Sugar and spice and a respite of nice amidst hardship.
It’s no secret I have a soft spot for unusual cookbooks, especially ones with a literary or art bend — from homages like The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook and Modern Art Desserts to actual recipe collections by Alexandre Dumas, Andy Warhol, Liberace, and Alice B. Toklas, and especially The Artists & Writers’ Cookbook. Naturally, I was delighted to learn that George Orwell — who had some strong opinions about tea — was also quite the culinary connoisseur. As one of history’s most dedicated diarists, he filled countless notebooks with his ideas and pasted in them various newspaper clippings he wanted to save, from gardening tips to recipes. Indeed, his keen interest in cuisine came through in his dealings with people he met — like the Searles, a poor family with whom he stayed when he set out to learn empathy by immersing himself in poverty.
George Orwell: Diaries (public library) reveals two unexpected culinary treats from the beloved author’s time with the Searles: In the same extensive diary entry from March 5, 1936, which gave us 33-year-old Orwell’s contemplation of gender equality in work and housework, he writes down Mrs. Searle’s fruit loaf recipe to keep himself from losing it, noting parenthetically that it is “very good with butter.”
1 lb flour.
4 oz. treacle.
4 oz. mixed fruit (or currants).
8 oz. sugar.
6 oz. margarine or lard.
Cream the sugar and margarine, beat the egg and add it, add the treacle and then the flour, put in greased tins and bake about ½ to ¾ hour in a moderate oven.
He also includes her simple recipe for sponge cake:
5 oz. flour, 4 oz. sugar, 3 oz. grease (butter best), 2 eggs, 1 teaspoonful baking powder. Mix as above and bake.
What’s especially heartening about these recipes is that they channel a simple celebration of life despite the painful confines of poverty, a certain immutable human capacity for delight even amidst hardship.
George Orwell: Diaries is an excellent read in its entirety, full of insight and wisdom far less fleeting than one cycle of the gastrointestinal tract. Complement it with Orwell on the four reasons why we create, then revisit The Artists & Writers’ Cookbook.