"The Barbara Cartland Cookbook". Believe me, it exists. Or more accurately, "The Romance of Food", published by Hamlyn in 1984. I came across a copy on eBay, and just couldn't resist it. I've got a soft spot for the old gal in a way; not that I've ever read any of her lovey-dovey stuff (not my cup of tea), but there was a deeply entertaining biography "Crusader in Pink" by John Pearson, the former biographer of Ian Fleming and The Clermont Club gamblers (under the pseudonym of "Dr. Henry Cloud") and for a few days, Bab's bizarre semi-autobiographical "I Seek the Miraculous" made hilarious- and strangely compelling- bedtime reading: here she lists in chronological order all manner of supernatural and mystic experiences she had experienced over the course of her long, and much documented life.
Barbara Cartland, of course, was a terrific self-publicist, and "The Romance of Food" is no exception. We learn that as well as being a playwright, lecturer, political speaker and television personality, she was also an historian and has sold over 400 million books across the world. And it goes on and on: as a gossip columnist she raced MG's at Brooklands, and in 1984 she received the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award for her pioneering long-distance 200 mile tow in a glider, eventually contributing to troop-carrying gliders which were used so effectively during the D-Day landings.
And don't forget that "in 1976, Miss Cartland sang an Album of Love Songs with the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra". One for the record collection, eh? As Barbara croons: "I did fall in love in Berkeley Square and I swear a nightingale did sing in the trees as I was kissed":
Barbara Cartland sings I'll See You Again
But back to "The Romance of Food". It had me on the floor. Doubled up. In stitches. Where on earth do I begin? It's full of rather pretty technicolor photographs of food, beautifully arranged in 80's style, and with carefully chosen antique porcelain and Regency pearlware nick-nacks alongside ("all photographs were taken under the personal supervision of the author at her home in Hertfordshire using her own background and ornaments"). And then, underneath each photograph, Bab's own romantic captions to put you in the mood for love. She seems to be especially enamoured with "the throbbing enchantment of gypsy violins" and "the allure of passionate Russians". Each recipe is peppered with Barbara's historical asides, anecdotes and nutritional recommendations: the Queen of Love was, of course, a champion of multi vitamins and Royal Jelly.
"What women does not long to be carried like a lamb in the arms of the man she loves?"
But she's an easy target. In truth, the recipes, have been taken from her private chef, Nigel Gordon, and in their 80's way are actually perfectly all right, if not actually rather good (if you ignore the decorative chicken wishbones soaked in bleach) in that understated Country House sort of way. I'm keen on the food private chefs tend to rustle up. Simple favourites, with a nod to the French classics, and cooked and presented rather well on the plate. Who wants restaurant food on a daily basis? So I'm assuming that the book is made up of the exact recipes you would have received if you had spent, say, the weekend, sorry the Friday to Monday, at her appealing house, Camfield Place in Hertfordshire- once the childhood home of Beatrix Potter.
I made her "Devilled Crab" and it was both simple and excellent: you fry some chopped spring onions until soft (shallots might be better here, surely?) and then stir in dry English mustard powder and two teaspoons of cognac. A roux is made from butter, flour and cream, seasoned and combined with the mustard mixture. Fresh crabmeat is stirred in, and the mixture spooned into ramekin dishes, with breadcrumbs scattered on top. The dish is baked in a moderate oven (180° C, 350° F) and served piping hot.
I will leave you with a Barbara Cartland ancedote. During the 1960's, Miss Cartland was interviewed by the BBC.
Sandra Harris (to Barbara Cartland): Do you think class barriers have broken down?
Barbara Cartland: Of course they have, or I wouldn't be sitting here talking to someone like you.