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The Barbara Pym Cookbook

The Barbara Pym Cookbook

by Hilary Pym, Honor Wyatt

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Barbara Pym’s sister Hilary teams with cookbook author Honor Wyatt to bring together this mouthwatering collection of family recipes, memories, and anecdotes drawn from Pym’s diaries and letters, as well her most acclaimed novels
Straight from the kitchen of Barbara Pym, this winning cookbook delivers a delectable treat for readers who like


Barbara Pym’s sister Hilary teams with cookbook author Honor Wyatt to bring together this mouthwatering collection of family recipes, memories, and anecdotes drawn from Pym’s diaries and letters, as well her most acclaimed novels
Straight from the kitchen of Barbara Pym, this winning cookbook delivers a delectable treat for readers who like their meals served with a generous helping of literary aplomb. Sharing favorite family recipes that Pym incorporated into her novels, The Barbara Pym Cookbook reveals how the author’s life intersected with those of her memorable characters. Inside you’ll find British classics such as steak and kidney pie, plum cake, sausage rolls, and toad-in-the-hole—dishes that Pym’s characters would often prepare for each other. Other treats, such as moussaka and risotto, reflect Pym’s fascination with Greece and Italy. Throughout, the recipes are interwoven with references to Pym’s novels; Dulcie’s musings on “love apples” from No Fond Return of Love accompany directions for tomatoes à la Provençale, for instance. There are glimpses of Pym’s personal life, too, such as her description of kipper pâté for lunch with Philip Larkin. The Barbara Pym Cookbook is a must-have for both budding cooks and Pym aficionados.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A treat for devotees of Pym, this literary cookbook assembled by the author's sister and cookbook author Wyatt offers a modest selection of recipes, adapted for the American kitchen, for foods mentioned in Pym's novels. Others, such as ``a bowl of groats, fragrant as a cornfield and intriguingly surfaced with little pock marks,'' were Pym's favorites. All are accompanied by prose morsels taken from the author's corpus. Plain English food is served in abundance: steak and kidney pie, potted ham, sausage rolls. Curiosities like toad-in-the-hole seem included mainly for amusement. Overly familiar ethnic recipes reflect Pym's fascination with Greece and Italy. The culinary strength of the collection rests in its ``sweets.'' Americans taken with the English tea ritual will find the fairy cakes, Sultana scones and rock buns delightful, while the treacle tart and gooseberry pie will appeal to confirmed Anglophiles. Respectfully yet whimsically presented, the recipes come to seem a genuine, if minor, part of Pym's oeuvre , where the ``small things of life,'' cooking among them, are reckoned ``often so much bigger than the great things.'' (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“A treat for devotees of Pym . . . whimsically presented . . . where the ‘small things of life,’ cooking among them, are reckoned ‘often so much bigger than the great things.’” —Publishers Weekly

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The Barbara Pym Cookbook

By Hilary Pym, Honor Wyatt


Copyright © 1981 The Estate of Barbara Pym
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-7965-6


Starters and Soups

"Ah!" said George, as prawn cocktail was placed before us and white wine poured into one of the two glasses that stood at every place, and he began to eat purposefully.

An Academic Question

Prawn cocktails, smoked salmon, potted shrimps need no recipes here. But the first course might be a mousse.


½ ounce (15 g) gelatin, softened in ¼ cup (75 ml) cold water
8-ounce (225 g) tin salmon or tuna or fresh salmon, cooked
½ cup (150 ml) light cream or evaporated milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 cucumber, peeled and grated or chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Stir in ¾ cup (225 ml) boiling water to softened gelatin and set aside. In a small bowl, flake fish with a fork, discarding skin, and set aside. Whip cream or milk until thick, then blend in lemon juice and mayonnaise. Add gelatin mixture, fish, and cucumber. Season well and mix thoroughly. Turn into an oiled 1-pint (600 ml) mold or small individual dishes. Chill about 4 hours until firm. Emma Howick in A Few Green Leaves decorated her tuna mousse with sliced cucumber "of exquisite thinness."

"It is an art all too seldom met with," Adam declared, "the correct slicing of cucumber. In Victorian times there was—I believe—an implement or device for the purpose."

A Few Green Leaves

Emma had probably used the same recipe some months earlier for her ham mousse, which she had turned out on the same flowered dish.

With less effort than that required for the mousse, Emma could have made her ham into this simple version of the old-fashioned potted meat.


