OBITUARY : Joan Wolfenden

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The Independent Online
Joan Wolfenden was a female Falstaff with a strong sense of right and wrong who affected many peoples' lives for the better. In 1955 she and her husband, "Wolfie", bought a dilapidated but beautiful Regency house at Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight and created one of the greatest country house restaurants - Peacock Vane.

She was at the forefront of the movement towards simple cooking using the best quality local ingredients, years before this style became the norm. Her Anglo-Belgian roots and a period spent in East Africa, where she met Wolfie in 1942 while they were both on war postings in Mombasa, contributed to this simply prepared food, occasionally punctuated by the appearance of a fish curry or an exotically spiced dish.

Wolfenden taught herself how to cater for large numbers "by scaling up my dinner-party recipes". Her approach was a revelation to a post-war Britain emerging from food rationing. Nothing was done to excess but everything was generous.

She presided over "PV" with an enjoyment of life and open-heartedness, yet was capable of disciplining the Spanish staff, or a recalcitrant guest, with her basilisk eye. Unusually for an English family restaurant the quality and ambience continued into the next generation when her son John and daughter-in-law Rosalind took over in the late 1960s, and Peacock Vane appeared in Egon Ronay's good food guide for nearly 30 years, until it was sold in 1986.

Joan Wolfenden saw the natural, God-given wholeness of things. No food was wasted from the kitchens. Superb stockpots were always on the hob and that which could not be recycled through people was recycled through the compost heaps of the kitchen garden. Situated just above the hotel at Bonchurch, the garden at her home, Yaffles, was a joy. The house had belonged to the writer Henry De Vere Stacpoole and was laid out in the Victorian Italianate style, cascading down a steep chalk cliff overlooking the English Channel. Wolfenden used a mixture of local flowers and exotic plants to create a marvellously rich, yet understated, garden which she opened a few times during the year to swell church funds.

She always had new projects on the go. A natural teacher keen to pass on her skills, on retirement she became a prolific writer and publisher. Her hand-written books became collectors' items. On the cookery front she published Recipes To Relish (1979), Banqueting For One (1985), Feasting with a Fork (1986) and, with Madeline Masson, The Grand Salad (1984) and a number of small "pocket" recipe books. On gardening, she published The Glory of the Garden (1982) and The Year at Yaffles (1987), and in addition there was The Satisfaction of Stitchery (1983) and, with Joanne Wright, Granny You're Fat (1986). All are skilfully designed, a pleasure to read and full of practical hints. Her marketing style was to fill her fast car with books and take them around booksellers in the South of England making them offers they could not afford to miss.

Wolfenden was a mainstay of her parish church, St Boniface, Bonchurch, and devoted years to transforming the internal soft furnishings of wall- hangings, tapestries, and hassocks, often involving the local people in the embroidery until the church glowed with her designs. Finding that it was not possible to be buried in her beloved garden, and living beside the churchyard, a final wish was "just to be tipped over the churchyard wall".

Bob Garratt

Joan Alice Colinvaux, restaurateur and writer: born 5 December 1920; married 1943 Alfred Wolfenden (one son, one daughter); died Bonchurch, Isle of Wight 10 February 1996.