Edward and Helen Thomas - what and where did they eat?
Before the war and in early war-time.
I'm afraid this may be lowering the tone - or am I simply following the current 'foodie' obsession? Either way, I have realised how much food features in my novel and how much more space I could have given it, using the sources I had.
Helen's 'Under Storm's Wing' has a great deal of cooking in it - mostly 'teas', and Edward is always meeting people in London restaurants. I knew that Edward frequently followed a vegetarian regime, advised by doctors, and sometimes he was told to abstain from alcohol, which I suspect he would have found harder as he liked an inn and his ale.
Once Edward left Oxford and he and Helen were living together in a first-floor flat or 'half-house' (Atheldene Road) they had no money and he wrote to Edna Clarke-Hall that they lived on 'bone soup'.
Helen wrote, 'We lived on bread and cheese and tea. I remember having only ninepence one Saturday to buy provisions for the weekend.'
Slowly through selling his reviews and articles their position improved and they moved to Rose Acre Cottage, Kent, where Helen enjoyed using the bread oven to make bread:
'putting the loaves in the clean hot bricks, and seeing them begin to rise before I had time to shut the iron door.'
Once at Steep they grew vegetables in the gardens of all three of their cottages there - broad and runner beans, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, peas.
Helen spent a good deal of energy in entertaining Edward's friends. She was, she writes, shy about meeting new people and probably her confidence was boosted by knowing that they would enjoy her hospitality. Myfanwy writes:
'Often Eleanor would walk over to Steep with her brothers and their friends. One summer day Mother was expecting them all. After spending a hot summer day in the kitchen baking bread, scones, gingerbread and rock cakes, she laid tea in the cool sitting room.....freshly baked goods covered with clean tea-towels, a saucer of Mrs Dennet's deep yellow butter sprigged with parsley, a jar of home -made damson jam and another of the Lupton's honey.'
Rock cakes were often on Helen's menu and remembered fondly. Here is an early twentieth-century recipe:
Half-pound flour Two ounces currants
Three ounces butter Half-ounce candied peel
Four ounces sugar One teaspoon baking powder
Pinch ginger or spice
One egg, a little milk
Sieve the flour, rub in the butter; add all dry ingredients and fruit and mix thoroughly. Beat the egg with a little milk. Add it to the flour , and mix to a stiff dough. Place in rough heaps on a baking tray, and bake in a hot oven for about fifteen minutes.
My sense is that Edward was much more ascetic than Helen. Here he writes to Eleanor before their Broads house-boat holiday:
'There's one rule for Merfyn I should like to keep- that he shall have his last meal at tea-time and never a meal just before bed, & this tea need include nothing extraordinarily solid- just bread and butter and salad or fruit or anything cold and handy or nothing if need be.'
My experience of thirteen and a half year old boys suggests that 'nothing' would not be a popular idea!
Eating Out in LondonSt Martin's Lane, London.
Edward paid very regular visits to London and Eleanor Farjeon writes of three restaurants he frequented : the Cottage Tea Rooms in the Strand, St George's restaurant and cafe, St Martin's Lane where the literary set met for lunch, and Shearns vegetarian restaurant.
You can search Images for the Cottage Tearooms in 1910 in a very busy Strand.
Shearns, Tottenham Court Road, was a radical health food shop and vegetarian restaurant.
I was excited to find this restaurant review for the St Martin's Lane cafe - it's from 1899 but I imagine not much changed fourteen years later:
The room on the first floor was a nice bright little room, with white overmantels to the fireplaces, with one corner turned into a bamboo arbour, with painted tambourines and little mandolines and pictures, and an oaken clock on the light-papered walls, with red-shaded candles on the tables set for four or six. Two pretty girls in black, one with a white flower, one with a red, were in charge, and another girl peered out from a little railed desk by the door. In the background was a glimpse of a kitchen, behind a glass screen where some one was whistling “Sister Mary Jane’s Top Note,” and the two little waitresses were constantly hurrying to this screen with a “Hurry up with that pigeon’s egg,” or a “Be quick, now, with those flageolets.” My table was beautifully clean, with a little bunch of flowers on it, with a portentously large decanter and an array of glasses.
The waitress with the red flower put down a little bill of fare before me, and I learned that my dinner was to be—
Mulligatawny soup or Carrot soup.
Flageolets with cream and spinach.
Fried duck’s egg and green peas.
Lent pie or Stewed fruit.
“What, not stewed fruit?’ said the little girl with the red rose; and I knew that in her opinion I had missed the crown of the feast. A little bowl of lettuce and cucumber, with a bottle of salad dressing, was put in front of me, and I mixed my own salad. Then I ate a slice of Gruyère cheese, and finished with some almonds and raisins that were grouped on a platter round an orange. It being, as the sign- board had told me, a noted coffee-house, I ordered a small cup of the liquid, and said “Black,” in reply to the waitress’s question.
It was capital coffee undoubtedly, and, having finished it, I asked for my bill. The waitress pulled out a little morocco-covered memorandum book, and presented me with this :— Gingerbeer, 2d.; coffee, 2d.; dinner, 1s. 6d.; total, 1s. 10d. I paid at the desk, and went forth feeling rather empty.'
I'm sure Edward would have had the stewed fruit especially if it included prunes.
Next - eating on holiday and at war.
No poem seems appropriate - Blenheim Oranges? The Cherry Trees? Swedes? No. Not really.