What a joy to finally get my hands on a copy of The Kitchen Front, by Jennifer Ryan.
I never considered that I might have a specific genre of fiction that I like the most. But, after reviewing my reading list for the past three years, I think my love is WWII women’s stories.
The Kitchen Front quickly became a favorite to add to my list. From the first page to the last, I found myself pulled into the story of four different and unique women; each doing what they needed to survive on the London warfront. The one common denominator in the characters is their love and passion for cooking. Ultimately, this is what bridges the divides of class, and culture to brings them together.
I found myself connecting on a deep level to these women, as I also love to cook. Having owned and operated a B&B in rural Washington State for over five years, I relate to much of the same struggles and joys of these women. But where we differ, is that I can make grocery list, and drive to the store to get my supplies. They had to live under the extreme strict ration programs set out during war time England. Standard staples they previously had in abundance now disappeared from their pantries. This meant women got creative in what to substitute in order to continue preparing the food necessary for their family and livelihood. Imagine trying to make great tasting dishes with whale steaks?
As the story progressed, I related to the journey of each of the four women in their Kitchen front situations:
- Audrey – the widow and mom burning her candle at both ends in order to provide for her sons as well as build and facilitate a growing cooking and delivery service to the locals. Her love of cooking and her immense knowledge of vegetables, herbs and animal husbandry serves her well.
- Zelda – the feisty, hard-living refugee from the elite restaurants of London. Unfortunate choices bring her to the tiny suburb as she tries to survive as a factory chef. She also must keep her pregnancy a secret or loose her job.
- Nell – the shy kitchen maid with a secret talent for cuisine finds herself plunged into situations beyond her comprehension. Spurned on by her love affair with an Italian POW, and her mentor Mrs. Quince, her quiet life is turned upside down in unexpected ways.
- Lady Gwendoline – the estranged sister of Audrey. Her marriage to a Lord propels her into a world of society she thought she wanted, but was unprepared for. She loves putting people in their place, while silently struggling to fulfill the demands of a overbearing husband in a loveless marriage.
I loved how author, Jennifer Ryan melded and mixed together the lives of these women. The story is baked to perfection.
I learned so much about what women went though in their home front kitchens. It was a side of WWII history that I had not previously been exposed to. An added bonus is having many of the recipes included at end of the chapters. I loved seeing the ingredients and process they went through to create their wonderful dishes.
As the book progresses, we find Audrey, Zelda, Nell and Lady Gwendoline all participating in a BBC cooking contest. The stakes are high. The winner will be given a job as a co-host on a weekly radio show to talk about cooking within the ration parameters. Three months and three dishes; Audrey, Zelda, Nell and Gwendoline start as competitors and end up as friends. Who do you think should win?
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys cooking and WWII literature. I was sad when I turned the last page and the story was complete. Here’s hoping Jennifer Ryan might consider a sequel.
In closing, I want to share a quote from the book that touched me in a special way.
“I found that contentment – happiness even – comes in all kinds of ways. Sometimes you shouldn’t wait for things to be perfect. You just need to enjoy the small things, every little moment that makes you smile.”Audrey from The Kitchen Front, by Jennifer Ryan
Authors note: if you are interested in some of the recipes I used at our B&B, you can purchase my cookbook here.