, whose 1948 photo project, The Elephant and the The Castle is well worth a look.