Mention “budget cooking,” and cookbook authors like Beth Moncel, Jamie Oliver, Toni Okamoto, or Jeff Smith might pop into your head, but prolific cookbook author Marguerite Patten, or Hilda Elsie Marguerite Patten, cooked on a budget before it was trendy.
In fact, it was necessary.
By the time of her death in 2015, Marguerite Patten had published more than 170 cookbooks, cooked on numerous TV shows (and hosted several of her own), and penned articles for a variety of sources.
- Marguerite Patten Learns to Cook
- Keep Calm and Carry On
- Marguerite Patten's Burgeoning Career
- On Conveniences
- More TV Time
- Marguerite Patten was Not a Celebrity Chef
- The Legacy of Marguerite Patten
- Marguerite Patten's Death
- A Lasting Source of Inspiration
- In Remembrance
- Marguerite Patten Cookbooks:
- Related Resources:
Marguerite Patten Learns to Cook
Hilda Elsie Marguerite (Brown) Patten, CBE was born in Bath, England on November 4, 1915. Marguerite was the oldest of three kids.
Her father died when she was 13, and her mother had to return to work as a teacher to support her and her younger brother and sister (“I come from a family stiff with teachers”). As the eldest, Marguerite “helped a little bit in the holidays” with the cooking, but “homework came first.” Her mother was disappointed in her cooking career, as she felt her daughter had the makings of a good historian.Paul Levy, Marguerite Patten: Cookery Broadcaster and Writer who Introduced Generations to the Pleasures of Good Food Preparation, The Independent, June 11, 2015.
Some publications make it seem as though Marguerite took over kitchen duties and learned to cook because she had to help the family. That wasn’t the case, as you can see. It was until after school that she took a cooking class. She then obtained her first job.
Marguerite Patten started her career as a home economist at the Eastern Electricity Board in 1939. However, she decided early on to try to pursue a more glamorous path. She left her job with the Electricity Board, and joined an acting company, with the stage name of Marguerite Eve. Patten stayed with them for an entire nine-month season, during which she performed at Hampstead’s Everyman Theatre and at the Oldham Repertory. After that, she started to work for Frigidaire (the refrigerator company) as a senior home economist, doing demonstrations, aided by her acting skills.Marguerite Patten, Prabook, Accessed October 25, 2021.
It wasn’t easy work. She had to persuade people that they even needed a refrigerator.
Let’s take a closer look at the years crucial to Marguerite’s culinary developments: The war years.
Keep Calm and Carry On
To learn about Marguerite Patten, we first need to understand the way life looked when she got her start. Rations began in January of 1940. It was a time for making do and of radio programs. And uncertainty.
Before the Second World War, Britain imported about 55 million tons of food a year from other countries. A typical breakfast for a middle-class Brit in the Thirties consisted of porridge and milk or bacon and tomatoes. Lunch might be veal cutlets and boiled potatoes and, for dinner, a meal of creamed chicken and vegetables with baked rice pudding for dessert.
Vanessa Keys, What was British life like in 1939?, The Telegraph, November 2, 2015.
Food importation was halted in late 1939 when German submarines started attacking British supply ships. There was a worry that this would lead to shortages in food supplies, so in 1940, rationing was introduced. The Ministry of Food drafted in the original “celebrity chef” Marguerite Patten to devise lean wartime recipes, and radio shows such as the BBC’s Kitchen Front encouraged the nation’s housewives to wash – rather than peel – vegetables to increase their nutritional value and avoid unnecessary wastage.
Marguerite began working for the Ministry of Food in 1942—the same year she married Bob Patten. Yes, Marguerite had a family.
With all those cookbooks, you would perhaps expect Marguerite to have lived alone in the woods without any interruption or social contact whatsoever. Not even. Marguerite met her husband, Robert (Bob), during World War II.
I love the story of how Marguerite met her future husband. It’s the perfect meet-cute:
She met him during the war in Lincoln after a terrible night of bombing when a friend of his offered to give her a lift home from work.’
And on the way to the car Bob said, “My mother thinks I should get married and I am going to marry you.” “Oh charming,” I said.’
He was a gunnery officer, later a fruit buyer, and had ‘a great, great affinity with people’ . Was he handsome? ‘Not particularly. But everything about him was so joyous. And we needed that.’
