I admit it, I get overly excited when a book I've been waiting on for a long time is finally published. You'll normally find me bashing my way through the bookstore doors first thing on publication day to snap up a copy. It's a thrill. Usually, I have to admit, it's a cookbook. I'm addicted. From time to time, other books hover on my 'must buy list'. None more excitement-inducing than The Greedy Queen, the debut book by food historian, Dr Annie Gray. It's a cunning culinary biography telling the story of Queen Victoria and all she ate. She ate a lot.
It's an absolute treat of a book. It's everything I had hoped it would be. It's tirelessly researched. It's stuffed full of food history facts, pictures and illustrated with the odd recipe too. It's written with the kind of humour and knowledge I can only aspire to. The best thing though is the books authenticity - when I read page after glorious page it's like listening to an audio book, I can hear Annie Gray's voice in my head, reading to me, silently aloud. I get that when I read anything written by Fanny Cradock too, there is no mistaking her words. No mistaking she wrote them. No mistaking she meant them.
Like Annie, Fanny was passionately obsessed with the intertwining worlds of food, history and royalty. She attached herself to members of the Royal Family whenever she could, whether it was claiming that the Queen Mother credited her with saving the nations stomachs after the war, or in the gossip columns as she sensationally wined and dined with her Royal celebrity chums. Like Annie, she wrote about them too. Her novel, The Windsor Secret, is an entirely fictitious, but no less rumour inducing, account detailing the birth of a love child between Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor, who Fanny counted as friends in real life. We'll never know if it was mutual. With courtesy rather than curtsey, she at least waited until Mrs Simpson died in 1986 to publish her tale, with the added bonus of being able to ride on a wave of retrospective publicity. Fanny was canny.
You only have to look at the illustrations in the Greedy Queen and indeed any Victorian cookbook to recognise Fanny's distinctive style for elaborate presentation. She never wanted it to die out, and did what she could to ensure that buffet tables around the country groaned under the flamboyant creations for as long as she could. In addition, she worked incessantly to remind people of the cooks and chefs she admired so much from the time. Whether it was Ices Queen, Mrs Agnes Marshall, Restaurant King, Escoffier or Cuisinier Crown Prince, Jules Gouffé, she recognised and showcased them all. The latter worked as Chef de Cuisine at the Paris Jockey Club, and his brother, Alphonse Gouffé was Head Pastry Chef to none other than Queen Victoria. He translated his brothers cookbooks into English, including one published to make the most of the connection, the Royal Cookery Book.
Fanny got in on the act herself, no-one will be surprised to learn, writing a new introduction for a reprinted version in 1973. The insertion is partly about Jules Gouffé, but mostly about Fanny herself and how similar she was to the great man himself, in skill, talent and desire. 'At the risk of seeming immodest' she notes. The Royal Cookery Book is a 'must-have for serious students of the inexhaustible culinary art,' Fanny says, which she feels must be revived, with her help, to save us from 'the total abyss' of fish fingers. It is a must-read book, and sits proudly on my shelves, alongside my must-read collection of Fanny, and now in the company of must-read Annie too. I cannot wait to add more volumes of 'culinary biography' to them. I'm greedy for more.