AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

29 July 2020

Practical.


Throughout the war she cooked at Downing Street, Chequers and occasionally in the tiny kitchen under the Cabinet War Rooms. Churchill was an enthusiast for chain eating, which was his interpretation of the medical advice he had been given before the war. He liked soup last thing at night and insisted, even at Yalta, on operating on ‘tummy time’. He was not a glutton but, as Gray puts it, ‘he was used to good food and plenty of it.’ Landemare was able to eke out their rations with produce from Chartwell, the Churchills’ country house in Kent. The prime minister had an extra allowance for diplomatic entertaining, the exact size and purpose of which was a subject of intense discussion between Churchill’s secretaries, the Ministry of Food and the Government Hospitality Fund. The meals Landemare provided were a ‘careful balancing act between need, want and public image’, carefully pitched at ‘hearty trencherman’ but avoiding any suggestion of greed or faddishness. Hitler, after all, was a vegetarian. Ingredients were not only fewer, but also more seasonally dependent. The gastronomic day of the 1930s and 1940s was relatively light compared with the 1890s. It began with breakfast in bed for Clementine and Winston at 8 a.m., which they took separately in their own rooms: orange juice, eggs, toast and butter. Lunch was held at 1.15 p.m. in London and at 2 p.m. at Chequers. On less formal occasions it might be fishcakes, for example, and pears in red wine. While the Churchills stuck mostly to the rules, they were not so strict about rationing as Buckingham Palace and the king quickly established a habit of coming to dinner every Tuesday. In March 1941 he and the Churchills sat down to ‘fish patty, tournedos with mushrooms on top and braised celery and chipped potatoes, peaches and cheese to follow’.

The Churchills were famously terrible employers. Many a cook and kitchen maid had left in tears and one had reputedly gone mad. Mrs Mar, however, did more than stay the course. She became a trusted ally and a friend to Mary, the Churchills’ daughter. She took a practical view of Winston’s peculiarities. If, as sometimes occurred, he ‘absent-mindedly wandered around stark naked’, she told him off and he would apologise. His roast beef ‘always had to be underdone’, but since he was often late for meals this could be difficult to achieve. Landemare’s method was to ‘watch till I knew he was in, then he’d have to have his bath and then I knew to put the meat in’. He was also apt to change his mind about where to eat, whether in the house or in the lavishly appointed bunker under the garden. This would mean wrapping all the dishes in a shawl, ‘sometimes at a rather late stage’ in their preparation, and jumping into the duty car to be driven round the back. Nothing was spilled or spoiled. On VE Day, Churchill addressed the crowds from the balcony of the Ministry of Health. Landemare took a while to get up the stairs but when she did he broke away from the group, shook her hand and said he couldn’t have done it without her.

CONNECT

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