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October 2018



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woman's magazine

What's Cooking?

When I got married and two ex-students’ book collections merged there were a few duplicates. These included the giant 1968 paperback edition of Lord of the Rings,
The Penguin Modern Poets The Mersey Sound
and Cooking in a Bedsitter by Katharine Whitehorn. This gives an idea of just how zeitgeist-y the book was. It’s amusing, practical, memorable; I still remember ‘the potato shaped space’ which needed to be filled. Now I see that Virago have reissued it. Does anyone, even a student, live in a bedsitter these days, with a tiny Belling cooker ? Isn’t it all shared houses and studios? Whitehorn’s book is a piece of a social history which will show a new generation how their parents lived.

I am sorry to find that there is not even one copy of the book in the house now. This is probably the result of a purge I had a few years ago of cookery books I no longer actually cooked from. Rummaging fruitlessly in the cupboard I did find something very different: Domestic and Economical Cookery Recipes With Special Hints On Gas Cooking by Miss Lillie Richmond It was published to promote the use of Richmond Cookers, which could be ‘Hired Out By Most Gas Companies’. ‘1892’ has been written on the fep., so I assume that it was my great grandmother’s.

What makes it interesting is that she, my grandmother, my great aunt and my own mother have added recipes and household hints. They seem to have been keen on pickles and on ways of using marrows and pumpkins. ‘Very Good Elderberry Wine’ sounds nice. How to treat a child for shock? If over two years, give four teaspoons of brandy in a little water; under two years, only two teaspoons. If no brandy available give warm milk and in all cases keep child warm with blankets and hot water bottles. How about this, ‘For the Hair’. Mix a tumbler of gin with 3 or 4 onions for 24 hours. Add (something I can’t read) of sulphur and a quart of water and shake well for two days. Rub in two or three times a week. What a waste of gin! Make your own black-out by mixing half a pound of veg black (whatever that was) with half a pint of turps and about two spoonfuls of paint. ‘Stretch material and paint’. Recession? We don’t know we’re born.

‘A Richmond I Want and a Richmond I’ll Have!’
‘Read the opinions of Lecturesses on our Stoves’


You don't have a copy in the house because it came my way when I went to university, along with the groovier Impoverished Student one. You can have it back if you like, though how will I make pancakes without it?
Oh wow! I'd love to read it again. It *is* still useful then!
We had a two ring Belling cooker throughout my childhood because our first kitchen was tiny; it ended up in the flat, and I cooked on it for the last time this summer. It was bought by the school some years ago so it stayed on there, but I think it did my mother good service over nearly 40 years. It was also the same cooker that chased my poor dad down the stairs when he tried to get it out of the loft (presumably to take it to school when he started that job) and we all still talk about that ...

I've got that Lord of the Rings, too!
Those Bellings must have been indestructible! The one I linked to dates from 1951 and is identical to one I used in about 1970.

I'm sorry to say I no longer have that TLOTR edition but have kept the hardbacks which cybersofa was given as a 21st present.
Oooh, I wasn't a student and I didn't live in a flat but I spent most of the 90s in a teeny tiny house with a teeny tiny kitchen, and I had a Baby Belling. It was brilliant. It was teeny tiny too, but it had two rings, a grill, an oven, and plugged into a regular wall socket. OK, you couldn't do your Hogswatch turkey in it, but, by George it could do most anything else. We gave it away to ... I forget who, now, but I know they didn't deserve it.

I had that pb of LOTR. It wore out, but I still have the hbs that I got as my 21st present. Are cybersofa's the ones with the grey dustjackets?
More yays for Belling! I remember making cakes in mine when my parents came to visit.

Yes, the LOTR hardbacks have the grey covers. Worth a bit now.
"Cooking in a Bedsitter"! Oh, I love that book! My mother bought me a copy when I went off to live in my very first bedsitter (in 1988). It subsequently got lost, but thanks to a kind internet friend, I now have a better edition (hardback, and with things that were cut from my 1980s paperback still in).

Some of it, as you say, is now only of historical interest, but much of it (the recipes, most obviously!) is still of practical use. This is part of why I love it; the blend of historical document and practical usefulness. That, and how wonderfully well it's written.
and how wonderfully well it's written.

Yes, it's a good read as well as being useful. I knew it was iconic!
Oh, I must have that Bedsitter book! I am so glad that Virago kept the original cover illustration. I've been eyeing How to Run your Home without Help as well, but the original cover is so charming and I don't think the Persephone edition has those illustrations, or does it?

I thought bedsitter meant bedroom/sitting room in one, or does it actually mean a room where you sit on the bed because there is no space for other furniture?

I live in a one-room apartment with a sitting area, a work/dining area (my desk), a sleeping area and a tiny open kitchen with a.o. a four-ring gas cooker on top of a tabletop fridge. Would that qualify?
I'm sure you'd enjoy it, though the recipes may seem old fashioned. The Persphone How to Run Your Home does have the original text illustrations but of course the plain grey cover.

Your apartment sounds much grander than a bedsitter would be. They are traditionally down market (think The L-Shaped Room), usually just a room in someone's house. Yes, a bedroom and sitting room in one. You probably would have to sit on the bed as there would be no room for a chair! Another fictional example is The Provincial Lady's friend Cissie in her bedsit in Norwich, cooking up vegetarian food on an oil stove.

Edited at 2008-09-19 08:29 am (UTC)
We had that LOTR and the Mersey Beat (still have them), but I don't think I had a cookery book at first, though I made lots of macaroni cheese on my Belling. Also, in periods of abject poverty, boiled rice to be eaten with jam while it lasted, then soy sauce. When we progressed to a flat I bought Jocasta Innes' Pauper's Cookbook, which was good on "planned eating" - in other words, leftovers.
Ooh, I was more up market than you :-). I moved on to The Penguin Cordon Bleu Cookery!
I have a copy, inscribed 1969, but it seems to be called Kitchen in the Corner - unless Whitehorn wrote two?
This is a hardback, if that helps.
Kitchen in the Corner was the original title. Has less of a ring about it, doesn't it?
I wonder when "hostel rooms" went out and "bedsitters" came in?
In about 1966 I slept in a young friend's East London hostel room on a very sturdy folding mattress called a Bedsitta. She offered me the bed, but the Bedsitta looked much more comfortable.
It was a very solid hinged mattress, incorporating a sturdy moulded plastic covering. When folded, it stood as a four foot cube, on which stood a 12 inch television. It could also be propped open against a wall, and piled with cushions for seating. The only snag was that it was so low to the floor, which was a disadvantage in a draughty room.
It was still regularly used as a spare child's bed throughout the 1980s, and went to the tip in the 1990s - still solid and usable, but nowhere to put it. Very sad. These days, of course, sbe would put it on Freecycle.


Gosh, I have fond memories of Cooking in a Bedsitter (and the Penguin Mersey poets, but sadly both books have gone astray!) Do you remember the recipe for Shrimp Wiggle??? Eight of us in the 1970s used to share one Baby Belling. And no fridge. I remember once producing quite a decent cheese souffle on it (well, I was very impressed!)
We obviously have similar pasts!