Monday 25 July 2016

Book Review: "Bicycles, Bloomers and Great War Rationing Recipes"

“On Bank Holiday (1914) war was the only topic of conversation. In three months the whole affair would be over. A retired colonel assured me that everything was arranged.  Yet in spite of that assurance, a week or two later wounded men were loaded into filthy cattle rucks; the dead, the dying and the wounded were crowded together in ships and in the Casino at Boulogne, hastily converted into a hospital, the stretchers were packed close on the floors, the veranda, and the garden paths, and the cries of men, to whom no attention could be given, were heard throughout the night.” From “How we lived then” by Dorothy Peel, p. 106 - quoted in “The Life and Times of Dorothy Peel, OBE Bicycles, Bloomers and Great War Rationing Recipes”.

Dorothy Peel was way ahead of her time – she would have been the star of The Great British Bake-off, Ready Steady Cook and Dragons’ Den, for she not only earnt her own living writing for women’s newspapers and national newspapers like the “Daily Mail”, but she also wrote novels, recipe books and books about home economics.  Dorothy also opened and ran a hat shop, as well as carrying out charity work, marrying, bringing up children and managing her household.   Not many people know that in the First as well as the Second World Wars food in Britain was rationed – it was for her services to the nation in that field during those dark days that Dorothy was awarded an OBE.

This book is an extremely valuable social history, giving us an insight into the way of life in Britain in the years leading up to 1914 - as you can see from the quote above.  Also included are descriptions of what women wore both before, during and after The First World War, how people behaved and what people ate, how houses were decorated, advice on thrift, decorating the home and much more.  There are also some wonderful WW1 photographs from the family’s private album, as well as cartoons, quotes from Dorothy Peel’s books - there are even a few lines of poetry - together with Dorothy’s quotes, comments and advice that still ring true today.

Vicky Straker, Dorothy Peel’s great-great granddaughter has put together a fantastic book with a great deal of information, copious notes, an extensive glossary and, dulcis in fondo, lots of mouth-watering recipes (including modern conversion tables and instructions) which I for one cannot wait to try out.  I have learnt a great deal - would you know what a “Fly” was?  Or what were “pattens”?

There is so much that I really like about the book that it is very hard to pick out just a few items, but I particularly liked mention of The Daily Mail newspaper’s revised fashion headline as the war continued of “What Women Can Do” to help the war effort.  Also Vicky’s explanations of Dorothy’s philosophy on life and her down-to-earth, no-nonsense, sympathetic attitude to everything from the way people wore their hair to the trial and death of Oscar Wilde.   Had she been alive today, Dorothy would make a wonderful Member of Parliament and a brilliant Prime Minister.    

I love this book - it will be read and re-read - and I look forward to trying out all the recipes. 

“The Life and Times of Dorothy Peel, OBE Bicycles, Bloomers and Great War Rationing Recipes” by Vicky Straker, published by Pen & Sword History, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd., Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2016.