Review by: Moira Richards


Kitchen Essays
By Agnes Jekyll
Published by Persephone Books

A Persephone book is a delight to hold, a beauty to behold -- the perfect gift for that discerning someone special, with 30+ titles from which to choose. Each book is covered in smooth, soft grey paper; each is decorated with a unique pair of endpapers and is accompanied by a matching bookmark. The endpapers are copied from some dress or furnishing fabric appropriate to the essence of its book. These fabrics are chosen lovingly and with careful thought and the notes on the selection of each, make fascinating reading. Go to the website to see the full collection of endpapers and their histories.

Persephone Books specializes in discovering and bringing back into print books by women that have been long-forgotten or neglected by mainstream presses. It also publishes a quarterly literary magazine cum catalogue with previews and reviews of their booklist, together with other interesting reading. The full print catalogue is well worth browsing too. There you will find a whole page of history relating to each of their books, and find many unsuspected gems such as: a not-a-William book by Richmal Crompton, an adult novel by Noel Streatfeild, a novel that Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote in the years between Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden, and a hard-to-find Monica Dickens novel, and..., and . . .

This publisher claims to publish books that are, "guaranteed to be readable, thought-provoking, and impossible to forget" and Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll is all of that. The collection comprises thirty-five short essays with such enticing titles as, "Food for Artists and Speakers," and "Food for the Punctual and the Unpunctual," or "In the Cook's Absence" -- which are recipes simple enough for not the lady of the house, but for the hapless kitchen-maid to produce in this time of domestic crisis.

Lady Jekyll (sister-in-law to Gertrude, the gardener) was famous in London for her fine hospitality and so she was persuaded to write a weekly housekeeping column for The Times. She narrates recipes and housekeeping tips with the unmitigated relish of one who must rarely, if ever, wield the soup ladle herself; of one who need never, ever, scrub afterwards the cooking implements that have been used in the preparation of the dishes. These articles were collected and first published together as Kitchen Essays in 1922 -- exactly eighty years ago.

The aristocratic author of Kitchen Essays writes with eloquence, irreverence, and elegance. She begins an essay entitled "Tray Food" with the sentence, "Ill-health may be said to resemble greatness in that some are born to it, some achieve it, and some have it thrust upon them." Or better yet, her essay, "Of Wedding Breakfasts" opens with, "Marriage feasts resemble the institution they celebrate, of which Montaigne observed that those within its confines often struggled to get out, whilst those without endeavored to get in."

And Lady Jekyll is not above intimating that some foods might serve to provide more than mere sustenance for the flesh. She suggests to her readers that, after serving her particularly excellent calf's brain consommé to the man of the house, that, "This would be a propitious moment for asking some favour, dropping out casually a regrettable piece of news, or even confessing to..."

This is a book to savour slowly, like a gilded collection of very expensive chocolates.

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