May 26th 2010 was the day of the Ashburne Hall reunion when Professor Denis Judd, as guest of honour, gave an amusing talk on Alison Uttley, creative genius and compulsive housewife. We heard how in the early days of her widowhood, Alison struggled with money and worried over the purchase of a bag of oranges or a bunch of flowers, with only two shillings left to cover a week-end. By the late 1930’s, Alison was a successful writer. When not feverishly preparing gargantuan feasts for friends, Alison would be making marmalade or bottling, then bemoaning the fact “no writing today” in her diaries. Later in life, a visitor commented on “her heroically untidy kitchen”; all her adult life, Alison found it hard to cope with her numerous domestic helps and often struggled alone.
The cookery book was based on notebooks inherited from Alison’s mother, plus her own additions. It builds on a childhood where food was plentiful and home produced at Castle Top Farm, in Derbyshire. The modern publisher adds notes of warning: some of these country ingredients, such as laudanum for cough mixtures and salt petre for curing hams, are today considered dangerous. We can thoroughly recommend this new edition, an uplifting peep into 19th century Derbyshire, with some lovely illustrations.