8 ounces (225 g) cooked ham, minced
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Powdered mace to taste
Chopped parsley to taste
8 tablespoons clarified butter

Pound or mash together the ham, seasonings, and parsley. Pack tightly into little jars. Pour clarified butter over, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with toast or rolls.

Rollo Gaunt, in An Academic Question, recalled "a memorable asparagus mousse" eaten "in that delightful French restaurant, chez something or other."


8 ounces (225 g) fresh green asparagus, trimmed
1 ounce (30 g) gelatin, softened in ¼ cup (75 ml) cold water, then added to
¼ cup (75 ml) hot chicken or vegetable stock
½ cup (150 ml) mayonnaise
½ cup (150 ml) double or heavy cream
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the asparagus gently in boiling salted water until tender, then purée it, reserving some of the tips for garnishing. Combine puréed asparagus with remaining ingredients and blend or whisk together. Place reserved asparagus tips decoratively in an oiled mold or individual dishes, spoon mousse over, cover, and refrigerate about 4 hours until set.

23 April. Philip Larkin to lunch. We had sherry and then the wine (burgundy) Bob gave me for Christmas (was this rather insensitive to Bob?). We ate kipper pâté, then veal done with peppers and tomatoes, pommes Anna and celery & cheese (he didn't eat any Brie and we thought perhaps he only likes plain food). He's shy but very responsive and jokey. Hilary took our photo together and he left about 3:30 in his large Rover car (pale tobacco brown).

A Very Private Eye


8-ounce (225 g) pack kipper fillets or smoked mackerel
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
8 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
2 ounces (60 g) cream cheese, softened
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place kippers or mackerel in a shallow dish, add boiling water, and let sit for a few minutes. Drain, skin fish, then return fillets to shallow dish. Add wine vinegar, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Pound or mash fillets with butter, cream cheese, and pepper. Chill before serving.

"In Greece cucumber is cut in chunks, thick chunks," said Daphne. "It makes a lovely salad, with tomatoes and plenty of oil." She cast about in her memory for the Greek word for this particular salad, failed to remember it, but then decided that nobody would have been interested anyway.

"Greek food is not one of my favourites," said Adam, smiling. "One would hardly go to Greece for the cuisine—just as one wouldn't go to some churches for the music. A beautiful country, of course," he smiled again as if at some private joke, "but not a treasury of gastronomic memories."

A Few Green Leaves

With her passionate interest in Greece, Daphne might have preferred the first course to be dolmadhes. These should be made with vine leaves—when Barbara and I lived in Brooksville Avenue in London N.W. 6, we had a vine growing up against the house so we occasionally made them—but cabbage leaves make a good substitute.


2 small onions
¾ pound (350 g) finely ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons cooked rice
1 small head of cabbage
Beef stock
1 bay leaf
Thin tomato sauce

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Chop onions very finely, put in a bowl with meat and seasonings, mix together, and add water (about 7 tablespoons) gradually, until well blended. Add rice and set aside. Put whole cabbage into boiling water and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Drain well and detach leaves, cutting away and discarding any hard bits of stalk. Put a small tablespoon of meat mixture on each leaf and roll up into a sausage-shaped parcel, turning in the edges. Arrange parcels in criss-crossed layers in a stewpan or casserole, making sure the seam sides are down. Add enough stock to cover, bring to a boil, add bay leaf, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Transfer the dolmadhes to an ovenproof dish, discarding the stock and bay leaf. Over them, pour enough tomato sauce to cover, cover the dish, and bake about 30 minutes.

Daphne would no doubt also have experienced the yogurt and cucumber dish called tsatsiki by the Greeks.


1 pint (600 ml) plain yogurt
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Coarsely chopped mint leaves to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika for garnish (optional)

Mix all ingredients together, cover, and refrigerate. Serve very cold, garnished with paprika, if desired.

An alternative could be stuffed tomatoes or tomatoes à la Provençale, but Dulcie Mainwaring in No Fond Return of Love would have decided against these when she was entertaining Aylwin Forbes:

Viola had ... remarked that Aylwin had once said he didn't like tomatoes. Dulcie, therefore, had been careful to avoid any dish containing these "love apples," as she now called them to herself, saying over the phrase "Aylwin can't take love apples" with a good deal of enjoyment.

No Fond Return of Love


Choose large ripe tomatoes and cut them in half. Hollow them out a little, and stuff them with a mixture of the removed flesh combined with bread crumbs, chopped garlic, and parsley, moistened with olive oil. Cook under the grill or in a hot oven until well-browned.


