An Omelette and a Glass of Wine (Grub Street) collects sixty-two articles written between the years 1955 and 1984 by Elizabeth David, the British “cookery columnist” whom James Beard considered to be “probably the greatest food writer we have” (my own ranking would put M.F.K. Fisher ahead). David has a brisk, no-nonsense style of writing, and she does not hesitate to express astonishment and scorn. (Of the “cool blonde” featured on the cover of the centenary edition of Mrs. Beeton, David comments: “For all the interest or animation shown by the cook she might [be] operating a switchboard or dishing out stamps at the Post Office.”)
Despite references to French hotels that have probably changed hands a half-dozen times in the interim, and to restaurants whose current menus are unlikely to bear any resemblance to those described by David, even the most dated of these pieces still work as memoir, recalling a time when the typical English diet was heavy on organ meats, blancmange and overcooked vegetables, and devoid of garlic, olive oil and other Mediterranean exotics.
An Omelette and a Glass of Wine may not be the best place to start exploring David’s writing (I’d suggest one of her classic titles: Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, Summer Cooking), but there’s more than enough here to recommend. It is a definitive history of English potted meats and fish pastes, a fond recollection of the writer Norman Douglas (they first met when she was twenty-four and he seventy-two) and a thorough survey (with recipes!) of syllabubs and fools.