According to The Daily Mail, Marguerite was especially glad to have had her work to focus on while he was in service. Bob survived 84 missions, even though he was shot down three times. THREE TIMES. Can you imagine receiving word of that happening each time, and then knowing he would be sent back out again?
But, when she became pregnant with her only child (a daughter, Judith), she left the Ministry, moving in with her mother. At that point, CooksInfo shares that her mother had an enormous garden, and they saved their sugar rations in order to make fruit preserves.
In 1943, Marguerite returned to the Ministry of Food. She traveled to canteens and cafeterias, showing people how to cook. It’s no wonder the BBC’s Kitchen Front chose Marguerite to expand her teaching on a much larger scale: She then taught the country.
Why were rations such a big deal? I know, it’s hard to grasp, especially as I reflect over the food my family (and especially our 16-year-old son) have made and eaten in the past day alone. The image below from the Imperial War Museums archive puts it into perspective.
The BBC broadcast “The Kitchen Front” for six mornings a week after the 8am news, each programme having a listening public of 5.5 million.Terry Charman, How the Ministry of Food managed food rationing in World War Two, March 22, 2018.
Now you can better understand why a radio show teaching better ways to feed your family with what you have would be so popular. Vegetarians received more cheese. The V8 Juice Company shares, “Vegetarians were allowed 75g/3oz of extra cheese ration, 50g more than standard rations Around 50,000 people across the UK registered as vegetarian during the war, though this number is known to have included sneaky families who claimed to have a veggie in the family to get more cheese.” Pregnant women and children had more rations too, but it still wasn’t easy going.
The restrictions were daunting, though not impossible, at least not for Marguerite.
She became a missionary of “cold cookery,” with salads (viewed with horror by most British people), mousses, moulds and frozen creams her gospel. So unfamiliar were the British with the idea of refrigeration that many in her audiences had to be persuaded not to turn off their machines during the winter months.Tom Jaine, Marguerite Patten Obituary, The Guardian, June 10, 2015.
Marguerite Patten’s self-confident attitude and clear instructions were exactly what Britain needed. She didn’t make you feel sorry for what you didn’t have or bemoan all the things you had lost. Instead, as she said on Time of Your Life (I shared the video below), “…I wasn’t letting anybody be sorry for themselves. I wouldn’t have to sympathize with you because you hadn’t got meat and you hadn’t got that. I’d have just shivered you along so that you felt you were living on the fat of the land.”
In those early days, in a time when even bananas and onions became rare, Marguerite Patten showed Britain a different way to make and prepare food. And, yes, some of those recipes are things we wouldn’t choose to eat in good times, but that’s kind of the point. There wasn’t a choice then. It was for the greater good.
From using mashed potatoes in cake to cooking with rabbit, powdered eggs, and whale meat, Marguerite covered a lot of different types of cooking and baking to support the war effort and help families stay well fed.
The privations of the wartime diet are well-known but Marguerite’s description of whale meat is worth repeating, “it looked like a cross between liver and beef and because the raw meat had a strong and very unpleasant smell of fish and stale oil, I loathed handling whale meat to create recipes and in my demonstrations to the public.”
Marguerite deplored the use of these “magnificent animals” for food, however the perilous state of food supply by 1946 and throughout the infamously harsh winter of 1947 meant all sources of nourishment were considered.Paula Wrightson, The Story Behind the Picture: Meeting the Legendary Marguerite Patten, Brighton Museum. May 5, 2020.
Marguerite said that she received questions all the time from women wanting to know what to do when they didn’t have sausages, when they were running out of sugar, when they didn’t have meat rations left for the week. She introduced foods that weren’t necessarily desirable (like the whale mentioned above, as well as organ meats and powdered eggs), but she tried to turn them into something desirable and even presentable. That was no small feat.
She tackled these topics with good grace and good advice. Marguerite understood that many people didn’t even want to be in the kitchen, but with the war, there wasn’t a choice there either. People made an effort to learn. They tuned in and got to work. Marguerite must have been a reassuring voice in a haphazard time.
Victory gardens popped up everywhere. People were encouraged to follow guidelines as to what to plant in their home gardens, so they wouldn’t plant too many of something, like potatoes, which were already being grown in greater numbers by Britain’s farmers. An article by The People’s Friend Online revealed that, “By 1943, estimates suggested that home gardens were responsible for more than one million tonnes of produce.” As you might remember, Marguerite’s own mother had planted a sizeable garden. It’s no wonder she would later publish plenty of recipes regarding canned produce.
