Indeed – it really is a very British cook book. Even the cover is in dignified arsenic green, the house color of the famous London delicatessen Fortnum & Mason. Tom Parker Bowles is a food journalist and restaurant critic. His columns appear in British magazines such as GQ and Esquire. He is also close to the British royal family, as he is the son from Queen Camilla ‘s first marriage and thus the stepson of King Charles III.
The dedication in A Very British Cook Book of recipes and stories goes to William Fortnum and Hugh Mason, who founded the legendary department store in 1707. In the introduction, Parker Bowles describes his first visit to Fortnum & Mason on Picadilly Road in London’s St. James district. He raves about the special magic cast by the exuberant window displays and rondels piled high with the most beautiful tin cans, as well as countless other enticements. The house manages to do this to this day and the effect it achieves is not only on children who, like Parker Bowles, were rewarded with a banana split ice cream for good behavior. I, too, am always gripped by a childlike joy at the sight of bicsuits and tees in the most beautiful packaging every time I visit.
From Morning Tea and the question of whether tea or coffee for breakfast, to Lunch to the famous Afternoon Tea to Dinner and Supper, this sumptuous volume features 111 authentic recipes from the famed lifestyle house of Fortnum & Mason. Photographs are provided exclusively with the respective recipes. The English attitude to life and a touch of noblesse are conveyed by the illustrations from the historic catalogs of the house, drawn by Edward Bawden.
Fortnum & Mason has been writing company history for more than 300 years, and this history is, of course, closely connected with the British royal family. One of the most beautiful stories is told by Tom Parker Bowles right at the beginning of the book. It’s hard to believe, but the origin of this famous lifestyle house is based on leftover wax. William Fortnum, as a servant of Queen Anne, was allowed to collect and keep the royal candle stubs. Since fresh candles were always lit at dusk in the Stewart household, the wax remnants, which Fortnum resold at a good profit, added up to a nice sum. It was the seed money for the glitzy department store with big-city glamour that it is today.
But back to the book and to an institution among British meals, afternoon tea. This afternoon tea is traditionally taken at 5:00 pm. In its lavish version, the meal comes with delicacies stacked on etagères in addition to a good black tea. These include Victoria Sponge Cake, bite-sized sandwiches and, of course, scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. The Cook Book by Tom Parker Bowles provides recipes for all of these in a wide variety of variations. Most of the time, there are also entertainingly written introductions by him beforehand, which sometimes go into the history of the origin of a pastry or recipe, sometimes into the special ingredients used for it in the pastry shop of Fortnum & Mason.
A very britsih cook book takes the reader through all the main meals and snacks the British Empire has ever had to offer. Tom Parker Bowles tells beautiful anecdotes and whets the appetite and makes you want to cook or bake again. One can hardly ask for more from a cookbook. To enhance the Empire feeling, I can only recommend a visit to the flagship store at 181 Picadilly Road. At the top of the hour, however, you should not be in the house, but on the opposite side of the street, looking up to the second floor directly over the main entrance. Because then you can make the acquaintance of Mr. Fortnum and Mr. Mason. As almost life-size wooden figures, they emerge from the music box, carrying a tea set and, in a nod to the early days, a candlestick, bowing politely to each other and thus playfully enchanting every visitor to Fortnum & Mason.
So a stay at Olga Polizzi’s hotels is very British. Click here for a report on Hotel Endsleigh in Devonshire. A little more maritime, but no less British, is the former yacht club in St Mawes. Click here for the report on Hotel Tresanton in Cornwall.
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