Cleaning Out the Basement–Persephone Books 2

cover

They Can’t Ration These, Vicomte de Maudit, Persephone Press 2004, paper, 171 pages

This is another superbly chosen and tailored book from Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street in London. And what I didn’t mention in the previous Persephone post is a tasty bit of urban planning. Lamb’s Conduit Street is not a grisly reminder of where lambs were run to market, but named for William Lamb, who paid for a water conduit from the Fleet River, as well as “120 pails for poor women.”

The only thing I love more than a beautifully produced book is a sensible infrastructure project.

In 1940, England was facing the “Goering Four Year Plan,” a Germany that was fighting the war on synthetic foods, but in a keep-calm-and-carry-on tone, the Vicomte suggests “it would be wise to prepare ourselves to the use of commonly found produce…,” and so directs his readers to hedgerows, fields, moorlands, and lakes.

And once you’ve hunted, fished, and gathered everything from oak galls and rose hips to wild bird eggs and carrageenan moss, he instructs you on how to cook and preserve these nutritious and claimed to be delicious foods.

The thought of scarcity is so foreign to most of us–something from another place or time. This book brings home the very real conditions of privation and a gnawing fear of hunger. Today’s reader will be grateful for abundance, and in awe of cooks who can make do with hay-box cooking and all manner of dishes constructed from (unloved) oatmeal or lentils. Perhaps he can get away with it because he’s French.

There’s even an optimistic section on eating grass, written by one Mr. J.R.B. Branson and vouched for by the Vicomte who reports, “I have experienced for several days, as I write, Mr. Branson’s dictum and am able to report to you that in it there is sense and life-value…”. And then he offers a few recipes and one has to admit that a mixture of grass, rose-petals, sultanas, currants, rolled oats, and sugar might be the kind of bowl or smoothie that does well in certain hipster neighborhoods, perhaps if the sugar is replaced with agave syrup.

And like all Persephone books, this one is presented with its unique endpaper and bookmark.

About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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