Barbara Pym Reading Week – The Barbara Pym Cookbook

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!

12 thoughts on “Barbara Pym Reading Week – The Barbara Pym Cookbook

  1. I had macaroni and cheese for dinner last (although I always jazz mine up with mushrooms, proscuito and lots of Dijon mustard).
    I've been reading tempting teasers about the cauliflower scene in STG – I can see this will have to be next Pym _ I can't stand not knowing!!


  2. I've read two Pym books this week and I had to order the cookbook too! But I've completely forgotten about what happens with the cauliflower cheese in Some Tame Gazelle — somehow, this book just didn't stick with me. I just read it a few months ago and I think I'll have to read it again.


  3. I really must order that book. I loved the bit about spaghetti in Excellent Women. Also that horrid bit about curried whale (and if it's no good for Lent as it isn't a fish but a mammal!). One can totally see why a nice meal, let alone real treats, is so significant given the context.


  4. I adore cauliflower cheese, though STG's moment could nearly put me off! I meant to cook from the cook this week but didn't have time – I think I'll do some anyway, just for fun. I've never heard of making scones without rubbing in butter. Got to try that!


  5. I'd forgotten the curried whale… I didn't really need a reminder, I may have blocked the memory for a reason! The cookbook is interesting for the snippets from the novels & remembering the food that was so important in every book.


  6. Scones with cream instead of butter is much easier, GC. My scones have never been my strong point but this method has been more successful than any other. there are also recipes adding lemonade but I've never tried those.


  7. Food contributes to quite a lot of the comedy in Pym. I can't think of curates (not that I do very often) without thinking of boiled chicken smothered in white sauce.


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