The ‘Delightful’ Ms. David

In Recipes on January 15, 2011 at 3:15 am

I have been reading a compilation of food writer Elizabeth David’s writings and recipes entitled South Wind Through the Kitchen. The book includes excerpts from her most famous books: French Provincial Cooking, Italian Food and Mediterranean Food (among others).  The excerpts have been selected by people who knew, or were influenced by, Ms. David.  I enjoyed the book but found I had to wade through the superlatives.  Her food is ‘delicious’, she herself is ‘erudite’, a ‘kind and sympathetic friend’, ‘generous’, her hands, when she is cooking in her kitchen, are ‘as creative as those of any sculptor’.  Her work is ‘steeped in scholarship’, her food the ‘best’ anyone has ever tasted.  If you believe the comments in this book you would have to conclude that Ms. David could not put a foot wrong.

Having read Elizabeth David for the first time over twenty years ago I loved the three books I have mentioned above.  She writes in an evocative style and places the food and recipes in context.  For example, when she is cooking Italian seafood dishes she first vividly describes the fish markets of Italy and the characters that frequent them.  This places the reader right there with Ms. David and when you cook the dish you feel like you have had a little taste of the Italian experience yourself.  This woman can write.

David is also credited with causing a bit of a culinary revolution in Britain.  When her first books came out in the 1950s most of Britain ate a very bland and stodgy diet.  Some say Elizabeth changed all that.  I’m not sure if her influence was as far reaching as her many fans make out but I will say that she paved the way for those cooks who wanted to break free from the straitjacket of English post war cooking.  Many young women, newly married, would have been given a copy of one of her books and this would have changed their idea of what cooking was and how food was to be enjoyed.  Who knows, perhaps if there had been no Elizabeth David there would have been no Delia Smith or Jamie Oliver.  Oh no, I’m about to succumb to the superlatives myself!

In our house we have a couple of favourites that come from Elizabeth David.  My daughter makes her very simple chocolate mousse recipe whenever she can and I make a risotto that originated from the risotto recipe in her Italian Food (I have modified it a little over the years).

Elizabeth David's chocolate mousse

Chocolate Mousse


120 g chocolate (must be at least 70% cocoa)

4 eggs

4 tbs caster sugar


Break chocolate up into pieces and put in a dry metal bowl.  Place the bowl on top of a saucepan of gently simmering water (make sure the bowl does not touch the water).  When almost melted, remove from the heat and stir with a dry metal spoon.  Put aside.  Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a large bowl and the whites in another large bowl.  Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks, add sugar and briefly whisk again.  Gradually add the melted chocolate to the egg yolks, whisking all the time.  Add a third of the egg white mixture and whisk through.  Add the rest and gently fold until the egg whites are incorporated, try to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.  Spoon into one large bowl or four  individual serving dishes if you prefer.  Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least four hours, overnight is better.  Serves four.

Light and airy

  1. Just to let you know that there is a new, revised, e-book edition of “Lunch with Elizabeth David”. The novel involving David and her mentor, Norman Douglas, originally published by Little Brown, is available in all e-book formats and can be sampled at
    It is also in the Amazon Kindle store.

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