5:00 p.m. May 22, 2022
Back in the old days, now commonly labeled 2013 BC – pre-Covid – I thrilled the taste buds the old-fashioned way with memories of Anglia Television food character Marjorie Daynes.
This Dereham champion of no-frills country cooking navigates her way through the celebrity-infested kitchen corps to become a much-admired Delia of her day.
I received several well-scanned copies of Anglia’s 1964 publication, Mrs Daynes’ Country Cooking, along with a fresh batch of moving testimonials of how her simple recipes still worked in many local homes.
Marjorie’s rich Norfolk tones added an appealing flavor to her candid deliberations. She can again set a fine example in these difficult times where the search for value for money and the spirit of cooking yourself can combine to help combat rapidly rising household bills.
Luckily, another home screen star has concocted a memorable preface to this little book to leave us with a compelling picture of a country kitchen queen. Dick Joice, probably the most beloved figure to emerge during Anglia’s golden years when he ran Farming Diary, the About Anglia and Bygones newsmagazine program, really knew his patch and what tickled the fancies of viewers.
The past, which in lesser hands might have been just another worthy lesson in history and traditional craftsmanship, was essential viewing for 20 years, as the avuncular Dick simply asked, “Is Does anyone know what it was used for?
He acknowledged the world from which Marjorie Daynes rose to pass on some of her accumulated delights over more than two decades of service “working her way through such bewildering and privilege-conscious promotion ranks as nobility had to face above the stairs”.
She started at 14 just after World War I as a housekeeper in a large Norfolk mansion. She was paid a salary of £9 a year, had one afternoon off a month and went in procession to church every Sunday with the other servants parading in order of seniority as strict as that of a royal funeral. .
“Marjorie woke up at 4:30 a.m. and rarely went to bed before 10:30 p.m. There were swings and swings in the garden for the kitchen girls and boiled soup for the poor people of the village, who came to get it from the back door. Serving as a cook, she experienced the proud squares of Belgravia and Kensington and many noble townhouses long divided into bed-sitters before returning to Norfolk to continue cooking.
“She had watched, learned and remembered. With chapped hands at 14, she had plucked game birds, butchered rabbits, hares, sheep, pigs and game. It was her anchor as she watched them prepare and cook everything from swans to bread in these self-contained households.
Dick concludes triumphantly, “At last I have persuaded Mrs. Daynes to put some of her recipes in this book. But I don’t think she lives in the past, that no recipe is good for her unless she is done lavishly. No one knows better than her that those days are over. She aimed for simple, straight-forward menus with ingredients that will be part of your household budget, which is a bit of a stretch.
Even in the Swinging Sixties, especially in sensitive places like Norfolk, this domestic belief still prevailed in more lit kitchens. For those who are too busy today, rooted to the sofa with cooked meals and watching the wall-to-wall ego baste on a bed of freshly invented histrionics, such a formula must be the cornerstone of a housekeeping meticulous.
Meanwhile, Dear Mrs Beeton must be turning in her Victorian sauce as she looks down on a nation obsessed with food and all the fancy trimmings. His 1861 tome on home management, including useful recipes for a growing group of middle-class gourmets, remains in print but is unlikely to be perched against the mixing bowls of luminaries such as Gordon Ramsay in the soft voice or the soberly dressed Nigella Lawson.
Isabella Mary Beeton, “Busy Lizzy” to her admirers, was just 28 when she died. She is considered by many to be the godmother of home cooking, warming the oven for future generations to save money and earning praise for seizing the opportunity by producing good, healthy food for hungry families.
Those lofty goals now seem all but buried beneath a bloated cooking industry built on half-baked celebrities, exaggerated effect-seeking cookbooks, and a stodgy TV menu overloaded with a patently contrived competitive edge. It’s like introducing a wrestling match to settle a close bowling match.
Rather than encouraging a rush for rolling pins, parchment paper and measuring cups, I suspect this endless cavalcade of culinary competitions is causing a major increase in the number of takeouts eaten in front of the box. “Eating as a family doesn’t get any more serious than that!”
* A chilling rumor that even more courses are on the way with a revival program featuring a host of old TV favourites. You have to be a few sandwiches away from a picnic not to appreciate the new roles of Mr Pastry, Muffin the Mule, Bill and Ben The Flourpot Men, Flapjackanory, Cracklingjack, Bagettepuss and The Puddentops.
Don’t forget Hancock’s Half-Hour (Gas Mark 31), Mash of the Day, This is Your Loaf, What’s My Loin and Gardeners’ Whirl.