Author of the Pauper’s Cookbook, kitchen bible of impecunious flat-dwellers throughout the UK in the 70s, Jocasta Innes was also a fount of information on rural traditions of cooking, storing and preserving. Here, her son Jason Goodwin reveals the background to Jocasta’s The Country Kitchen, first published in 1979. Below, two recipes from the book
My mother, Jocasta, who was described as ‘a domestic goddess pioneer’, lived in Dorset between 1970 and 1980, when this compendium of her learning and experience was first published. She was by no means a provincial cook only. She had lived in China, Egypt and France. Her own mother came from the Argentine, and had wound up looking after innumerable Anglo families and their children in management compounds across China in the 1930s and 1940s. Eileen was a superb cook, as various recipes in this book testify; lessons learned on the pampas and along the China coast enriched her repertoire, and she made a mean sweet and sour pork.
Mum inherited her unhurried, practical approach to food. She arrived in Swanage as part of a movement from the city to the countryside that is re-enacted every so often by people tired of conformity and compromise. They are looking for the Good Life. For Jocasta, this meant not just a simpler, more sustainable relationship with money and the earth, but also good food, homely wisdom, and the mastery of time-honoured skills.
There were still, in country places then, traditions of cooking, storing and preserving; every housewife seemed to have a notebook in the kitchen, battered and splattered, its pages scribbled over and stuffed with all sorts of good recipes picked up from friends, snipped out of magazines, or peeled off the back of tins (Carnation, I think, was always telling you how to make fudge). These books were a cook’s vade mecum, Bible, and perhaps secret weapon: as Jocasta writes about Mrs Macnab in Balmoral, the little queen Victoria didn’t come to see her for a chat, she came for the scones.
Mum also drew on a treasury of cookbooks produced by women in England and America: pioneers, farmer’s wives, scholars or just writers stung into print by the lack of information available to women setting up a new home. Hannah Glasse was one of the first, and Eliza Acton followed: Mrs Beeton drew heavily on Acton. Then there were books by Florence White and Dorothy Hartley, delving into deep country, and later still Patience Grey and Jane Grigson. These were the books invariably propped up either by the Rayburn stove or on the kitchen table, beside the Olivetti typewriter.
Mum cheerfully called herself a peasant, and a greedy one, to boot: greedy people made the best cooks. Her first book, The Pauper’s Cookbook, distilled her experience of living on a shoestring. It was optimistic and friendly, full of sound advice and recipes that didn’t cost the earth. You might be poor, she said, but you could still be adventurous and well-fed.
The endpaper illustrations of The Country Kitchen, by Stewart Walton, shows just how my mother’s kitchen looked in 1979, with pots and pans, and demi-johns on the dresser, and buckets which might have contained brining hands of pork (or possibly nappies), and a bright, wide view across the town to Nine Barrow Down and the Giant’s Grave. This book was her swansong to country life, to the best of eating, feasting and thinking ahead, before she followed the call of the city and launched a new career in decoration, with her book Paint Magic.
As Sam Musson wrote in The Independent: ‘Her style of writing is not unlike … Elizabeth David and, like her, she pulls no punches. But I always used to think of her as a counterweight to the blessed David, whose recipes can be so know-it-all and who certainly never lived impecuniously in Swanage.’
Jocasta Innes’s recipes for daily bread and daily pate
As the name suggests, this is a good loaf for everyday eating. It requires only one raising, made up for by generous kneading. This amount will make two large (1 kg/2 lb) loaves or four smaller ones. I usually make one big loaf to wrap and keep, and two smaller ones to eat during the next day or two.
Wholemeal flour 1kg (2lb)
Strong white bread flour 450g (1lb)
Salt 1 level tablespoon
Dried yeast 7g packet
Warm water 900ml (one and a half pints)
Sugar or honey 1 tsp
Mix the two flours, yeast and salt together in a large bowl and put to warm slightly. Dissolve the honey or sugar in a small cupful of warm water. Add the liquid bit by bit to the the flour and yeast and mix till the dough forms a lump and leaves the sides of the bowl clean. Transfer to a floured board or table and knead for at least 15 minutes. Place in greased tins or shape into loaves on a greased baking sheet. Slip the loaves into a large oiled polythene bag and leave to rise for 45 minutes to one hour in a warm place or two to three hours at room temperature. When the loaves have doubled in size put them into a preheated hot oven (220°C, 425°F, Mark 7) for 10 minutes then turn down to 190°C (375°F, Mark 5) and cook for another 30 to 50 minutes, depending on the size of the loaves. Turn out and leave till cold.
Simple Daily Pate
This pâté has the advantage of being cheap, tasty and endlessly variable
Streaky bacon 225g (8oz)
Pig, sheep or ox liver 450g (1lb)
Belly of pork 450g (1lb), trimmed of skin and bone
Onion 1 small, peeled and chopped
Garlic 2 cloves, peeled and sliced
Juniper berries 2 tsps
Salt 1 tsp
Pepper 1/2 tsp
Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F, Mark 3). Cut the rind off the bacon and line an earthenware dish with strips of bacon – reserving some for the cover. Finely mince the liver and the pork belly, with the onion and the garlic. Roughly crush the berries and stir them in with the well-beaten egg, salt and pepper. Add a little spice with chopped herbs or a dash of brandy, if desired. Turn the mixture into a lidded, oven-proof dish, cover with the remaining bacon strips, then the lid and bake in a bain marie for about one hour, or till the meat shrinks away from the sides of the dish.
The Country Kitchen by Jocasta Innes is published by Argonaut Books, £28 available in bookshops or visit argonautbooks.com/the-country-