Marguerite Patten is eminently qualified to write about the last Century of British Cooking
. Now in her 80s she has experienced first hand the trends and changes of British cooking and eating habits since the 1920s, while by proxy through her mother's generation she is au fait with the Edwardian era. She says in the introduction that she decided if each recipe warranted being included if it had "hit the culinary headlines" or was "outstandingly good". This means that each of the 20-odd recipes for each decade is likely to be familiar, whether the potential cook or food historian reading this volume is 20 or 80. So, the old favourites of Prawn Cocktail, Coq au Vin and Cheese Fondue are included for the 1960s, while dishes seen nowadays as typical British fare make their entrance in the first decade, such as Devilled Kidneys and Victoria Sandwich. However, Patten makes clear that the growth in different foods available, and the British public's willingness to experiment, whether from the effects of hardship in the world wars or from the influences of foreign travel and immigrant populations, results in no one food being resoundingly representative of British tastes.
For modern cooks today a large proportion of the recipes in the first half of the book may seem more an exercise in nostalgia than a useful and inspiring collection of dishes to cook for their friends or family. Some of them would be quite fun if you're hosting a decade-themed party or dinner party--perhaps serve a three-course meal of a light soup, Quail Pudding and Steamed Lemon Pudding if you want to re-live the 1920s. Or maybe remind children of how thankful they should be for the variety of "world" foods available today by giving them the inventive dishes of 1940s and 1950s rationing. Marguerite Patten's personal anecdotes, about working for the Ministry of Food in the war, and then demonstrating new kitchen devices and recipes for TV and radio from the mid-1940s onwards, make great reading for those with little sense of how quickly (or slowly) such appliances as fridges, electric ovens or ice-cream makers were adopted in the typical home. Her record also serves well as a reminder of how money has always affected how people eat; though she can remove the division in eating habits between those "with money" and the "poor" after the 1930s and 1940s, she still alludes to the industrial upheavals and unemployment that still affects us (and therefore our nutrition) nowadays.
Marguerite Patten's Century of British Cooking is not the most inspiring collection of recipes, but is wonderful as a historical culinary record. Her style is at times abrupt, so that random food and non-food facts are thrown together, giving odd overviews of each decade, but the recipes themselves are well laid out and easily executed. Probably the best way to enjoy these recipes is to remove them from their historical context and use the book as a cookery encyclopedia; few recipe books stretch from Thick Windsor Soup to Thai Green Curry.--Olivia Dickinson
"If you only buy one cookery book this year it has to be Marguerite Patten's Century of British Cooking." Women "Elegantly presented... for those who enjoy a taste for nostalgia or love curious culinary snippets." --Sybil Kapoor, The Independent
Patten's book offers a fascinating insight into how the British pallette has shifted from the Victorian era to the present day - I am addicted to Empress Rice thanks to this book. --John Lewis, Waterstones