What a wonderful week it’s been for Barbara Pym fans. I’ve had a great time reading posts on Pym on some of my favourite blogs & also on a whole lot of blogs unknown to me. I’ve learnt about how readers discover Pym & about the illustrator of the most iconic Pym covers. However, the posts that have been the most fun to read have been the ones about Pym & food. Pym writes about food in the same humorous, ironically detached way that she writes about everything else. I always think that food is so important in her books because of when they were written. Rationing during WWII & into the 1950s meant that food – what was available, what you could do with what was available, craving food you couldn’t get – was a major preoccupation.
Some of my favourite scenes in Barbara Pym’s novels involve food. In Excellent Women, Mildred makes a can of baked beans last two meals. She puts together a simple salad of lettuce & olive oil that has Rocky Napier in raptures. She has trouble eating spaghetti in a restaurant & another meal with William Caldicote leads to a discussion about wine & the meaning of Nuits St George. Whenever I make macaroni cheese, I always make sure there’s enough salt & plenty of cheese unlike the meal Mildred has with the Malorys. Wilf Bason in A Glass of Blessings cooks some spectacular meals for Father Thames at the clergy house. Wilmet imagines him peeling grapes for sole veronique & he is especially inventive during Lent when he serves scampi & octopus. My favourite foodie moments are in Some Tame Gazelle, when Belinda spends all afternoon making ravioli & finally the dough comes together “like the finest chamois leather.” But nothing can beat the cauliflower cheese moment in this novel. I will say no more for fear of spoiling the moment if you haven’t yet read the book.
The Barbara Pym Cookbook was published in the 1980s by Hilary Pym & Honor Wyatt. It’s a collection of extracts from the novels, diaries & letters about food & cooking, along with the recipes. My copy only arrived a couple of days ago so I’ve done little more than browse & I haven’t had a chance to try any of the recipes. Thomas at My Porch has written about the book & has made the Victoria sponge & parkin which both look delicious. Audrey at Books as Food has written a wonderful post listing so many different types of food from the novels, most of which were immediately evocative for me of the scene & book they came from. Audrey’s lemon currant scones look wonderful & I always make my scones with cream as in this recipe rather than rubbing the butter into the flour – much easier.
I have plans for cauliflower cheese tonight for dinner & macaroni cheese on Monday. As a librarian & spinster who loves cats, I always feel as though I might be a character in a Barbara Pym novel when I sit down to a dish that has appeared so memorably in one of her novels. Happy 100th birthday Miss Pym!