Back then, even the Tower of London had a vegetable garden planted on the lawn. According to an article on BT, meat was reared in public parks and private gardens. Homes with large enough gardens, and even town gardens, would raise chickens and rabbits to add more meat to their diet and break the monotony of rations. At least home cooks could still turn to unrationed foods like flour, oatmeal, and other vegetables to fill-in-the-blanks.
The diet, imposed by necessity, was low in fats and sugars and high in fibre and vegetables with Potato Pete and Lord Carrot leading the way in this surprisingly healthy new lifestyle. The Food Advice Division travelled all over Britain and set up demonstrations in markets, shops, factories, canteens and welfare clinics to buoy the nation into getting through the war on the Home Front with the same spirit as the Forces in action. A contributor to the Kitchen Front, broadcast daily by the BBC, Marguerite was able to pass on her favourite recipes to the nation, and these recipes more often or not contained potatoes. . . .
Marguerite and her colleagues at the Ministry of Food Advice Bureau urged the nation to eat potatoes twice a day. Not only are the humble spuds a fantastic source of energy in the form of carbohydrate, but they are also rich in Vitamin C. To encourage consumption, a cartoon character called Potato Pete was invented with his very own song, cookbook and leaflets. Cake and pastry mixes could be bulked out with potatoes to save fat. Marguerite recalls ‘Home-grown vegetables were a very important part of our diet. We were encouraged to eat plenty of potatoes in place of bread, which used imported wheat, and for the valuable vitamins they contain.
These Victory gardens weren’t just to supplement food rations, but to boost the country’s morale. It gave people control over something in a time when so much must have felt unsettling. Gardening also provided a valuable supplement to what must have felt monotonous.
Marguerite Patten’s Burgeoning Career
According to The Independent, “From late 1943 she ran the Ministry of Food Advice Bureau at Harrods, which became the Harrods Food Advice Bureau in 1947.” While there, she published her first cookbook in 1947, “Recipes by Harrods.” As you know, it would in no way be her last.
Ms. Patten made her first television appearance in 1947, demonstrating an eight-minute recipe for doughnuts on the BBC television program “Designed for Women,” where she remained the resident chef until the 1960s.William Grimes, Marguerite Patten, 99, Dies; Tutored Food-Rationed Britons in Home Cooking, The New York Times, June 10, 2015.
Britain had one channel back in the day. To be on it, well, that’s a pretty big deal, don’t you think? People loved the kind of recipes she produced and shared.
When you think that she and Philip Harben re-founded television cookery in 1947 (X Marcel Boulestin having been the first BBC telly cook, in 1937), her refreshing disdain for being called a celebrity chef was the more striking. From 1947 until it ended in the early 1960s, she was the cookery expert for the first BBC television magazine programme, Designed for Women.Paul Levy, Marguerite Patten: Cookery Broadcaster and Writer who Introduced Generations to the Pleasures of Good Food Preparation, The Independent, June 11, 2015.
Marguerite was the first female cook on TV in Britain. She left the Ministry of Food Advice Bureau in 1951 to freelance. Rationing officially didn’t end until July 1954, when meat finally came off the list. Fourteen long years of rations. Can you even imagine?
In 1956, she became the presenter of a new programme, Cookery Club. An innovative feature of the programme was for housewives to send in their recipes, with the winner invited to come into the studio to make their dish live on television.Helen Wood, Speaking to You at Home, BBC, Accessed October 25, 2021
Marguerite Patten’s career would span for decades.
Love your pressure cooker? Can’t imagine life without it? You can thank Marguerite Patten for that handy device taking off too.
Patten was a huge fan of pressure cookers – she was the first person to write about the machines, publishing Pressure Cooking by Harrods with Recipes all the way back in 1949. She praised them for conserving energy, as well as making delicious meals with minimum effort. “It’s going to get worse and worse,” she said once. “It’s not just fuel for the car that is going to be a problem but fuel for the home. I wish people would realise that.”Leah Hyslop, Eight Things Marguerite Patten Taught Us, The Telegraph, June 10, 2015.
And, yes, she wrote a different cookbook featuring pressure cookers in 1977. I know you aren’t surprised. You can find that cookbook, and more, below.
As a mother with a career, she understood the skill involved in balancing life, work, and family. I like that. She understood that some days you need to get dinner on the table and don’t have time for frou-frou, precious things.
