WERTHEIMER: We can't leave the subject of food just yet. Not when there's roast goose, bread sauce, and plum pudding on the menu. The iconic fare of an English Christmas, and a new and affectionate collection of those recipes out just in time for the holidays, the work of Elizabeth David, the Julia Child of Great Britain.
David was an evangelist for good food. When she died in 1992, she left a box of material marked "Christmas." That box became a book, "Elizabeth David's Christmas." It was reviewed by New York Times food columnist, Florence Fabricant.
Ms. FLORENCE FABRICANT (Food Columnist, New York Times): What struck me is, despite all of the Englishness of a lot of the dishes, to me what came through much more strongly was a certain distain, or maybe that's too strong a word, a certain refusal to accept those kinds of dishes flat out and a real preference for the Mediterranean and the foods of those countries. North Africa, Spain, Italy, France shine through this book, and shine through the cold, possibly bleakness of an English Christmas. And I think that's where I felt Elizabeth David's voice was the strongest. And in fact, an early review of the English edition, the reviewer complained about how cranky she was about English food.
WERTHEIMER: Still, there are the oldie English-y recipes in here, like things that modern cooks would not possibly attempt.
Ms. FABRICANT: But at the same time, I think what attracted her most to a lot of typical English Christmas fare is their history. She has pages and pages on plum pudding, which she also calls porridge or broth, as it evolved over centuries. Another Christmas or holiday or feast dish, frumenty, which is nothing more than sweetened boiled wheat that she says dates back to when Rome - the Romans ruled England. It's quite amazing, I think the historical aspect is what interests her more than the taste of those dishes.
WERTHEIMER: Can I ask you to read something from the section on sauces? Which, it sort of seems to me, might convey the way she writes about food. When she's talking about mayonnaise, this is not particularly Christmasy, she calls it a conjuring trick. And she notes that it's easy to make it in a machine, however, she doesn't like to. And I'd like you to read why on page 134.
Ms. FABRICANT: All right. She says, referring to the machines and other gadgets, "I do not care, unless I am in a great hurry, to let it deprive me of the pleasure and satisfaction to be obtained from sitting down quietly, with bowl and spoon, eggs and oil, to the peaceful kitchen task of concocting the beautiful shining golden ointment, which is mayonnaise."
WERTHEIMER: Now that's something you don't read in very many cook books.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FABRICANT: No. And you know, she calls mayonnaise magic, as a matter of fact, and one of the most useful sauces in existence. And you can read all kinds of deconstructions of what mayonnaise represents, what the emulsion does to those cellular walls, and blah, blah, blah. But it doesn't sound as yummy as this does.
WERTHEIMER: I like her very careful instructions about bread sauce. I mean, I would describe it as a sort of creamy, gravy-like accompaniment to roasted things. But, you know, her little introduction to bread sauce begins, "I do not willingly cook or eat bread sauce, but recognize that there's still many people for whom the turkey without bread sauce is not the turkey." Then she gives you these amazingly careful instructions about how to do it. One of which is, watch it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FABRICANT: Well, it's true because she's not going to do anything half-way. I think that there is that in her personality and her writing. She dug deep into history and into techniques and even, in some cases, discussed trying certain recipes over and over to get them right. It's admirable.
WERTHEIMER: Florence Fabricant, thank you very much.
Ms. FABRICANT: It was my pleasure, and happy holidays to you and your listeners.
WERTHEIMER: Florence Fabricant is a food columnist for the New York Times talking with us about the cookbook "Elizabeth David's Christmas" which is just out here in the United States.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.