What a joy The Bloomsbury cookbook is to read and to return to again and again. Relooking at the book is not only for copying the incomparable recipes but to be reminded of the wit and wisdom of the Bloomsbury Group. It is to hear their voices once more and be reminded of their unique personalities whether it be E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, T. S. Eliot or one of many others. These were important personages in the worlds of art, literature, politics who turned over the traces of the repressive Victorian era and encouraged others to do the same. They invited open communication, debate, argumentation, laughter and love. Thanks to the skill of Jane Ondaatje Rolls we are privy to their thoughts, letters and jottings accompanied by photographs and paintings - what a gift!
While much as been written about the Bloomsbury Group to my knowledge no one save Rolls has presented them at table where they conversed, solidified friendships, pondered and disagreed at length. We learn their favorite foods, which illuminates a side of their personalities hitherto unexplored. For instance, Lytton Strachey’s favorite dish was rice pudding which he ate every day and was prepared by Dora Carrington who was a self taught cook all the better to care for him. Frances Partridge prepared “Tipsy Chicken” (the meat was marinated in gin). The group lingered long at table and like many of us had a fondness for chocolate cake. Further, we learn whose table was bountiful and whose a bit on the lighter side.
Readers may vicariously enjoy sharing ideas and breakfast with the Group at Monk’s House, picnics (sometimes washed down with champagne), evening parties at Gordon Square and summer parties in Charleston. The glimpses we find of the Group in The Bloomsbury Cookbook are so apropos, so intimate that it is as if we had become a part of their circle. Such is the skill, artfulness, and prodigious research that Rolls brought to her writing. This is a book to treasure.
- Gail Cooke