Patten was well aware of the time and financial pressures faced by families, and never dismissed items – such as the microwave – which could help put a quick, nutritious dinner on the table. “The number of times I’ve been asked to wag my finger and say thou shalt not buy convenience foods,” she once said. “I won’t do that. I grew up with a working mother. And I know what a tough thing it is to have three children and a job. And a limited income.”Leah Hyslop, Eight Things Marguerite Patten Taught Us, The Telegraph, June 10, 2015.
But, as a cook, she didn’t particularly like them either. She hoped people would supplement with a side of veggies.
It wasn’t until Marguerite got serious with her cookbook writing that she saw lasting success.
Marguerite’s success was cemented by a series of mass-market books of 500 recipes – of sweet dishes, hors d’oeuvres, meat courses and so forth. These must have entered the kitchens of every modern home during this expansive and socially mobile decade. Marguerite explained and simplified for the insecure and the novice: another great success was Classic Dishes Made Simple (1969). She also introduced them to new foods, from pimentos to lemongrass (though rarely pursuing exhausting authenticity).Tom Jaine, Marguerite Patten Obituary, The Guardian, June 10, 2015.
Although I have her cookbooks listed and linked to at the end of this article, I thought it was important to show you the titles from the 500 series. This wasn’t a couple of titles or a handful of recipes. This was a compilation containing 500 recipes packed in each attractive single-subject cookbook. Marguerite Patten’s 500 series included:
- For Meals without Meat
- For Chicken Dishes
- A. B. C. of Simple Cooking
- For Families
- For Quick Meals
- For Main Meals
- For Fish Dishes
- From Abroad
- Homemade Wines and Drinks
- James, Pickles, and Chutneys
- Recipes from Around the World
- For Electric Mixers and Blenders
- For Puddings and Sweets
- For Canned and Frozen Food
- Dinner and Supper Parties
- For Meat Dishes
- For Working Wives
- Bedsitter Cookery
- For Slimmers
- For Sweets and Candies
- Soups and Savories
Many of her cookbooks are still considered a “must have” by so many cooks. They contain useful, relevant recipes—even for today.
Marguerite showed little sign of slowing down, let alone stopping.
When Marguerite Patten, the home economist, turned 70, her husband, Bob, suggested she retire.’
“You’ve done enough,” he said. And I said, “OK, perhaps I will.” A friend said, “Oh lovely, I’ll take you to coffee mornings, you’ll love them.”’
As Patten recounts this she leans forwards. One papery hand balls a tissue. Her watchful brown eyes lock mine. ‘After a few weeks I said to Bob, “I can’t stand this. I’m worn out with coffee mornings. I am going to unretire.”’
She leans back in her chair. ‘And unretire I did.’
Marguerite continued writing cookbooks. She also made use of another important medium throughout her life: The television.
More TV Time
Marguerite stayed busy throughout the years. Nothing seemed to dampen her enthusiasm for food and cooking. She taught on TV whenever she could.
And, says The Independent, “in 1999 she presented ten gripping 30-minute programmes on Radio 4, Marguerite Patten’s Century of British Cooking, with plenty of social history and appropriate music.”
Melville House wrote how she “continued to appear on the popular food programmes ‘Masterchef’ and ‘Ready Steady Cook’ throughout her career.” People knew her face and her voice. She had a wonderful speaking voice. TV viewers had learned that her recipes and advice could be trusted. She wasn’t a power-hungry, fame-obsessed TV host or a complete fake like we find too often today. Marguerite was humble and real.
She wasn’t describing produce as sexy, ridiculously rhapsodizing about the color of a peeled peach, or falling in with whatever the latest here-today, gone-tomorrow trend. CNN Food Central listed “luxury” at the top of their food trend list for 1999. “Luxury — Look for specialty meats such as foie gras, caviar and truffles to become more widely available as gourmet food shops continue to grow.” You can bet Marguerite didn’t follow fads.
“Marguerite Patten taught generations of Britons to cook what she called sensible food in an appetizing manner,” as the Last Word program shares. They share that she woke up at 4 AM to begin testing recipes. Marguerite kept on cooking and working until 2011, when a stroke left her without speech.
Yes, she was in her nineties when she stopped working and then, it was only because she had to due to her health.
