DAVID, Elizabeth (1913-1992)
Plaque erected in 2016 by English Heritage at 24 Halsey Street, Chelsea, London, SW3 2PT, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Food and Drink, Journalism and Publishing
ELIZABETH DAVID 1913-1992 Cookery Writer lived and worked here 1947-1992
With her Mediterranean-inspired recipes and food articles, Elizabeth David was one of the most influential cookery writers of the 20th century. David lived and worked at 24 Halsey Street in Chelsea from 1947 until her death in 1992.
ADVENTURES IN FOOD
Born Elizabeth Gwynne into a wealthy family in Sussex, David had her first taste of good French food while studying in Paris in the 1930s. But her exploration of food began in earnest when she set off for Greece in 1939 with her then-lover, Charles Gibson Cowan. Along the way David discovered the markets and restaurants of southern France and met Norman Douglas, who remained an important friend and mentor until his death in 1952. David and Cowan eventually settled on the Greek island of Syros, where Elizabeth delighted in cooking the local produce.
The couple fled to Egypt when Germany invaded Greece in 1941, and David spent the rest of the war in Alexandria and Cairo. She socialised with Lawrence Durrell and Robin Freddon, and – following her split from Cowan – married Lieutenant–Colonel Ivor Anthony David (1911–1967) in 1944. The couple later divorced in 1960.
WRITING AND RECIPES
David returned to England in the freezing winter of 1946, when rationing remained in full force. This was when she first began writing about food, to, as she put it:
work out an agonized craving for the sun and a furious revolt against that terrible, cheerless, heartless food by writing down descriptions of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking.
Her articles, which initially appeared in Harper’s Bazaar and were later included in her first volume, A Book of Mediterranean Food (1950), read more like travel pieces. The recipes were simple, interwoven with her beautifully written and vividly evocative memories and laced with quotations from literary observers of the Mediterranean such as Henry James, Norman Douglas and Lawrence Durrell.
Four other books followed: French Country Cooking (1951), Italian Food (1954), Summer Cooking (1955) and her best-known book, French Provincial Cooking (1960). At the same time she continued writing articles, moving from Harper’s to Vogue in 1956 and also contributing to, among others, the Daily Express, the News Chronicle and The Sunday Times. In 1960 she was taken on by the Spectator.
Through these works, David developed an aesthetic approach to marketing, cooking and presenting food which continues to have a strong hold in cookery today.
THE KITCHEN AT NUMBER 24
Number 24 Halsey Street is a grade II-listed terraced house with three storeys, dating from the 1840s. David initially let out the third and attic storeys to her friends Neville Phillips and Denis Freeman, and then from 1950 to her sister, Felicité Gwynne. Much of David’s part of the house was eventually taken over by her books and she increasingly confined herself to her bedroom on the first floor and to her kitchen.
From 1948 until the 1980s, the kitchen was in the back extension. It was there that she wrote, cooked and entertained, in each case often with a glass of good wine and a Gauloise. Many friends remember the room, with its big pine table, a French armoire and several dressers, a chaise longue, a butler’s sink, a gas stove, and masses of pots and pans, plates and bowls on display.