Cooper (The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Diana Cooper, 1992) serves up a delectable biographical dish—a study of food writer Elizabeth David.
David’s fame dates to 1949. While England was still in war-rationing-mode, she published A Book of Mediterranean Food, which brought olives and lemons to the bland Blighty palates (indeed, some food critics say that David is single-handedly responsible for the popularity of olive oil in American and Britain). David’s culinary escapades were almost always accompanied by travel. Shortly after WWII, she and her husband moved to India, where she was devastated at the squalid state of the kitchen in her otherwise perfectly serviceable apartment. But India wasn’t a total loss: although she hated the too-strong chili peppers (which she claimed killed off the flavor of every other foodstuff), David fell in love with Nan. In Italy a few years later, she became a connoisseur of Italian wines and delighted in the “Truffles large as tennis balls” that she found in Turin. She wrote odes to the “enormous ridged tomatoes” and the lemon and almond trees of Spain. She also had an entrepreneurial streak, opening a shop where Brits could procure the finest cooking supplies. Cooper’s account offers more than just an evocative portrait of David’s vocation, however, for the author also writes about her marriage to Tony David, shedding some light on the romance and drama that the exceedingly private Elizabeth usually kept to herself (without stooping to the tabloid-style tell-all trashiness of many biographies).
This compelling biography is sure to restore the lesser-known David to her rightful place—at M.F.K. Fischer’s right hand. Bon appetit!