Cleaning Out the Basement–Persephone Books

cover

Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll, Persephone Books 2009, paper, 263 pages

Lamb’s Conduit Street in London runs its quiet route a few blocks west of Russell Square, if the jigsaw streets and gardens can really be called blocks, and there, between a hipster barber shop and a traditional pub, you’ll find Persephone Books.

Where they sell the most elegant reprints of overlooked 20th century fiction and non-fiction written by women.

The non-fiction list includes cookery books, and the cookery books list includes Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll, who’s been described as an “artist-hostess.”

All Persephone books are jacketed in elegant gray, that opens to reveal carefully chosen end papers that are reproductions of vintage fabrics. For me, as heart-stopping and sigh-inducing as a perfectly tailored sober wool coat with a fuchsia satin lining.

my breath is caught

This is a collection of essays that Jekyll wrote in the 1920s for The Times and they cover such charming topics as Children’s Bread, In the Cook’s Absence, Tea Time and Some Cakes. They recall a long-gone lifestyle of breakfasting in one’s room, nursery food, and travels following the seasons. One can hear the dowager countess tutting in the background.

And they record long-gone ingredients like a “cup of hot Benger” (a powdered drink mix of the 1890s meant to aid digestion), something frightening called sal volatile, and perhaps most amazingly, “silver airplane cloth” once used to cover fuselage, repurposed here to wrap flatware for a hunting luncheon.

It’s worth noting that style may change–Jekyll offers many dishes propped up on aspic, from turkey fillets to camembert–but things come around. In her essay, “On the Serving of Food,” Jekyll boldly recommends serving hot from the earthenware pot, rather than transferring the food to “the glacial tureen.” And she suggests eternally appealing Italian dishes like Gnocchi con Formaggio and Risotto.

Brew a pot of tea, assemble a few digestive biscuits, and waft away to the aspirational past.

 

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About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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