The 'a la Pym' Cookbook

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The 'a la Pym' Cookbook

Sep 26, 2009, 6:23 am

There is a Barbara Pym cookbook?! :O One can only imagine what delights lie within. Shepherd's pie, toad-in-the-hole, coddled eggs, perhaps?

Sep 26, 2009, 6:33 am

Oh my god! I'd love to have this. This is really a surprise. It must be hard to get a hold of though. If any of you have it please send me a recipe. Would love to try a dish and post it on my blog. Any excuse to write about Barbara Pym.

Sep 26, 2009, 10:35 am

Ugh, the cheapest used copy I can find online is over $40. Here's a description.

From Publishers Weekly
A treat for devotees of Pym, this literary cookbook assembled by the author's sister and cookbook author Wyatt offers a modest selection of recipes, adapted for the American kitchen, for foods mentioned in Pym's novels. Others, such as "a bowl of groats, fragrant as a cornfield and intriguingly surfaced with little pock marks," were Pym's favorites. All are accompanied by prose morsels taken from the author's corpus. Plain English food is served in abundance: steak and kidney pie, potted ham, sausage rolls. Curiosities like toad-in-the-hole seem included mainly for amusement. Overly familiar ethnic recipes reflect Pym's fascination with Greece and Italy. The culinary strength of the collection rests in its "sweets." Americans taken with the English tea ritual will find the fairy cakes, Sultana scones and rock buns delightful, while the treacle tart and gooseberry pie will appeal to confirmed Anglophiles. Respectfully yet whimsically presented, the recipes come to seem a genuine, if minor, part of Pym's oeuvre , where the "small things of life," cooking among them, are reckoned "often so much bigger than the great things."

Sep 26, 2009, 11:53 am

Wow that looks really fun. I want to make gooseberry pie. My childhood home had gooseberry bushes. . .

Sep 27, 2009, 8:32 am

My first posting here. Oh my goodness, not only do I have a copy of the cookbook but I actually saw another copy in a box of used books in my local second hand book store. I dug it out and placed it squarely on the top of the box hoping some lucky person would find it! A coveted book indeed.

Sep 27, 2009, 9:28 am

How interesting! My first thought when seeing the heading of this thread was "boiled fish and 'shape'"!!

Edited: Sep 27, 2009, 8:34 pm

>5 janecameby: Which edition do you have, hotcrumpets?

I noticed that the alternative edition has a rather bizarre cover... A pink cat atop some giant tomatoes :)

>6 LyzzyBee: Lyzzy, I'm intrigued. What is 'shape'?

Sep 28, 2009, 5:17 am

I don't know really -it's in Pym and Brookner and some persephones. I think it's some vile form of blancmange...

Sep 28, 2009, 8:19 am

Mine is the E.P Dutton, New York edition 1988, as shown in your first posting above. Rather small 6 X 6" with a beautiful cover. Almost like a pocket journal. I like the covers on the Plume editions of her books the best, colourful, art nouveau-like... but then that's a subject for another discussion.

Sep 29, 2009, 11:41 pm

Blancmange or "shape" was often made in individual jelly moulds as it lent itself to being formed that way. My Nana had quite a collection of these shapes, everything from a donut kind of shape, fish shapes, leaf shapes and fruit shapes. Eating a white blancmange strawberry didn't make it any better, however.

May 11, 2010, 10:04 pm

I can't believe my luck but I found my copy at the outdoors bargain bin at Argosy Books in New York a few months ago for $3. And it's in great condition. No tears or stains.

From a strictly culinary point of view, you'll probably find better writing and recipes in Laurie Colwin's essays or the books of Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David or Fergus Henderson, but the excerpts from Pym's books and diaries are great and well chosen.

May 11, 2010, 10:24 pm

>12 Django6924:
No offense to anyone on this site--in my book Barbara Pym fans are "the salt of the earth"--but isn't a book with recipes of favorite English cuisine a little like a book featuring the "Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush"?

May 12, 2010, 5:47 am

Owning the book doesn't mean I'm gonna cook from it ;) It'd be nice to just to add to my Pym collection.

May 12, 2010, 8:13 am

Ditto as in #13!

May 13, 2010, 5:27 pm

Not all the recipes in the book are of English dishes. Barbara was interested in other cuisines, especially those of the Mediterranean, and the book reflects this with a selection of Greek and Italian dishes - including Spaghetti Bolognese which was of course so redolent of foreign climes when it was cooked at home, or eaten in the local Italian, in 1950s England. But there are English dishes we need not apologise for - trifle, summer pudding, Shepherd's Pie and Toad in the Hole. The later edition I have (the one with the cat on the cover) is enlivened by a drawing of the 'celestial Aga' which Barbara imagined the altar to be when she thought she smelt rabbit cooking in a church during the war - a good example of her fantastical turn of mind which she put into characters such as Sophia in An Unsuitable Attachment and Prudence in Jane and Prudence.

May 29, 2010, 4:34 am

I bought a copy of this book for £10 at a Barbara Pym Society meeting in Barnes. I certainly won't be rushing to cook many of the recipes from it, which are mostly made with post-war Austerity Britain ingredients, but it's quite a sweet piece of Pym Memorabilia. It's also worth noting that Hilary isn't really a natural writer, and the book could certainly have benefitted from some decent copy-editing, but it's nice to know what they made when Philip Larkin came to tea, and to imagine Barbara and Hilary making Dolmades from the vine leaves in their garden, after a holiday to Greece. One for enthusiasts, I would say.

