David, Elizabeth (1914–1992)

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David, Elizabeth (1914–1992)

English cookery writer who sparked British interest in foreign cuisine and lent stylish, literate writing to the preparation of food and selection of wine. Born Elizabeth Gwynne in 1914; died in 1992; studied French history and literature at the Sorbonne; married Ivor David (a career army officer).

Selected works:

A Book of Mediterranean Food (1950); French Country Cooking (1951); Italian Food (1954); Summer Cooking (1955); French Provincial Cooking (1960); English Cooking (1970); English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1977); Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices (published posthumously, 1995).

Five years after World War II, as a beleaguered England slowly weaned itself off years of food rationing, Elizabeth David wrote a cookery book entitled A Book of Mediterranean Food (1950) that became a bestseller. A year later, she published French Country Cooking, which she followed with several others, hurling the combined weight of her books "against the drab tyranny of 'meat and two veg,'" wrote Ingrid Rowland in The New York Review of Books (April 4, 1996). With the publication of French Provincial Cooking in 1960, ten years after her first success, David's "characteristic mix of tart practicality and deep erudition had already begun to work its changes on the English palate." She had become England's premiere epicure, with an OBE (1976), a CBE (1986), the Order of Chevalier du Mérité Agricole from France (1977), and title of Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

David's passion for cooking started at 16, while she studied French history and literature at the Sorbonne and boarded with a gastronomic French family. She married a career army officer and revelled in the dishes she discovered while living in the many parts of the world where he was posted. A dedicated researcher who wrote with a large dollop of English wit, she was fascinated not only with food but its history and philosophy. "Far more than collections of recipes," wrote Rowland of her books, "they are really treatises on human civility."

David died in 1992 before completing her last book, Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices. This work, started in the mid-1970s, began as a simple look at early European ice-cream recipes but soon moved into the area of early refrigeration and the demand for ice brought on by the Industrial Age. Edited by Jill Norman and published posthumously in 1995, the book could have been an "intellectual sorbet," writes Rowland. "But Elizabeth David was never that kind of writer. Food and its history have long been the domain of keenly intelligent, physically imposing, mature women—it is no accident that Juno, their archetype, was the goddess of memory as well as domestic virtue." Like her American counterpart and friend Julia Child , David was definite about her opinions. While Child called nouvelle cuisine Cuisinart cooking, David referred to it as "those airy little nothings accompanied by their trois sauces served in doll's house swimming pools round one side of the plate."


Rowland, Ingrid D. "The Empress of Ice Cream," in The New York Review of Books. Vol XLIII, no. 6. April 4, 1996, p. 54–56.