‘Review note: Maggie’s Kitchen can be read between courses’, Honest History, 27 July 2016
Gentle Reader* reviews a war book that mixes fiction and fact.
Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham is technically fiction but it manages to weave in a lot of fact, as well, to do with living and coping in London during the Blitz. The book even has a website which fills in more of the background and offers authentic-looking recipes for dishes like Crisp Coated Scotch Eggs and Turnip Top Salad. The website also includes information about London life in the stressed 1940s and about planning and tending a Victory Garden. There are also some excerpts from the book.
The book is essentially about how the Maggie of the title responds to a government call to feed hungry Londoners in 1940, how she battles bureaucratic dictates about menus and then struggles with supply problems. Ultimately, the restaurant prospers despite difficulties, symbolic perhaps of British pluck prevailing against the odds. There are side plots about a son trying to find his father and romance for Maggie bubbling to the surface.
The book is engagingly written with characters whose fate one can worry about. It could be read without strain by someone dining alone or even dipped into while a meal is cooking. Without giving too much away, it has an ending with which readers of romantic novels will identify, while it still makes an effort to be true to its serious setting. There is a list at the end of the book of sources which the author found useful, including reproductions of official food preparation advice, as well as archival material from the then Ministry of Food.
There may be opportunities for the author, who is now based in Australia, to work up a similar book about Australia during World War II or even World War I. Heaven knows, we have surely had our fill of wartime books which never get past the front line and the field dressing station. In some ways, the book complements Julie Summers’ Fashion on the Ration, a non-fiction work which Janet Wilson reviewed for Honest History.
Do not confuse Maggie’s Kitchen with the currently playing movie, Maggie’s Plan; that has a completely different plot and is nothing to do with restaurants. Nor should the book be confused with Maggie’s Kitchen, by celebrity cook Maggie Beer, which is of a different flavour again.
Gentle Reader is a Canberra lawyer who has reviewed a number of books for Honest History.