I was trawling for something else when I came across these photographs, published a year after her death, of Elizabeth David's kitchens - summer and winter - shockingly and unexpectedly ordinary by today's standards, but the kitchens were where she cooked for good friends, tested her recipes and, sitting at her kitchen table, wrote her erudite, authoritative and immensely readable cookery books. Luddite by our standards today, these kitchens were without dishwashers, built-in double ovens, microwaves, food processors, gadgets and fitted cabinets. Elizabeth David furnished her kitchens, she did not fit them out.
I remember a similar sink and wooden draining board from my childhood. I remember too, the fad during the 1960s and 1970s for all things French - the rage for beige, white porcelain tureens and soup bowls with lion-headed handles, rivet-handled knives, wide, heavy, green, gold-rimmed coffee cups, the cafetière, iron casseroles, oval earthenware gratin dishes, fondue, pissaladière, gratin dauphinois, ratatouille and Moutarde de Meaux, sea salt and herbes de Provence - oh and lest I forget, quiche lorraine, which, according to Elizabeth David, is a simple mixture of eggs, bacon and cream in the thinnest of crusts.
They still ring true, these words below, a quotation from her Summer Cooking, written nearly fifty years ago, about simplicity, appropriateness and taking part, however temporarily, in the foreignness of life going on around one.
"In the summer there is also holiday cooking. That may well mean food cooked in an unfamiliar kitchen equipped, more than likely, in an impersonal and inadequate fashion by the owners of a house, holiday villa, or caravan hired out for the summer. For some, and the numbers are increasingly yearly, this temporary Paradise will be situated close to a Mediterranean shore. Food shopping will be done in a general store, or in some chaotic little market where the best produce will be sweet ripe tomatoes, mild onions, olives, and cheese of an undistinguished nature. The eggs, however, will be fresh and the bread authentic. Meals will be primitive - and, so long as one has learned to be adaptable and not to hanker for roast meat and steaks - entirely delicious because perfectly appropriate to the time, the place and the circumstances. There will be cheap coarse red wine to drink and the wise will follow the example of the local people, dilute the wine with ice and have a supply of bottled mineral water as an alternative."
Elizabeth David belonged to the same generation as Van Day Truex and Roderick Cameron, and in her writing subscribed to the same standards as they, or at least the standards I ascribe to them - suitability, simplicity and proportion.
Frequently Mrs David writes of her great friend, the writer Norman Douglas. He was seventy-two and she twenty-six when they met and their mutual admiration was immediate - teacher and pupil, master and disciple, friend and friend. He is someone to be looked at in a later post. In the meantime a quotation from her book An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.
" 'For Liz. Farewell to Capri,' Norman wrote in the copy of Late Harvest which he gave me when I said goodbye to him on 25 August, 1951. For me it was not farewell to Capri. It was farewell to Norman. On a dark drizzling London day in February 1952 news came from Capri of Norman's death. When, in the summer of that year, I spent six weeks on the island all I could do for Norman was to take a pot of the basil which was his favourite herb to his grave in the cemetery on the hill-road leading down to the port. I went there only once. I had never shared Norman's rather melancholy taste for visiting churchyards. A more fitting place to remember him was in the lemon grove to be reached only by descending some three hundred steps from the Piazza.
"It was so thick, that lemon grove, that it concealed from all but those who knew their Capri well the old Archbishop's palace in which was housed yet another of those private taverns which appeared to materialize for Norman alone. There, at a table outside the half-ruined house, a branch of piercingly aromatic lemons hanging within arm's reach, a piece of bread and a bottle of the proprietor's olive oil in front of me, a glass of wine in my hand, Norman was speaking.
" 'I wish you would listen when I tell you that if you fill my glass before it's empty I shan't know how much I've drunk.'
"To this day I cannot bring myself to refill someone else's glass until it is empty. A sensible rule, on the whole, even if it does mean that sometimes a guest is obliged to sit for a moment or two with an empty glass, uncertain whether to ask for more wine or wait until it is offered.
"In the shade of the lemon grove I break off a hunch of bread, sprinkle it with the delicious fruity olive oil, empty my glass of sour Capri wine; and remember that Norman Douglas once wrote that whoever has helped us to a larger understanding is entitled to our gratitude for all time. Remember too that other saying of his, the one upon which all his life he acted, the one which does much to account for the uncommonly large number of men and women of all ages, classes and nationalities who took Norman Douglas to their hearts and will hold him there so long as they live. 'I like to taste my friends, not eat them' "
Appropriate, pagan, simple, loving, sacramental, that hunch of bread sprinkled with oil, swilled down with sour wine.
Photographs by James Mortimer to accompany text by Mirabel Cecil written in August 1993 for The World of Interiors.
Image of Summer Cooking, a Penguin Handbook, Penguin Books Ltd, 1974 (when I bought it).