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The Barbara Pym Cookbook (1981)

by Hilary Pym, Hilary Pym, Honor Wyatt

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834325,806 (3.64)14
Barbara Pym's sister Hilary teams with cookbook author Honor Wyatt to bring together this mouthwatering collection of family recipes, memories, and anecdotes drawn from Pym's diaries and letters, as well her most acclaimed novels Straight from the kitchen of Barbara Pym, this winning cookbook delivers a delectable treat for readers who like their meals served with a generous helping of literary aplomb. Sharing favorite family recipes that Pym incorporated into her novels, The Barbara Pym Cookbook reveals how the author's life intersected with those of her memorable characters.   Inside you'll find British classics such as steak and kidney pie, plum cake, sausage rolls, and toad-in-the-hole--dishes that Pym's characters would often prepare for each other. Other treats, such as moussaka and risotto, reflect Pym's fascination with Greece and Italy. Throughout, the recipes are interwoven with references to Pym's novels; Dulcie's musings on "love apples" from No Fond Return of Love accompany directions for tomatoes à la Provençale, for instance. There are glimpses of Pym's personal life, too, such as her description of kipper pâté for lunch with Philip Larkin. The Barbara Pym Cookbook is a must-have for both budding cooks and Pym aficionados.… (more)
Recently added bytherebelprince, private library, Yvette_blogs, BradT, AJ12754, colinpenman, Jolly_Holiday
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2020 has become my year of rereading the novels of Barbara Pym, my favourite novelist - "favourite" in the sense of "speaks most to my soul", not as in "greatest" or "best"; I believe she would have appreciated the distinction. This is my revised review.

This cute little trinket (also published in the UK as À la Pym) is a "must-have" collector's item for serious Pymheads - although perhaps not a necessary cookbook for anyone else!

To recap: Barbara Pym (1913-1980) published six novels between 1950 and 1961, social comedies (or "high comedies") set in the world of vicars, spinsters, anthropologists, and gossips of all flavours. Her "Austen-meets-Wodehouse" vibe sold comfortably, although she couldn't leave her day job working on indexes and proofreading for anthropological journals. This smart, sensible, occasionally silly woman who had served in WWII became highly regarded for her precise character insights, her quiet wit, and that almost-Shakespearean ability to present you with one, seemingly undeniable, point-of-view, only to throw three alternate points-of-view in to the mix, destabilising all of her characters and creating a well-rounded world - even if that world often seems to encompass such a narrow part of society.

Alas, between 1962 and 1976, publishers would not have a bar of her. In the '60s, as Pym lamented in her letters, publishers wanted "men and Americans". Modernity had arrived. Pym dutifully kept writing new novels, submitting them, taking the rejections in her stride, suffered health scares, and retired with her sister to the country to live out a quiet life. These plans were dashed on a winter's day in January 1977, when her champions promoted her to the world - via the Times Literary Supplement - and Pym was able to pull out her unpublished novels from her desk drawer, and begin again. Booker Prize-nominated in 1978, Pym's triumph was cut tragically short when she died in January 1980 from cancer.

But the public appetite had grown, on both sides of the Atlantic, and Pym's sister Hilary and good friend and author Hazel Holt (mother of [a:Tom Holt|9766|Tom Holt|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1246502762p2/9766.jpg]) set about shoring up her legacy. They published her remaining novels (leading to 12 complete plus a further collection of shorter and unfinished works), an autobiography, a biography and finally, to round out the set, this Cookbook.

A Barbara Pym Cookbook.

It's an amusing idea that makes no sense at first, and then a heckuva lot of sense, and then rather no sense again. And I enjoy it for all those reasons.

This is a thoroughly unnecessary item. A merry attempt to make a bit more money off the Pym narrative and continue to spread her name. Yet, food plays such a substantial role in the novels. Her works are about psychology, culture, religion, love, and food; not necessarily in that order. When she began writing, Pym was an Oxford undergraduate in a parochial England of village fetes and church garden parties. The 1940s and 1950s were, of course, an era of rationing, and so Pym's early novels often feature characters "making do" with a single hard-boiled egg and a leftover piece of cheese, or some stale fruit cake (in her diaries for the time, Pym writes longingly "remember bananas?"). Even once Britain embraces global cuisine in the 1960s, the role of cooking and culture remains strong. Does one go to a continental restaurant when overseas, or remain at the safe hotel with only English food and English guests? Is it scandalous if one's hostess serves a meal from a tin? Is a cauliflower cheese good enough acceptable to feed the vicar? From tuna mousse to plates of cakes and ravioli, the novels are a time capsule of "good English cooking" in an era of enforced restraint, and the ensuing cultural trends of the '50s, '60s, and '70s.