Marguerite Patten was Not a Celebrity Chef
Just don’t ever refer to her as a celebrity chef. That label never set well with Marguerite Patten.
“Celebrity chefs have been known to say to me over the years, ‘Marguerite, call yourself a celebrity chef! You are.’ And I say, ‘I AM NOT. To the day I die I will be a home economist.'”Sabine Durrant, ‘Let’s Get this Straight’: Interview with Marguerite Patten, The Telegraph, June 5, 2011.
Even in Marguerite’s day were people who were over the top or who made cooking perhaps seem almost unapproachable. One of those was Fanny Cradock, a jewelry-adorned, chiffon-wearing, fancy evening dress kind of TV cooking host. Marguerite wasn’t a fan (but even here she is gracious):
She brought a sense of…gracious entertaining…though I disapproved of her evening dress and spangles. I didn’t like her as a person because she was a bully – we were judges together at the Festival of Britain [in 1951] and she massacred me in the meeting, but I would defend her ability to the end of my days.Marguerite Patten, iMDb, Accessed October 25, 2021.
What was the Festival of Britain? It wasn’t a World’s Fair (like in the US where brownies were invented) although that was an idea toyed with at the beginning. No, reconstruction was already expensive. “…The Festival of Britain was originally intended to mark the 100 years since the Great Exhibition 1851, but became a way to celebrate Britain and its achievements rather than including international themes. The main focus was the South Bank of the Thames in London but there were celebrations and fairs in different parts of the country,” says the National Archives.
The Festival of Britain was intended as a ‘tonic for the nation’, a spectacular cultural event to raise the spirits of a country still in the grasp of austerity and rationing, and undergoing severe social and economic reform. Held in the summer of 1951, it provided light-relief to 8.5 million people who visited the main Festival site on London’s South Bank, and the events held in cities and towns across the country. Importantly, it also acted as a catalyst for a new design aesthetic, launching the career of noted British designers working in the fields of textiles, furniture and graphic design.The Festival of Britain, Victoria and Albert Museum, Accessed October 26, 2022.
This was a celebration meant to lift spirits and inspire Brits with a new air of progress. They survived the war and would recover. Things would keep getting better. I wish I could find more information about the food at the festival, since I assume that was Marguerite Patten’s purpose. Still, it is an amazing thing to be invited to participate.
It’s kind of funny, don’t you think? Every other person, their brother, and their dog is working on attaining influencer status. Marguerite Patten, a woman who actually DID something (rather than pretended at it), never liked the term at all. I love that.
As Patten was aware, again in her old age, she was the ideal cook for times of recession, make-do, mend – and marinate cheaper cuts of meat to make them tender and delicious.
She was the opposite of Nigella Lawson, who is emblematic of times of plenty, when we can be profligate with chops and cutlets, lavish with olive oil, careless with cream, and demonstrate decadence by cooking ham with cola.
Nigella’s generous personality, great beauty and wardrobe allowance make her the cook for those who don’t feel the pinch – or at least, for those who want to pretend that they share in the affluence.
When things are going well, we don’t want the cost-saving dinner. We want a fantastic entrée and sides plus a delightful dessert at the end. Right now I have bread going in the bread machine, a whole chicken roasting in the top oven, and rich chocolate brownies about ready to be pulled out of the lower oven that I plan to frost once cooled.
But what do you do when times are hard? What do you do when you haven’t been through hard times before? That’s when Marguerite stepped in and stepped up to show the country a different way. It wasn’t about cutting back and doing without, but learning how to make do with what you had, to stick to in-season produce, and to reinvent old favorites to coincide with the possibilities of the present.
“I considered myself an informer, giving advice to people,” she says. “The food was always more important than we were. The problem with celebrity chefs nowadays is that the personality overrides the food.Roya Nikkhah, ‘I’m shocked by what we waste,’ says Marguerite Patten, The Telegraph, April 13, 2008.
Please, do not think that Marguerite Patten wanted to return to that period during the war. Yes, she admired the way people made do and didn’t have food waste like we do now, and, I would imagine, a time when TV cooks could be taken for what they were: Good cooks. But as to yearning for that time again? An interview dispelled that fanciful notion:
She looks thoughtful for a moment. ‘People are inclined to make me say I want to go back to the war years.
‘Well, what a load of nonsense. Who wants to go back to six months without a fresh tomato? Not me.’Sabine Durrant, ‘Let’s Get this Straight’: Interview with Marguerite Patten, The Telegraph, June 5, 2011.
