Taste of `abroad' in the post-war pot : LETTERS

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From Mrs Frances Neill Sir: I must protest about Jane Jakeman's judgement on Elizabeth David ("Foodie fantasies are so hard to swallow", 8 December). Her effect on my generation was quite amazing. In the Twenties and Thirties, when I was a child, food inprivate houses was generally no joy. In the middle and professional classes, unless the housewife had an inborn interest in cooking, she left it to "the maids", who were usually quite unskilled.

As to my own family, food bored my mother who considered herself an early female intellectual. Our maids were convent-trained, from Ireland. They made wonderful soda bread and potato bread daily, as at their home. They could fry bacon and make a pastry of a sort. I try not to think what they did to meat.

Having tried French family food on an exchange visit, I took over cooking when time permitted in my teens. I remember terrible dinner parties with friends where the food they generally served was grindingly boring (though the quality of vegetables was superb).

Then came the war. The shortages and lack of variety made food something one tried to ignore. None of us starved - rationing actually worked unbelievably well - but interest in food and cookery was set aside until the war should be won - and for some years after.

But then along came Elizabeth David. Her books appeared in the early Fifties and they were a revelation. She revolutionised our whole dreary acceptance of mediocrity - she made cookery exciting and rewarding. She took us abroad mentally and gastronomically. The food we cooked and talked about had nothing to do with snobbery.

Elizabeth David showed us what pleasure good food was, how different countries enjoyed it in different ways, and she helped us to provide it. She added a valuable and previously largely unobtainable dimension to life. She led the way from a time when cookery writing was largely confined to instruction manuals.

Yours faithfully, FRANCES NEILL London, N10

8 December

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