A Bloomsbury Inspired Dinner

by Sam Bilton on August 1, 2014 1 comment

Food brings people together. This sentiment is admirably demonstrated in The Bloomsbury Cookbook by Jans Ondaatje Rolls a collection of recipes and culinary memories inspired by the literature, art, correspondence and notebooks of this famous set of early 20th century intellectuals.

Bloomsbury Cookbook jkt

You can read a more in-depth review of this book on Historical Honey. As a recipe book it can be quite frustrating to cook from although not impossible as I will demonstrate in this post. The recipes are reproduced as they were originally written. This means imperial measurements (although there is a conversion chart at the back of the book) and incredibly brief instructions which is fine if you are a confident cook. Some are original recipes from members of the group themselves (like Frances Partridge) or their servants (such as Grace Higgins, the housekeeper at Charleston). Others are from popular contemporary food writers like Florence White or Ruth Lowinsky. Jans even includes a few interpretations of her own, one of which you will find below.

Whether you are a fan of the Bloomsbury Group and their work or not this is a great book to dip in and out of. Not only is it a cookbook but it also contains culinary memories taken from their diaries, correspondence and scrap books; details of their scandalous relationships and some beautiful pictures by the likes of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. Most of the recipes are in the traditional British vein with a bit of continental inspiration added for good measure. With a little deciphering you will find plenty of inspiration in this book for a Bloomsbury themed dinner.

All of the recipes below have been adapted from those I have found in the book with a few embellishments of my own which I have marked with an *. All of these can be prepared ahead.

Cucumber Vichyssoise (adapted from a recipe by Henrietta & David ‘Bunny’ Garnett)

Serves 3 – 4

Cucumber vichysoisse Low Res B

A lot of people are put off by the idea of eating cold soup but this one is really refreshing on a warm summers day.


  • 2 trimmed leeks, finely sliced
  • ½ medium onion, finely sliced
  • 2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks
  • 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ cucumber, roughly chopped
  • 150ml creme fraiche (or milk if you prefer a lighter soup)
  • Juice half a lemon*
  • 1-2 tbsp pernod or gin (optional)*
  • Salt & white pepper to season
  • Smoked salmon trimmings to garnish*


  1. Put the leeks, onion, potato and stock into a saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer until the potato is soft (about 15 – 20 minutes).
  2. Allow to cool a bit before blending the soup with the cucumber and creme fraiche or milk until smooth and flecked with green. Season with the lemon juice and some salt and white pepper. Stir in the pernod or gin (if using). Refrigerate until required.
  3. To serve pour the cold soup into bowls or cups. Sprinkle some pieces of smoked salmon and perhaps some fennel fronds or chopped chives.

Cucumber is in season at the moment so you may also like this recipe that I found for a pickle to with Char Sui Pork in a classic Bahn Mi sandwich.

Mildred’s Masterpiece – Boeuf en Daube (adapted from Jans Ondaatje Rolls recipe inspired by To The Lighthouse)

Serves 4

Boeuf en Daube Low Res B

Jans’ original recipe calls for 3kg of beef to serve six to eight people! This seems rather a lot in my book so I have reduced the meat to 800g for four people and halved the remaining ingredients. 

I think the addition of olives to this stew make it seem quite summery particularly if you serve it with a green salad and a few buttered new potatoes. You need to start this recipe a good three days before you plan to eat it.

Ingredients (for the marinade)

  • 1 fresh bouquet including 2 parsley sprigs, 1 thyme sprig and 1 bay leaf
  • 1 celery stick, sliced
  • 1 large strip of orange peel without the pith
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 crushed clove
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • About 1 dsp each of chopped fresh parsley and thyme
  • A good grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 40ml olive oil
  • 250ml full bodied red wine
  • 1½ tbsp brandy or cognac

Ingredients (for the stew)

  • 800g stewing beef, cut into 3cm cubes
  • 30g unsmoked back bacon (a decent sized rasher)
  • 1½ tbsp plain flour mixed with ½ tsp fine sea salt and ⅛ tsp ground black pepper
  • 75g salt cured ‘dry’ black olives, stones removed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 250ml good quality beef stock
  • ½ tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ onion stuck with 1 clove
  • 2 small to medium tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 herb bouquet as above


  1. Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade in a non metallic bowl. Add the beef and leave to marinate in the fridge for 24 hours (I actually left mine for 48 hours).
  2. The following day, remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry with some kitchen towel. Roll the meat in the seasoned flour. Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan or casserole then brown the meat in batches. Remove the browned meat from the pan then cook the bacon. Add the tomato puree then the stock to deglaze the pan.
  3. Remove the peel and original herb bouquet from the marinade then add this wine and vegetable mixture to the pan along with the onion, fresh tomatoes, olives and a new herb bouquet. Gently bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes before adding the browned meat.
  4. At this point Jans cooks her casserole in an oven (preheated to 140℃) for 1½ hours. I transferred mine to the slow cooker for six hours on a low setting.
  5. Remove from the oven (or slow cooker) and cool. Take out the bouquet garni and the clover studded onion then refrigerate for a day or two.
  6. When ready to serve, skim any residual fat off the top then gently reheat (I placed the casserole in a low oven – around 140℃ – for about an hour. Alternatively you could reheat it on the stove top or in a microwave).

Syllabub Pudding (from Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery published in 1936)

Serves 4

Syllabub Low Res B


  • 20 ratafia biscuits * (the original recipe calls for 5 macaroons but small ratafia biscuits work just as well)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Finely grated zest of ¼ lemon
  • 2 tbsp madeira or sherry
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • A drop or two of almond essence
  • 300ml whipping or double cream

Wine or cocktail glasses to serve.


  1. Place five roughly crushed ratafia biscuits in each glass or small bowl.
  2. Mix the sugar, lemon juice and zest, madeira or sherry, cinnamon and almond essence in a bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cream then beat with an electric whisk until floppy. Spoon over the ratafia biscuits and refrigerate for several hours (or ideally overnight) before serving. This is excellent when garnished with seasonal fresh berries.
Sam BiltonA Bloomsbury Inspired Dinner

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1 comment

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  • Lauren Hairston - September 4, 2014 reply

    I still need to check out this book! Of course, Imperial measurements aren’t a problem for me. 😉 Isn’t it amazing that the United States just keeps holding on to pounds and feet? Not that I mind.

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