(Blog editor note - when I wrote this review in 2003, she was still the Duchess of Devonshire, residing in the big house called Chatsworth. Since then, her husband the Duke passed on and their son inherited, and she now lives in the small dower house. She is now in her 90s and a bit of a recluse, after having had to fend off an enamored stalker when she was a late-80-something widow! One of the things not mentioned here, because most Brits either know this or don't give a toss, is that she was Deborah Mitford, the youngest of the famous Mitford girls. By the way, she has also since becoming the Dowager Duchess written a very charming autobiography.)
I really shouldn't have this in my book reviews at all; for one thing, it's more of a tourist attraction than a book, and for another, I haven't read it. But I just read Lynn Barber's very amusing review of it, and interview with the Duchess, in the Observer Food Monthly, and it made me want to look into it. The first paragraph will give you a flavour:
"It is quite thrilling for me to meet someone who knows even less about cooking than I do - especially when she is publishing her very own cookery book. The Duchess of Devonshire - for it is she - actually begins her Chatsworth Cookery Book with the words 'I haven't cooked since the war'. She says she would have liked to make that the title, but the publishers wouldn't agree. Her friend, the hairdresser in Chesterfield, told her that her writing a cookery book was 'a bit rich!' but of course it will be - being by the Duchess, it will sell like hot cakes."
There is a recipe in the book for Oeufs Mollet which the Duchess, when pressed, chooses as her personal favourite. It is a dish she was "brought up on". (Her mother, Lady Readesdale, was an avid cook and an early health food advocate, and this was one of her mother's standards.) The dish is very simple, poached eggs with fried capers and parsley, basically, but here is what Her Grace has to say about it:
"Well it's soft, you know.' What? 'Like a hard-boiled egg only soft, and you take the shell off - quite tricky sometimes. I don't think you or I could do it! And then you put butter and fried capers." Ah, bless. Is it really possible that an 80-something year old woman, who raises prize chickens and has dined in all the best houses of the world, whose own house is one of the best in the world, and who went to the Cordon Bleu (admittedly sixty years ago) does not recognise and know the term for a poached egg?
By the way, I stole the above title from the Observer review.
But even though the Duchess got most of these recipes from her cook or in some cases, her friends' cooks or the cooks for her wildly successful farm shop at Chatsworth, I think this is a good cookbook for those who like really posh food (that would be me too, reverse snob though I am) or for those who just like reading about really posh food (also me.)