This volume collects mentions of food from throughout the 12 novels, and provides simple recipes and commentary to each. The recipes are very simple. Moreso, wherever possible, they focus only on the immediate item being made. So a pie or tart will simply instruct you to use "shortcrust pastry" rather than how to make it - meaning that a recipe for gooseberry pie essentially instructs you to put the gooseberries into the pastry and then cook it! But this is frankly fine because it's unlikely many people would make the recipes for anything other than historical interest. It's astonishing to think that the world into which my parents were born was still a time when one enjoyed the fruits that existed in one's own locality, lived off a limited range of vegetables and types of meat except on special occasions, and couldn't rely on the supermarket to have an endless variety of ready-made food, spices, and so on. The joy of reading Pym, for my generation, is a twin joy: on the one hand, an astonishing (even absurd) tale of human progress that renders 2020 so far removed from 1960; on the other hand, a comforting realisation that, in many ways, we as people haven't changed at all. (Of course, as I write this in 2020, many of us are experiencing supermarket shortages for the first time in our lives, so perhaps we really haven't changed.)

What recipes will you find herein? There are dolmades and duck with olives, true. But for the most part, it's carrot soup, curried fish cakes, toad-in-the-hole, rock buns, parkin, and trifle. As someone of Anglo-German origins, the starchy and stodgy are my heritage. The everyday item chosen for its filling nature and easy availability, combined with something flavoursome to cover up the repetitive nature of the meal. My ancestors were just brilliant. These main meals and desserts, so often simplistic and then occasionally utterly extravagant for those special occasions, were the backbone of a culture, but ultimately by custom and technological limits, not choice. I'm culturally in love with these cuisines, but - beyond romanticising The Great British Bake Off - I suspect most of us are glad these days have passed! The recipes are accompanied by quotes from relevant novels.

When all is said and done, this is a marvellous treat. A sort of dessert amuse-bouche to accompany the broader Pym banquet. For me, it's special as a physical book in a way that would be lacking in e-book form. Pym mania died down after the 1980s, although is kept alive by a devoted Barbara Pym society and a certain type of younger person keen to rediscover humanist writers of the 20th century. In truth, I'm doubtful that she will ever have the kind of widespread fame that existed for the decade after 1977. Still, this book warms my heart, and it will warm the hearts of a select few for many years to come. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 21, 2024 |
How to make things like omelets and cauliflower cheese which crop up so frequently in Pym's books. She herself was a rather more adventurous cook and eater, and those recipes are here too. ( )
  auntieknickers | Jun 5, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hilary Pymprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pym, Hilarymain authorall editionsconfirmed
Wyatt, Honormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Barbara Pym's sister Hilary teams with cookbook author Honor Wyatt to bring together this mouthwatering collection of family recipes, memories, and anecdotes drawn from Pym's diaries and letters, as well her most acclaimed novels Straight from the kitchen of Barbara Pym, this winning cookbook delivers a delectable treat for readers who like their meals served with a generous helping of literary aplomb. Sharing favorite family recipes that Pym incorporated into her novels, The Barbara Pym Cookbook reveals how the author's life intersected with those of her memorable characters.   Inside you'll find British classics such as steak and kidney pie, plum cake, sausage rolls, and toad-in-the-hole--dishes that Pym's characters would often prepare for each other. Other treats, such as moussaka and risotto, reflect Pym's fascination with Greece and Italy. Throughout, the recipes are interwoven with references to Pym's novels; Dulcie's musings on "love apples" from No Fond Return of Love accompany directions for tomatoes à la Provençale, for instance. There are glimpses of Pym's personal life, too, such as her description of kipper pâté for lunch with Philip Larkin. The Barbara Pym Cookbook is a must-have for both budding cooks and Pym aficionados.

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