It’s not pleasant to imagine what the world might have been like if Winston Churchill hadn’t been able to persuade his chef, Georgina Landemare to leave the kitchen where she was making a pudding and head down to the basement bomb shelter with him. The date was October 14, 1940 and the Germans were doing one of their nightly blitzes over London. This time a lucky strike by Luftwaffe bomb destroyed the kitchen—and most of the building–where they had been standing just moments before. Fortunately, both Churchill and Landemare survived.
Always a fan of Churchill and always interested in the history of food, I am delighted to have a copy of Churchill’s Cookbook, a release of Landemare’s 1958 cookbook originally published as “Recipes from No. 10.” Churchill, famed not only for leading Britain to victory during World War II but also for his love of a good cigar, fine spirits and great food, once said “It is well to remember that the stomach governs the world.”
Besides Landemare’s recipes–short, easy to make, mostly French but with little in the way of detailed instructions—her book also has vintage photographs from the 15 years she cooked for the Churchills. An introduction by Phi Reed, director of the Churchill War Rooms which I visited on my one and only and very short trip to London, also gives historical perspective. The War Rooms are an underground warren of rooms that tunnel under the city of London where Churchill and his cabinet would meet and some of the work of the war would be done. “This is the room from which I will direct the war” Churchill announced after being elected Prime Minister in 1940 and visiting his underground office.
The rooms are now a museum and houses some of the recipes from this book. Landemare, who started life in the “service” at age 14 as a scullery maid, was the widow of Paul Landemare, a distinguished French chef at the famed Ritz Hotel and most likely learned to cook from him. She made Churchill breakfast in the morning and stayed in his service until he finished his last whiskey of the night (and one can assume there were plenty of whiskeys in between). She was such a necessity that, as Reed writes in his introduction, “Georgina Landemare’s importance to Churchill was nicely and neatly illustrated on VE Day, when after giving his rousing speech to the massed crowds in Whitehall, he made a point of turning to his faithful chef and thanking her ‘most cordially’, saying he could not have managed all the way through the war without her.”
As an aside, here is a fun anecdote showcasing Churchill’s sense of humor and his love of food.
Invited to a buffet luncheon while visiting the United States, Winston Churchill asked for a second helping of fried chicken by saying “May I have some breast” to which the hostess reportedly replied “Mr. Churchill, in this country we ask for white meat or dark meat.” The Prime Minister abjectly apologized and sent the hostess a beautiful orchid the next morning along with a note reading “I would be most obliged if you would pin this on your white meat.”
Winston Churchill’s Favorite Fruit Cake
10 ounces plain flour
8 ounces butter
6 ounces sugar
10 ounces mixed dried fruit
4 ounces glacé cherries (cut in half)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little flour to prevent the mixture curdling.
Sift the remainder of the flour with the baking powder and salt and add this to the creamed mixture. Add the dried fruit and beat the mixture well.
Spoon into a greased and lined round cake tin.
Bake for 2 hours in a moderate oven.
Boodles Orange Fool
6 sponge cakes
¾ pint cream
Sugar to taste
Cut up sponge cake lengthwise in slices and place in glass dish.
Put in a basin the grated rind of a lemon and 2 oranges and the juice of all the fruit. Mix well with the cream and sugar to taste.
Pour all over the sponge cakes and allow to stand for six hours before serving.
The above recipes are from “Churchill’s Cookbook.”