I was sorting out my considerable stock of old auction catalogues the other day, and came across one I had forgotten about: the Elizabeth David Kitchen sale from 1994. Many moons ago, I used to work as a works of art specialist for that venerable, if slightly eccentric, auctioneers, Phillips (or Phillips Son & Neale as it then was) founded 1796; and this auction was one of their more interesting efforts.
Elizabeth David, 1957
Held at their shabby Bayswater salerooms, on the day of the auction a queue formed around the block. Everyone wanted a slice of the action. At the time, the directors of Phillips hadn't really appreciated quite how famous Mrs David was. I seem to remember one of them- who shall remain nameless- openly admitting that he had no idea who she was at all. Not one iota. I shake my head in disbelief: obviously not an admirer of the cuisine bourgeoise.
The auction, of course, went crazy, with a scruffy kitchen table fetching £1,850, famously bought by one Pru Leith, and pots of worn wooden spoons running into many hundreds of pounds.
It was almost as if, by some occult osmosis, Mrs David's relics might impart or transfer a little bit of that magic into your own cooking. Could Potage aux Haricot Blancs et à l'Oseille really taste better if served in Lot 34, an "earthenware two-handled crock, part glazed, 34cm high"?
Elizabeth David by John Ward, National Portrait Gallery