"I thought perhaps a cold meal, but I've made one of my soups," Leonora was saying, "just for your first evening back. Then Humphrey wants us to go round for coffee and drinks. But first let me show you your own little kitchen...."

The Sweet Dove Died


10½-ounce (298 g) tin beef consommé (undiluted)
8 ounces (225 g) cream cheese
Curry powder to taste
Chopped chives or parsley for garnish (optional)

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Whisk together consommé and cream cheese until well blended, then stir in curry powder. Pour into small dishes, cover, and chill for several hours. Serve garnished with chopped chives or parsley, if you wish.

A variation on vegetable soups was given to us by Elizabeth Harvey, the sister of Henry Harvey who became Archdeacon Hoccleve in Some Tame Gazelle, Barbara's first novel and the only one whose "characters were taken directly from life" as she tells us in A Very Private Eye.


1 pound (450 g) carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons oil or melted butter
4 cups (1 l) chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 2 oranges
Grated rind of 1 orange
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Cook the carrots, onion, and garlic in oil or butter until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, season, and simmer until tender. Purée in a blender or put through a sieve. Add the orange juice and grated rind, and return to stove. Reheat, add sugar, taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve quite hot.

The third soup is a Greek one. Barbara and I were among the first people who went to Greece by coach from London—starting from Marylebone Station on a Thursday evening and arriving in Athens on Monday night—in 1966. A dish of this egg-and-lemon soup at a restaurant just over the frontier was very comforting, even in hot weather.


4 cups (1 l) chicken stock
2 ounces (60 g) rice or vermicelli
2 eggs
Juice of 1 large lemon

Boil the rice or vermicelli in the chicken stock until cooked. In a small bowl, beat together the eggs and lemon juice. Gradually add some of the hot stock, stirring constantly until thickened. Stir egg-stock mixture into the rest of the stock and reheat, but do not let it boil.


Main Dishes

"TOM, THE BAY LEAF I'm putting in this boeuf à la mode was plucked from a tree growing in the garden of Thomas Hardy's birthplace," Catherine called from the kitchen. She did not really expect an answer and indeed none came from Tom, sitting hunched over his typewriter, so she went on, almost to herself, "I wonder if it's wrong of me to use it for cooking? Perhaps I ought to have pressed it in Jude the Obscure, or the poems, that would have been more suitable."

... Oh, what joy to get a real calf's foot from the butcher, she thought, and not to have to cheat by putting in gelatine. The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things, she decided, wondering how many writers and philosophers had said this before her, the trivial pleasures like cooking, one's home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.

Less Than Angels


2 pounds (900 g) beef topside or top round
Bacon fat or drippings
Salt and pepper to taste
2 onions, sliced
1 small bunch of carrots, sliced
1 head of celery, trimmed and sliced
Bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaf, whole peppercorns, whole cloves, grated orange or lemon
peel, tied in a cheesecloth bag)
1 calf's foot
Beef stock or water
Red wine

Brown the meat on all sides in bacon fat or drippings. Season and put in a casserole with sliced vegetables, bouquet garni, and calf's foot. Pour in equal parts stock or water and wine to cover. Cook over very low heat, covered, for 2 to 3 hours. Remove meat, which should be so soft it can be cut with a spoon, and put it on a serving dish. Strain the sauce over, discarding solids, and let cool. When cooled, remove fat. Meat should be covered with a clear jelly. Slice beef and cube calf's foot, and serve them together.

The bay tree that now grows in my front garden in Finstock came from a cutting that Barbara took, not from Hardy's birthplace, but from the garden in Henley that belonged to her friends John and Elizabeth Barnicot. (John Barnicot became the character John Akenside in Some Tame Gazelle.) A bay leaf was an important ingredient of another beef dish that the young clergyman Basil Branche in An Unsuitable Attachment would have appreciated:

"Imparadised in one another's arms," as Milton put it, Basil went on. "Or encasseroled, perhaps—the bay leaf resting on the boeuf bourguignon."


1 pound (450 g) braising or stewing beef, cut in cubes
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, diced
1 bay leaf
Thyme and whole peppercorns to taste
2 tablespoons oil
2 glasses red wine
Butter or margarine
½ pound (225 g) button mushrooms
4 ounces (110 g) bacon, diced
12 small onions, peeled

Marinate meat, onion slices, carrot, and herbs for 24 hours in oil and wine. Strain marinade and reserve it, discarding solids. Pat meat dry, roll cubes in flour, and sauté in butter or margarine until browned. Place meat in a stewpan. Sauté mushrooms, bacon, and whole onions in butter, then add to beef. Pour reserved marinade over all, cover, and simmer 1½ to 2 hours.

