In 2011, Gourmet released their list of the 50 Women Game Changers in Food. I stumbled on this entirely by accident. One week a couple of months ago, I was meal planning, and didn’t have access to my Ina Garten cookbooks. So, I googled the recipe I was looking for and found it on a blog that was making its way through the list (she’s number 39… I’m a little disgruntled that Rachael Ray is higher up than she is). I was inspired to do the same. I need to challenge myself more in the kitchen, and I thought this would be an excellent way to do so. As I’ve been planning for this, I’ve been flipping through cookbooks, checking out websites and buying new equipment, and I’m excited. I’m also really looking forward to learning more about these game changing women, and introducing myself to recipes I’ve never cooked before.
(And since this entire year-long project will be all recipes I’ve never made before, I can’t promise that everything will turn out the way I want it to. But whether a dish is a winner or an epic fail, I’m going to be completely honest about it.)
Week 14 brings us to Elizabeth David.
Elizabeth David (December 26, 1913-May 22, 1992) was born Elizabeth Gwynne in Sussex, England. Her family was wealthy, and after her father’s death in 1924, she and her three sisters were sent away to boarding school. Elizabeth was artistic, and was enrolled at the Sorbonne in France, where she took courses on French civilization. She stayed with a French family during her time there, and credits her experiences with this family as the most valuable part of her time in Paris. Specifically, their enthusiasm for good food, food better and different than anything she had ever known, had stuck with her. When her time in France was over, her mother sent her to Germany. After Germany, she went back to England and while she tried to become successful as an actress, began learning to cook. At this point, she met Charles Gibson-Cowan. He was married, but this was irrelevant to either of them. In 1938, they purchased a boat and began to travel. They both found jobs, and while Elizabeth was no longer in love with her partner, she had fallen in love with flavors of the Mediterranean.
While living in Cairo, Elizabeth married Lt. Colonel Tony David in 1944. She wasn’t in love with him, but was in her 30’s, and didn’t want to become a spinster. Shortly after getting married, her husband was relocated to India. The climate of India didn’t suit her, and neither did being the wife of a military officer, so she returned to England. And returned to the abysmal food of post-war England. She began writing about the food of the Mediterranean, and these articles were published in Harper’s Bazaar, beginning in 1949. These articles were compiled and in 1950 they were published as A Book of Mediterranean Food. She continued to write books over the years, and ended her relationship with Harper’s to write a column for Vogue, which offered her more money and prestige.
In 1963, she suffered from a cerebral hemorrage, which effected not only her taste, but her confidence. Around this time, she and four business partners decided to open a kitchen supply shop. It was never successful, and she seperated from that venture in 1973. She continued to write up until her death, due to multiple strokes, on May 22, 1992.
(Her life seems incredibly fascinating, and she seems like an incredibly formidable woman. There are biographies written about her, but if you want a shorter read, check out this article written for what would have been her 100th birthday.)
I made mussels from the book At Elizabeth David’s Table (published in honor of the 60th anniversary of A Book of Mediterranean Food), and to be honest, I was completely underwhelmed. They weren’t bad, there just wasn’t a lot going on, flavor wise. But, they were incredibly easy to make, and pretty inexpensive. I bought two pounds of fresh mussels at Whole Foods, for around $7.00. I think that was the first time I have ever gotten out of Whole Foods that cheap.
Elizabeth David’s moules marinière
(Recipe slightly adapted from At Elizabeth David’s Table, p. )
- 2 lbs. of fresh mussels
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 stalk of celery, diced
- 1 cup of white wine
- 1 cup of water
- 2 T. of softened butter
- 1.5 T. of all-purpose flour
- Scrub the mussels well, and discard any that are open. Mash together the butter & the flour, and set aside.
- Add the onions, garlic and celery to a dutch oven, or large heavy bottomed pan, with the liquids. Put in the mussels, cover, and cook until the shells open, about 3-4 minutes.
- Remove the mussels from the pan, and whisk in the butter/flour mixture. Let cook for a few minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
- Serve mussels in bowls, with sauce poured over them. Sprinkle fresh parsley on top.