Maggie’s Kitchen – Caroline Beecham – Book review
Amid the heartbreak and danger of London in the Blitz of WW2. Maggie Johnson finds her courage in friendship and food. They might all travel the same scarred and shattered streets on their way to work, but once they entered Maggie’s Kitchen, it was somehow as if the rest of the world didn’t exist.
When the Ministry of Food urgently calls for the opening of British Restaurants to feed tired and hungry Londoners during the Second World War, Maggie Johnson is close to realising a long-held dream.
But after struggling through government red-tape and triumphantly opening its doors, Maggie’s Kitchen soon encounters a most unexpected problem. Her restaurant has become so popular with London’s exhausted workers. Maggie simply can’t get enough supplies to keep up with demand for food, without breaking some of the rules.
With the support of locals, and the help of twelve-year-old Robbie, a street urchin, and Janek, a Polish refugee dreaming of returning to his native land. The resourceful Maggie evades the first threats of closure from the Ministry. As she fights to keep her beloved Kitchen open, Maggie also tries desperately to reunite Robbie with his missing father. Ultimately, she can no longer ignore the unacknowledged hopes of her own heart, and the discovery that some secrets have the power to change everything.
At Wellthy we had the privilege of being part of author Caroline Beecham’s blog tour. Caroline shares her insights into the book, and one of her favourite recipes. Thanks to Allen & Unwin we have 4 copies of her book for our readers to win – enter here.
Guest post: Caroline Beecham
‘Maggie’s Kitchen’ is inspired by real events from the Second World War and the creation of British Restaurants to help solve the food shortages. In the novel, the restaurant that Maggie establishes becomes an antidote to the turmoil of the times. With Maggie playing an important role in nurturing the community while she overcomes the grief of losing her fiancé Peter.
Food is a basic need but it also connects us, physically and emotionally, to each other. I thought this would be even more pronounced in wartime when life and resources would be far more precious. Food not only sates our appetite, but it nurtures our senses; we can touch, taste, smell, see and even hear what we eat. In periods of uncertainty, emotional distress and celebration we often preoccupy ourselves with food, giving it for comfort or making it the focus of our celebrations. For Maggie, providing food through her kitchen was her way of making a difference by nurturing twelve-year-old runaway Robbie and her love interest, Polish refugee Janek, as well as her other regulars and staff.
Recipes for the novel were taken from the Ministry of Food archives. I tested and updated (with help from family and friends) so that they would suit contemporary tastes. A lot of the recipes are not dissimilar to what we eat now; Woolton Pie for instance was created in honour of Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food, at the time. Essentially it was a lentil and vegetable pie with the addition of oatmeal to give extra vitamins and minerals because of the meat shortages they had.
It’s this combination that makes it one of the most significant dishes from the Second World War; not only were the vegetables and oatmeal home-grown and full of nutrition, but they made meals go further. According to modern day nutritionist Emma Sutherland, the fibre keeps you fuller and leads to a healthier gut. Oats are also rich in beta-glucan, which lowers bad cholesterol and supports steady blood glucose. The basic Woolton Pie would only have contained potatoes, swedes, carrots, leeks, cauliflower or whatever was in season. Here sweet potato and broccoli are used for extra flavour, although you can use any combination of your most-loved vegetables.
One of the other things that was of interest during research was the increased popularity of ‘nose-to-tail’ and ‘paddock-to-plate’ eating philosophies. People seemed more engaged with where their food came from and mindful of what they were eating. I thought there would be interest in a story about a woman who fought to establish these victory gardens and help feed people during the Second World War.
I hope all readers will just really enjoy the story. There will be some who recognise the parallels with the food issues we have now, and an appreciation of going back to eating local.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
Line an 18 x 10cm/11 x 7 inch cake tin with baking paper.
Melt the butter and treacle or syrup in a saucepan.
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl, then pour butter mixture over.
Whisk egg and milk together, then add to bowl and mix well.
Place water into empty saucepan and bring to the boil. Stirring to make sure no ingredients are wasted, and then add to mixture.*
Stir well to combine then pour into tin and cook for 50 minutes.
Mix lemon juice and icing sugar to desired consistency and drizzle over the gingerbread once it has cooled.
* This stage of the recipe can be omitted and the water added with the butter and syrup; it was important during wartime to make sure nothing went to waste.
MAGGIE’S KITCHEN: Caroline Beecham Allen & Unwin RRP $29.99 – BUY
Caroline Beecham grew up at the English seaside and relocated to Australia to continue her career as a writer and producer in film and television. She has worked on a documentary about Princess Diana lookalikes, a series about journeys to the ends of the earth, as well as a feature film about finding the end of the rainbow. Caroline decided on a new way of storytelling and studied the craft of novel writing at the Faber Academy in 2012. She has an MA in Film & Television and a MA in Creative Writing and lives with her husband and two sons by Sydney harbour. Maggie’s Kitchen is her first published novel.
You can find out more information about Maggie’s Kitchen and the events that inspired the novel here