Tuesday, September 1, 2020

"Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook"

Celia Rees is an award-winning YA novelist who is one of Britain's foremost writers for teenagers. Her novel Witch Child has been published in 28 languages and is required reading in secondary schools in the UK. Rees’s books are published in the US by Candlewick and Scholastic. Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook is her first adult novel. A native of the West Midlands of England, she lives with her family in Leamington Spa.

Rees applied the Page 69 Test to Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook and reported the following:
Page 69 is a significant point in the novel. The first page of Chapter 6 and a whole new section of the book.

It is a transition. My heroine, Edith Graham, is literally embarking on a new life. She has left England and is in Europe. The Chapter title, Blue Train, Hook of Holland – Hamburg, sub heading 4th January, 1946, marks time and place; we know the year and the season (immediately post war, mid winter); it places her physically: she is on a train heading for Germany. It also places her psychologically and emotionally: she is leaving her old life behind and is heading into the unknown. It is a Janus moment: a few days from New Year and on a train you can look forward or back. A blue metal token gives her a place on the train. She has a ticket to ride.

Under the chapter heading is a menu, accompanied by a recipe:
Blue Train Picnic

Broodje kroket

Rookwurst (Smoked Sausage)


Hard-boiled eggs


Broodje kroket: Not unlike a rissole, flecked with parsley. Made with leftover meat, minced or chopped, mixed with onion but bound with a béchamel then formed into a fat sausage, crumbed and deep fried. Eaten in a bridge roll with mild dutch mustard.

More like a rissole than a croquette. Find under Meat (66, 63). Can be baked at Regulo 7 (or 6 depending on the oven) or fried for 9 or 10 minutes (turn after 5).
Each chapter is headed by a menu and/or a recipe, signalling that food is very important in the novel. Not just food, but the menus and recipes also contain meaning, some of it obvious, some of it hidden. In this case, we can recognise that it is Dutch, a snack, seasoned with mustard and accompanied by hard boiled eggs – a picnic, in fact. There is also Genever, the Dutch name for Gin (the English word derives from it). Not usual with a picnic, but we need to read on to find out more.

The accompanying recipe is written in precise notes. The font is different from the body of the novel, denoting that this is a personal document of some kind. The recipe is accompanied by comments which translate it to the more familiar British rissole and guidance on how to cook with reference to a particular cookery book, page references, temperature (regulo) and timing all presented as numerals. The references to Rissoles and 'Regulo' date the book to mid Twentieth Century Britain.

The recipe has obvious significance (it is Dutch, we are in Holland) but it has meaning beyond that. It is written as though addressed to another – who might be? It contains a lot of numerals, more maybe than strictly necessary. Could that be significant?

Maybe. To find out – you'll have to read the book!
Visit Celia Rees's website.

Q&A with Celia Rees.

My Book, The Movie: Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook.

--Marshal Zeringue