Tuesday 4 October 2022

Elizabeth David shelf

Elizabeth David (1913-1992), who transformed the nation’s eating habits during the mid-twentieth century, also collected cookery books and left her private collection of historical material (234 volumes) to the Warburg Institute Library after her death in 1992. Some 150 of these cookbooks have now been digitalised and are available online.

The cookbooks date back to the 17th century, and some of the recipes – which have been attempted by Warburg Institute employees - are not for the faint-hearted. How about an 18th century egg pie, for instance, whose ingredients include currents and cinnamon? “Despite the exotic flavourings,” said one brave culinary tester, “the eggs remained stubbornly and overwhelmingly eggy.”

Another recipe, a gooseberry fool, is one of the oldest in the collection, dating from 1655, which includes an unspecified number of eggs and - like revenge - is best served cold Here the eventual dessert was a bit more palatable: “The end result may look like vomit, but it actually tasted quite good!”

The Warburg Institute’s Director, Professor Bill Sherman said:

“Elizabeth David is much-loved as a cook and entrepreneur, who did much to transform the cooking, eating and entertaining habits of modern Britain. But she was also a scholar and bibliophile, and the rare books she kindly donated to us allow us to bring food as well as art into the mapping of culture across time and space that has always been the Institute’s mission.”

Now, as we become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of our culinary tastes, perhaps it’s time once again to look at those dishes which were once staples of our national diet? Maybe some of us will even be brave enough to have a go at making some of the more exotic recipes ourselves? Stewed sparrow or pig’s ear “ragoo,” anyone? 

Find your ideal recipe!