Victory In The Kitchen by Annie Gray
What is the essence of the book?
Victory In The Kitchen charts the life of Georgina Landemare (1882-1978) who spent much of her life working in service. You may think there is nothing particularly remarkable in that. Hundreds of thousands of women worked in service during the same period. However, very few worked for Sir Winston Churchill (or lasted as long in his service as Georgina) and can claim to have cooked for around sixteen monarchs. On VE Day (8 May 1945) Churchill insisted Georgina come out on the balcony at the Ministry of Health where he was making a speech to the nation. He shook her hand saying he could not have achieved victory without her efforts in the kitchen to sustain him. High praise indeed for someone who was not simply ‘the cook’ to the Churchills. Georgina began her working life shortly after leaving school at the age of 14, first as a nursery maid then moving into kitchen work starting as a scullery maid. Georgina’s skills in the kitchen were really honed as a when she married a chef called Paul Landemare. Georgina remained close to the Churchill family long after she finished working for them, frequently corresponding and visiting Clementine (Churchill’s wife) and Mary Soames (their daughter) after the former prime minister’s death.
About the author
Annie Gray is a historian, cook, broadcaster and writer specialising in the history of food and dining in Britain from around 1600 to the present day. She is the resident food historian of BBC Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet and is the author of three further books including The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria (which you can read more about here).
Who will like it?
This is a corker of a book for anyone who is interested in social history and especially so if that interest extends to food. Obviously, one of the main attractions to Georgina’s story is the Churchill connection. However, many of us have ancestors who worked in service. Georgina’s life reflects, to a degree, what many of our relatives would have experienced in service themselves, even if their employers were less auspicious than the Churchills.
Who won’t like it?
Although Churchill does feature prominently in this book if you are hoping for another biography of this prime minister you’ll be left wanting.
Gray has selected a recipe from Georgina’s hand written note book to begin each chapter but this is not a recipe book, which may disappoint some readers. Georgina did publish a cookbook in 1958 called Recipes from No 10 which is now a collectors item (a recent search on Abe Books found a copy for sale for £250). The Imperial War Museum reissued an abridged version of the book in 2015 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death but that too is out of print (although a Kindle version is available from Amazon for £2.99).
What do I like about the book?
If you’ve read my previous reviews of Gray’s books you’ll know I’m a fan of her style. There is an affable charm to her writing, which is always a pleasure to read. She clearly admires Georgina but avoids over sentimentality when describing her life. Stories like Georgina’s deserve to be told because they reflect what so many of our female relatives experienced (certainly a fair few of my relatives worked in service during the same period, which may explain why I enjoyed the early chapters as much as those on her time as a cook for the Churchills). It is also refreshing to read an account of a servant’s life that whilst undoubtedly hard was far from denigrating or exploitative. Georgina took great pride in her work. She may well have had a more positive experience than other women in similar positions. However, Georgina was not alone in feeling gratified for the service she had performed and Gray should be thanked for sharing this view of a servant’s life.
Where can you buy it?
Gray has been vociferous in her support of independent books shops so if you want to buy a copy I would take a leaf out of her book and head to your nearest one (think along the lines of Cookbookbake in Brighton).
Victory In The Kitchen: The Life of Churchill’s Cook by Annie Gray (Profile Books, £16.99)