May 29, 2010, 7:16 pm

I got a copy very recently, from Amazon and, since I had still something from a gift card I was given as a gift, it only cost me little over one dollar.

Jul 13, 2010, 4:35 am

>17 aluvalibri: One dollar - what a bargain! Have you tried out any of the recipes yet, aluva' ?

Jul 20, 2010, 10:33 pm

Sorry for the delayed reply to your question, digi.
No, I have not tried any (yet), but I will, and soon!

Aug 7, 2010, 4:15 pm

Ahem! I haven't seen the book (from your comments is sounds like an American edition?) but as an Englishwoman I rise to defence of my country's food!
'Curiosities like Toad in the Hole' indeed! Although Jane's vicar husband could not 'take Toad', my vicar husband (and sons) love it on chilly autumn evenings. It isn't ACTUAL toads, you know - just nice sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter, with gravy.
And plain English food? You need to try my steak and kidney - it'll blow your socks off!

Yours staunchly


Not to be rude, but have you eaten American cheese?

Aug 7, 2010, 5:52 pm

#20> GG, I like British food. In fact, I am very partial to shepherd's pie, Yorkshire pudding, Scotch eggs, scones, your MARVELOUS cheddar and stilton and other kinds of cheese.
I live in the US (I am not American, though), and I had to get used to the local cheese. However, I can tell you that the quality has been improving over the years and there are good cheeses here as well.

Aug 7, 2010, 8:22 pm

>20 Goldengrove:, 21: yes the quality has been improving, but American Cheese is nasty !
(I'm American so I feel justified in making disparaging comments about our food!)

Aug 8, 2010, 8:18 am

The US has proper cheese now? I might be willing to visit after all.

Aug 8, 2010, 1:22 pm

Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!! CatyM, you are a hoot!!!

Aug 10, 2010, 10:15 am

So glad you didn't all take offence - I was quite worried - it wasn't at all meant as a 'dig' (well, only about the cheese) just a defence!
Having said that, I didn't experience rationing, and grew up in a very food-aware family, so my take on English food may not be representative....

Aug 10, 2010, 11:10 am

DH and I had excellent meals in both Scotland and England. I have no idea what people are talking about when they moan about English or Scottish food. Glorious salmon feast in Oban. The best Indian food I've ever had was in Inverness. Wonderful fish dinners in Cornwall.

As a Canadian with excellent local cheddar (Empire Cheese) and access to brilliant Quebecois cheeses, I do feel a bit smug that our cheese is able to hold its head up in the company of any British or European cheeses.

Aug 12, 2010, 3:36 pm

>26 tiffin:
"best Indian food I've ever had was in Inverness"

Has the cuisine from the subcontinent been appropriated back into the British Empire?

Incidentally, "American cheese" is a different thing from American cheese. I'm not sure even Kraft would make claims for it being a competitor of the great cheeses of the world, and you it would be more apropos to makes comparisons to the artisanal cheeses made in Marin County, California and Vermont, whose production volumes are more on a par with farmhouse cheddars, Stiltons and Wensleydales

Aug 12, 2010, 6:40 pm

Britain is full of Indian restaurants; there are about 10 in the mid-sized town where I live, and Anglicised Indian food is a unique branch of cuisine.

I'm very fond of Monterey Jack myself although buying a decent slab in the UK is hard.

Aug 13, 2010, 9:43 am

>28 ponsonby:

"I'm very fond of Monterey Jack myself although buying a decent slab in the UK is hard"

It's not really that easy in Los Angeles! Although the soft, mild kind is ubiquitous, aged, dry Jack is something you have to go to a speciality shop to find.

Sep 14, 2010, 4:15 pm

Would rather be caught seen reading that than a book by the current president, Django.

Sep 22, 2010, 8:02 pm

Sorry, didn't mean to let the ugly face of partisan politics intrude on a site devoted to the most excellent woman.

Nov 28, 2010, 7:11 am

Speaking of Excellent Women, I have just finished reading my first Barbara Pym which I thoroughly enjoyed. Can anyone tell me please what on earth is a foreign egg????

Nov 30, 2010, 2:50 pm

Which chapter of the book does this reference appear in?

Nov 30, 2010, 3:00 pm

>32 alexdaw:: I believe it's when a bird of one species lays its egg in another's nest, the way cowbirds and cuckoos do, and the surrogate raises the young

Dec 1, 2010, 2:42 am

Chapter 3 - bottom of page 23 in new hardback edition - and I quote...

"After she had gone I boiled myself a foreign egg for lunch and was just making some coffee when there was a knock on the kitchen door."

I have a suspicion that eggs were in short supply after the war - did they import them ? Or was it a fake egg???

Dec 1, 2010, 10:03 am

aha...that sheds light on've sent me scurrying to research this one! The best I can determine is that eggs were brought over from Ireland and were considered of better quality (because there wasn't the same shortage of grain to feed the chickens?). So having a foreign (not English) egg would be a good egg as opposed to the egg of a chicken that had to scratch for its food. Couldn't find anything else that made sense.

Dec 1, 2010, 7:02 pm

thanks tiffin - that sounds sensible to me :)

Jun 29, 2022, 10:25 pm

>35 alexdaw: Just looked up foreign egg and landed here! sounds right...