Simon Schama: Can he cook?





In this month’s (that is February’s) Vogue, that wonderful polymath Simon Schama shares his views on, and recipes for, stews. In the course of this article, “Simmer of love”, he has some harsh words for the culinary knowledge of Virginia Woolf.

His particular target is the meal cooked by Mrs Ramsay in To the Lighthouse, a tremendous pot of boeuf en daube. Just one ladleful of the stuff is enough to turn awkward company into human beings, joined in “tender communion’. Mrs Ramsay is delighted at the success of this French recipe and swoons over the lovely “confusion of savoury yellow and brown meats.”

Hang on, say Schama. What are these yellow meats in a boeuf en daube? “A chicken foot lurking in there along with the beef and onions, is there?”

And it gets worse. Mrs Ramsay had been extremely worried by the timing. “Everything,” writes Woolf, “depended on being served up to the precise moment they were ready.” Hang on again, says Schama. You can’t ruin a daube by the timing. “Stews are the most forgiving dishes.”

Mrs Woolf doesn’t know what she’s talking about in the culinary department, he concludes. She was, after all, rather “bony”.

I am afraid that it is the far from bony Prof Schama who doesn’t know what he’s talking about....


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