Why only eat food, when you can read about it too? Ms. Willan starts off noting cooks at one time did not use recipes. Quelle horreur, ‘tis true. From unknown names such as Hannah Woolley to the well-known ones like Fannie Farmer, the book highlights twelve women. Recipes, once passed on verbally or by tutelage, over time needed to be repeated, hence writing them down came to pass. It was interesting to learn that the plagiarism of recipes was once looked upon as flattery rather than as an impending lawsuit. Move us along and whisk in the ones whose cookbooks line many kitchen bookshelves, the Rombauers, Julia no-last-name-needed, to Marcella Hazan and Alice Waters. Recipes accompany each woman’s contribution to cooking history. And Ms. Willan, a distinguished chef in her own right, writes each recipe in its original style with a reinterpretation and/or adaptation. As the founder of La Varenne Cooking School*, Ms. Willan knows her way around the kitchen.
And the best part about Women in the Kitchen is reading prose that tastes like fiction and is as velvety as chateaubriand.
*(Sadly, La Varenne no longer offers classes, but a simple Google will bring information about the history and cooking practices it offered.)
Women in the Kitchen by Anne Willan, published by Scribner 2020, 305p.