JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Mitford Mess

I'm reading the letters of the Mitford sisters at the moment (slightly tiresome, but I'm only as far as the 1930s at the moment, with all the ghastliness of Diana Mosley's and Unity's Nazism), and was amused to come across this from 17-year-old Debo (later Duchess of Devonshire):

We arrived here
(The Mill Cottage, Swinbrook) yesterday for the first time and it is really very nice if very cold. The fishing is terrific, we caught five trout last night. As Muv and Farve are always going on about how they love housework I leave it all to them to serve them right. All I have done so far is to make a Mitford Mess - tomatoes and potatoes fried in oil - which is the only thing I can cook and it is delicious.

No mention of a Mitford Mess or anything like it in the Chatsworth Cookery Book, published about five years ago under the Duchess of Devonshire's name "with the help of the chefs at Chatsworth" ... although to give her her due, she does start by saying: I haven't cooked since the war. I hoped this would be the title of this book but it was not well looked on by others. However, it is true and I am all for truth.

Now, of course, I've been browsing through the book, and found this:

Bread was a passion of my mother and her siblings. In Mrs Alhusen's book there is a long receipt for bread made of English stoneground wholemeal flour, including detailed descriptions of the utensils to be used. My interest quickened when I turned the page and saw the name of the contributor - Mr Geoffrey Bowles.

He was my uncle and a true eccentric if ever there was one. He never married and lived alone in one of those delectable houses in Catherine Street, Westminster. Visitors were not allowed. Should you be bold enough to ring the bell, he opened a flap in the door to tell you to go away. His sister, my aunt, lived near by. When they were old and she hadn't seen him for a long time, she thought she would like to do so and wrote to suggest that they should meet. 'But we
have met,' he replied. For years Uncle Geoff lived on nothing but chocolate, which he bought at Fortnum & Mason, and bread, which he made himself. 'The perfect diet,' he said.

Whatever, I quite like the sound of a Mitford Mess for supper, with the addition of a little onion. And there's a very good recipe for water biscuits which I'll try just as soon as I've got a moment.

Related posts

Mount Athos potato and artichoke
Onion bacon and potato hotpot
Savoury chicken with roasted onion and potato
Potato gratin with thyme and tomato AKA duck and delicious potatoes


Mallika said...

The Mitford sisters are so wonderful. I read the biography years ago and can't wait to read the letters. The "Mess" sounds delicious. Like sauteed potatoes with tomatoes!

TopVeg said...

The Mitfords are such an interesting family. I have always had a soft spot for the Duchess of D, since I saw her giving a TV interview, with a hen on her lap.

Just came back to your blog for the strawberry sponge recipe - again - it always goes down well!

Nan said...

I just must get this book. I read Counting My Chickens a few years ago, and just loved the Duchess' personality that came through in the book. I've got the biog called The Sisters, but haven't read it yet. Such a fascinating family. Great post. I love the chocolate and bread fellow. I wonder what his lifespan was. :<)

katiez said...

t doing some catching-up and spotted this about the Mitford sisters. I also read their biography (not usual for an American ;-)) ) and found them fascinating. What an eye-opener it was for an American hahaha!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Hysterical, I've just requested the book from the library.