What cook doesn’t love working with fresh produce? What about being confined in what you could use and how much? To suddenly lose all of that would be incredibly hard. It could definitely put a kink in your creativity, cramp your style, and force you to do away with your favorite dishes—or become so overwhelming you don’t know where to begin.
“No one would want to go back to doing things the way we did during the war,” she continues, “but maybe it’s not such a bad thing if circumstances make people look again at how they shop and eat, and reconsider ingredients they may have been ignoring. Too many of us have got into the habit of buying whatever we like, not what we need or what fits into our household budget.”Roya Nikkhah, ‘I’m shocked by what we waste,’ says Marguerite Patten, The Telegraph, April 13, 2008.
Marguerite wasn’t about making do forever. She believed in buying the right type of food to feed yourself and to avoid food waste because you aren’t buying the right things. Shop like you eat, not how you pretend to eat.
Who hasn’t been guilty of that? Maybe we would be wise to follow Marguerite’s example of restraint. If I don’t make a list for the grocery store…it never ends well. I’ve started leaving a Post-It note on the fridge so anyone can add what they need.
It’s in a convenient spot to jot down what has been used up. I just take the note and add to it before my husband or I head to the store. Or I copy that onto a larger list, if it’s a bigger shopping trip. Either way, it takes no time at all.
The Legacy of Marguerite Patten
Marguerite Patten was the recipient of five lifetime achievement awards:
- The Guild of Food Writers, 1995
- Trustees of the André Simon Memorial Fund, 1996
- BBC Good Food Lifetime Achievement Award, 1988
- Waterford Wedgwood, 1999
- Women of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award, 2007
She received the OBE in 1991 for her “services to the art of cookery,” and a CBE in 2010 (page 8) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2010 for her “services to the food industry.”
If you, like me, didn’t know the different between CBE and OBE, but got the feeling that they are a big deal, you aren’t alone. And, yes, they are a great honor.
Standing for Commander of the Order of the British Empire, the CBE is the highest ranking Order of the British Empire award (excluding a knighthood/damehood), followed by OBE and then MBE.
The CBE is awarded to individuals for having a prominent role at national level, or a leading role at regional level. CBEs are also awarded for distinguished and innovative contribution to any area.What is the difference between a CBE, OBE, MBE and a knighthood?, The Gazette. Accessed November 2, 2020.
The CBE award put Marguerite Patten in the company of familiar celebrities, like Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, Julie Andrews, Helen Mirren, Michael Caine (using his real name: Maurice Micklewhite), Anthony Hopkins, Elton John, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr, according to Vogue. Richard Attenborough, Helena Bonham Carter, Sophie Okonedo, Hugh Laurie, and Alfred Hitchcock, are a few more of the hundreds and hundreds of creatives listed in this IMDb article.
Americans Angelina Jolie, Bob Hope, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Stephen Spielberg are among those who possess honorary titles. Americans aren’t allowed to go by “Sir” or “Dame,” (bummer), but they are allowed to put the initials after their name.
As of 2006, she had published over 169 cookbooks, with over 17 million copies altogether being sold, making her one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time,” says CooksInfo.
Marguerite Patten’s Death
Bob and Marguerite had a happy marriage until his death in 1997. After suffering a stroke in 2011, life changed for Marguerite, as her daughter, Judith, shared in an interview with Olive magazine:
“She just loved and lived for her world of cooking, and it was so cruel to see it all taken from her when she could no longer speak. Her speech did get a little better, but she was old and frail and so I saw her virtually every day for four years, taking her on an almost daily basis her favourite, baked custard. Only trouble is that I didn’t inherit the genes, and they went from fantastically good to pretty awful. Thankfully just a few hours before she died she had enjoyed one of my better ones with pureed raspberry and pureed baked apple (two other favourites).”Judith Patten, Cookery Writer Marguerite Patten Dies Aged 99: Obituary, Olive magazine, Accessed 11/4/2020.
Marguerite’s attention to detail and lifelong interest in food earned her consistent praise. Thanks to her radio show, TV programs, and cookbooks, Britain learned how to cook during the war years and beyond. But, they didn’t just learn to cook, they learned to cook well, making dishes real people eat.
