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Elizabeth David discovered her taste for good food and wine when, as a student at the Sorbonne, she lived with a French family for two years. After returning to England she made up her mind to learn to cook, so that she could reproduce for herself and her friends some of the food that she had come to appreciate in France. Subsequently Mrs David lived and kept house in France, Italy, Greece, Egypt and India, learning the local dishes and cooking them in her own kitchen.
Her first book, Mediterranean Food, appeared in 1950, when rationing was still in force and most of the ingredients she so lovingly described were not available. At the time her book was read rather than used, and created in its readers a yearning both for good ingredients and for a way of life that saw more in food and cooking than mere sustenance. French Country Cooking followed in 1951, Italian Food in 1954 and Summer Cooking in 1955, all of which were received with equal critical acclaim. The publication of French Provincial Cooking in 1960 confirmed Mrs David's position as the most inspirational and influential cookery writer in the English language.
By 1964 all five books were in Penguin paperback and were accessible to a new generation, who no longer had much difficulty buying garlic, saffron, basil, olives, aubergines, fresh figs or apricots, and who found Elizabeth David's philosophy of simplicity, authenticity, knowledge and care greatly to their liking. She became the guru for a new generation of chefs too, both at home and, notably, in California.
Elizabeth David found that the literature of cookery, as well as the practical side, was of absorbing interest, and she studied it throughout her life. Always fascinated by background and history, she turned a more scholarly eye towards English food and Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen was published in 1970, followed by the monumental English Bread and Yeast Cookery, for which she won the Glenfiddich Writer of the Year award, in 1977. At the time of her death in 1992 she was working on an equally epic study of the use of ice, the ice-trade and the early days of refrigeration, which was published posthumously as Harvest of the Cold Months (1994).
January 2010 Good Housekeeping selection. On My Bookshelf by Wendy Holden... I’m not much of a cook, but French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David (Penguin) makes me feel that I could be one. The food in it is so delicious-sounding and there’s a wonderful atmosphere engendered by David’s descriptions of stopping at country inns in the middle of nowhere and discovering some gastronomic sensation served by an unassuming French grandma in an apron. I have always loved France (Is there anyone who doesn’t?) and the South of France in particular, and sometimes, when one is feeling a bit tired and down, nothing beats taking Elizabeth David to bed and reading about Crème Vichyssoise, Poireaux aux Vin Rouge and other such gourmet delights.