Roast beef might have been the more conventional choice of Belinda Bede in Some Tame Gazelle, as she and Harriet planned the dinner party to which Archdeacon Hoccleve and Mr. Donne were to be invited.

The day had begun as other Sundays did. After breakfast Belinda had consulted with Emily about the roast beef, and together they had decided what time it ought to be put into the oven and how long it ought to stay there. The vegetables—celery and roast potatoes—were agreed upon, and the pudding—a plum tart—chosen. In addition, the chickens for the supper party were to be put on to boil and Emily was to start making the trifle if she had time. The jellies had been made on Saturday night and were now setting in the cool of the cellar. Belinda had suggested that they might have a lighter luncheon than usual, as there was so much to do, but Harriet was not going to be cheated of her Sunday roast, and had managed to persuade her sister that there would be plenty of time to get things ready in the afternoon and early evening. It was of course out of the question that either of them should attend Evensong.

When curates came to supper the traditional choice was a boiled chicken:

Were all new curates everywhere always given boiled chicken when they came to supper for the first time? Belinda wondered. It was certainly an established ritual at their house and it seemed somehow right for a new curate. The coldness, the whiteness, the muffling with sauce, perhaps even the sharpness added by the slices of lemon, there was something appropriate here, even if Belinda could not see exactly what it was.

Some Tame Gazelle

A "boiling fowl" has now become a thing of the past, and I don't think Barbara boiled many chickens in later years. She would roast them, of course, but not in such quantities as did Everard Bone's mother in Excellent Women:

"Read this." She handed me a cutting headed OWL BITES WOMAN, from which I read that an owl had flown in through a cottage window one evening and bitten a woman on the chin. "And this," she went on, handing me another cutting which told how a swan had knocked a girl off her bicycle. "What do you think of that?"

"The Dominion of the Birds," she went on. "I very much fear it may come to that."

Everard looked at me a little anxiously but I managed to keep up the conversation until Mrs. Bone declared that it was dinner time.

"I eat as many birds as possible," said Mrs. Bone when we were sitting down to roast chicken. "I have them sent from Harrods or Fortnum's, and sometimes I go and look at them in the cold meats department. They do them up very prettily with aspic jelly and decorations. At least we can eat our enemies."

Excellent Women

Or she might choose to have chicken with tarragon, as Leonora did for James in The Sweet Dove Died. No doubt Leonora would have given it its French name, poulet sauté à l'estragon.


1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
3 tablespoons butter or oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 glass white wine
½ cup (150 ml) chicken stock
Finely chopped tarragon leaves to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté chicken pieces in butter or oil until lightly browned. Remove to a platter and keep warm. In the same pan, sauté chopped onion, stir in flour, and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add wine, stock, tarragon, and seasonings. Cook to reduce somewhat. Return chicken pieces to pan, cover, and simmer in sauce 20 minutes. To serve, place chicken pieces on a platter and pour sauce over.

This dish was named after our cat, who liked tomato skins.


½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1 chicken, cut in pieces
¼ cup (75 ml) oil
4 tablespoons butter
6 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons tomato purée

Combine cinnamon, cloves, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and rub mixture onto chicken. Heat oil and butter in a frying pan and brown chicken pieces. Remove chicken to a platter and keep warm. Add tomatoes and tomato purée to frying pan and stir in about 1 pint (600 ml) water. Cook over a gentle heat until the tomatoes are soft, then add chicken pieces and cook until tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

"This is one of Father Lydell's favourite dishes," said Beth, bringing a covered casserole to the table. Poulet niçoise—I hope you like it."

"Oh, yes," Letty murmured, remembering the times she had eaten poulet niçoise at Marjorie's house. Had David Lydell gone all round the village sampling the cooking of the unattached women before deciding which one to settle with? Certainly the dish they were eating this evening was well up to standard.

Quartet in Autumn


Excerpted from The Barbara Pym Cookbook by Hilary Pym, Honor Wyatt. Copyright © 1981 The Estate of Barbara Pym. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Barbara Pym (1913–1980) was a bestselling and award-winning English novelist. Her first book, Some Tame Gazelle (1950), launched her career as a writer beloved for her social comedies of class and manners. Pym is the only author to be named twice in a Times Literary Supplement list of “the most underrated novelists of the century.” She produced thirteen novels, the last three published posthumously. Her 1977 novel Quartet in Autumn was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. 

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