Judith Patten told Olive magazine, how Marguerite still received letters of appreciation for her Cookery in Colour cookbook, 55 years after its publication at the time. How wonderful to receive reminders that your life’s work helped someone else — and kept helping others.
Anne Dolamore of Grub Street told The Bookseller: “I was proud to be Marguerite Patten’s publisher for the past 15 years of her life. She was a joy to work with. Her recipes were accurate to a fault, her work that of a true professional. In my opinion she leaves a body of work in her consummate cookbooks that none today nor any cookery writer in future, will equal.”
Waterstones cookery buyer Bea Carvalho said: “We are all saddened by the death of one of Britain’s best loved cookery writers. Her books have provided a huge contribution to cookery publishing over the course of her distinguished career, and she has been an inspiration to many. We’re sure the upcoming reissue of her classic Century of British Cooking will inspire many more.”Caroline Carpenter, Tributes to Marguerite Patten, The BookSeller, June 11, 2015.
Marguerite Patten may no longer be with us, but her cookbooks are too popular and too useful to be cast to the dusty corners of your kitchen bookshelf. I found a copy of her Fruits and Vegetables cookbook in the (creepy) basement of a large textile mill turned antique shop. I had been working on this article, sharing facts about her with the family, and was so surprised to actually see her work that I think I loudly gasped.
I’m happy to own one of her cookbooks. While not every recipe is going to make it on our table, my revised 1968 copy contains relevant dishes.
After her death, a daffodil was named for her. I think that’s sweet.
A Lasting Source of Inspiration
“Marguerite was very enthusiastic about tea and she loved the fact that Britain had long been world famous for its fabulous cakes. She told me all about her favourites – things like cherry cake, church window cake (or Battenberg), coconut cake, Eccles and Shrewsbury cakes… the list was endless!
I thought Marguerite had a lovely point when she said that the great thing about giving a tea party or having people round for tea is that it can be a very relaxed occasion, as all the food can be prepared beforehand. After all, it’s really just an indoor picnic where all the food will sit happily until you’re ready to eat. It’s lovely, because you’re not always getting up and down and checking on things in the oven, so it’s a really good opportunity for a meeting or a chat.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that every old cookbook has a place in your home. However, I do believe many offer value, and that includes plenty of those penned by Marguerite Patten. Her recipes are still in use and adored by people around the world, as evidenced by numerous glowing cookbook reviews and name-dropping from famous folks in the food world, noteworthy chefs, and (most important of all) real home cooks.
Gizzi Erskine, chef and food writer, pointed to Marguerite Patten, in an interview with The Telegraph, as one of the five people who have inspired her because, “When I was starting to get interested in cooking there weren’t any English people looking at world food the way she did – she really spread the word.” Chef Gary Rhodes placed Marguerite in his top two culinary heroes.
Author Anissa Helou included Marguerite’s recipes in her book, The Fifth Quarter: an Offal Cookbook, and Nigel Slater mentioned Marguerite’s impact on him in “Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger.” In interviews, Marguerite was called the “cookery icon of our times,” by Ainsley Harriott. Jamie Oliver ranked her among the “food greats.”
The rest of us think she’s something too.
To honor her memory, social network users on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram were invited by the Guild of Food Writers to participate in a cook-along on November 4, 2015 in her honor. These posts were tagged with #Marguerite100.
“Encourage your readers not to look on the dismal side. I know life is difficult but find the good things, find the rainbow,” as she said to The Guardian. It’s a lovely sentiment from someone who helped people do just that.
Marguerite Patten Cookbooks:
Marguerite Patten had her favorite cookbooks. According to CooksInfo, she loved those from Escoffier and Elizabeth David. With more than 170 cookbooks to her name, many people claim “fave” about her books too. You should know this list is not exhaustive. Many of her cookbooks have multiple editions. It can get confusing.
If I am missing a Patten cookbook that you know is wonderful, please let me know, and I’ll try to add it to the list below. It very much felt like a needle in a haystack hunt, so I appreciate your tips.
How many Marguerite Patten cookbooks do you own? Do you have a favorite cookbook or favorite recipes (or both)? We would all love to know just what our cookbook shelves, and our menus, are missing. Please, clue the rest of us in by using the comments section below.
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That’s a lot of cookbooks. It isn’t even all of them! These aren’t slapped together cookbooks either. Marguerite provided careful measurements and thoughtful steps. When you read her recipes, the journey is planned out. You know where Marguerite is taking you.