Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Kitchen Front

The Kitchen Front
  The Kitchen Front
Author:  Jennifer Ryan
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0593158806 / 978-0593158807

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "A glorious spring morning poured its golden splendor through the tall kitchen window as a whirlwind of boys raced in, shooting at each other in a ramshackle reconstruction of Dunkirk."

Favorite Quote:  "My grief is only equal to what I had that was lost, and if my sorrow is immeasurable, it is because the depth of our love, our world, and the joy we created, was so immense on the other side of the balance. I would not be without it for all the world."

Wars are fought on many different fronts including, as the title indicates, the kitchen front. This story is of World War II in England where food shortages abounded. The book touches on the bigger tragedies of the war, but the focus in on the kitchen front. Food shortages were prevalent; food rationing began in 1940 and did not end until 1954. 

In an effort to help, BBC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Food, began a radio cooking show. The show titled "The Kitchen Front, the cookery program helping Britain's housewives make the most of wartime food rations." The show aimed to educate the British housewife in creative use of rations. The show aired for four years in over 1,000 episodes.

Given that the women faced most of the challenges on the kitchen front, the show was aimed at women. This book picks up on this history and tells the story of a group of women in a small English village. Through the background of these women, it tells the story of war, of resilience, of a sisterhood rising to lift one another up. "Sometimes life doesn't turn out the way we expect. Sometimes we need to stand together."

The premise is a simple one. The radio show hosts a contest to be held in three courses - appetizer, main course, and dessert. The winner will have the opportunity to be a host on the radio show. The contestants are a war widow trying to provide for her children, a lady of the manor with secrets that belie the appearance of the manor, a shy maid who is a talented cook but who lacks the confidence in her abilities, and a trained fine dining chef relegated by circumstances to a country village factory kitchen. Through these four women, the book tells a story of the issues faced by women - the war, abandonment, unwanted pregnancies, working conditions, family affairs, motherhood, grief, medical illness, and so much more.

Being a book centered around a cooking show, the book does come with recipes:  hominy pie, Lord Woolton pie, curried salt cod, scrod St Jacques, sweet pickle chutney, hare with elderberry wind sauce, sardine rolls, spam and game raised pie, sheep's head roll, chicken cacciatore, whale meat and mushroom pie, to name a few. Based on the ration ingredients, I don't think I will be trying these recipes any time soon. However, as someone who enjoys cookbooks and food history, I do enjoy reading about them and the ingenuity of these wartime cooks.

Ultimately, this story of war turns into a feel good story about family we create and women banding together to better each of the lives individually and all their lives collectively. "Sometimes things seem to drown us... But then one day becomes a week, and then a month, and slowly you being to get on with life. The world readjusts around you, and you find new skills and talents you never know you had."

I leave this book, having learned yet a new aspect of World War II history. I also leave it inspired by the courage and strength of women in trying circumstances who rise above their challenges to meet life and who do it in a supportive, uplifting way. A feel good story of war if such a thing is possible.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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