Mead, Rose, 1867-1946; Tulips

These tulips were painted by the nicely named  Rose Mead (1867-1948) in 1930. Here is her Wikipedia entry, she sounds an admirable person and what a wonderful detail this is: ‘During [her time at the Westminster School of Art in the 1890s] she painted herself cooking at a stove. A company that made similar cookers offered £500 (£39k in 2007, by now £45k) to add their name, an amount she refused because she was unwilling to “prostitute” her art.’

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Early Seventeenth Century Holland: Ambrosius Bosschaert Tulips in a Wan-Li Vase c 1619. This painting is now going on the Persephone Books Instagram ‘feed’. Some of the readers of the Post may not ‘do’ Instagram but really it is so worth doing and now that we all have so much time, there are instructions on the web about how to download it, you can choose who to ‘follow’ and we heavily recommend it. If you go to @fransbookshop for example, you will be able to enjoy a Dorothy Whipple short story being read today at 11 (“Elevenses with Fran’) UK time. The short story is ‘Boarding House’ and this is what we wrote on The Closed Door and Other Stories page:  ‘There is an intimacy in Dorothy Whipple’s writing. but naturally this intimacy does not appeal to everyone. We feel that it appeals to people who like Elizabeth Taylor and yet this is not always the case: we have a friend who adores Elizabeth Taylor but cannot love Dorothy Whipple (yes, there are people).Yet one cannot but suspect that the younger novelist learnt a great deal from Dorothy Whipple. Take the short story in Every Good Deed and Other Stories called ‘Boarding House’ (written in about 1940, just when Elizabeth Taylor was beginning her career as a writer). It is about a rather deplorable woman called Mrs Moore who ruins things for everyone else when she arrives at a small hotel – because she is bored and lonely. ‘“It’s cutlet for cutlet,” she thought bitterly. “I can’t entertain, so no one entertains me now. To think that I should have to come to a place like this. After the life,” she thought, “I’ve lived.”’ The last sentence is pure Elizabeth Taylor. A lesser writer would have put ‘After the life I’ve lived,’ she thought. Why it is funnier and so much more expressive to put ‘she thought’ in the middle of the sentence is a mystery; but it makes all the difference. And why ‘It’s cutlet for cutlet’ is funny is also a mystery, but it certainly is.’

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Still Life with Tulips by Samuel John Peploe. It’s dated 1920-30 because Peploe (who has a Persephone link because D E Stevenson was his niece by marriage ie. her husband was his nephew) painted tulips so often that many of his  paintings cannot be accurately dated. But this has an indefinably ’20s look (glad not to be a history of art undergraduate and having to explain that indefinableness).

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One of the tragedies of the current situation (amidst thousands and thousands indeed millions of other tragedies) is the destruction of the tulips in Holland. Ironically, this was the year that @janebrocket and some Persephone girls were going to go to Keukenhof Gardens for twenty-four hours. But Jane is able to pick tulips on her allotment and the tulips she planted in Lambs Conduit Street are flowering away there with no one to see them.. IF ONLY  flowers could be distributed to us locked-down people rather than being destroyed. So sad. This week on the Post: paintings of tulips. First of all, a painting by the brilliant Tanja Modersheim, who is Dutch but lives in London, which is available as a limited edition giclee print here.  That would be something to hang on the wall if we can’t have vases of tulips.

friAnd the absolute essential: a casserole which can cook basically everything, even  be used as a bread oven. The secret is never, ever to wash it in detergent but always in extremely hot water: that leaves a thin layer of grease and food won’t stick.  Obviously if the casserole had been used for a beef stew it should be swished out with boiling water, but the general rule (to get the same wonderful surface as for the cast iron skillet) is no washing up liquid. Have a lovely weekend, dear Persephone readers, there will be a Letter tomorrow about life in lockdown and we send you all very best wishes.

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A mouli: indispensable for soup and apple sauce. Yesterday’s tomato soup: chop and fry an onion briefly, add a pound of tomatoes, a large chopped raw potato, some basil and bay leaves, simmer for half an hour and put through the mouli. Wash it up straightaway. Apple sauce: wash apples briefly, chop into four or eight, put in saucepan with a bit of water and simmer till soft, put through mouli. Wash it up straightaway. The apple sauce is particularly nutritious ie. ace for the immune system, it’s something to do with the goodness from the skin and pips being incorporated. But then tomatoes are super healthy too. Other staple soup: Hippocrates soup. Wash and roughly chop a carrot, leek, onion, potato, tomato,  stick of celery, half a celeriac root and simmer for two to three hours then mouli. The reason for washing up straightaway is that it is very easy when done immediately, it takes half a minute holding the three disassembled pieces under the cold running water but if you leave it then it becomes a chore. Still, far less of a chore, in the view of many, than washing up a Magimix or similar. Oh we also try and kid ourselves that there is something super healthy for older people about vigorously turning the mouli handle. The young are of course perfectly happy with readymade soup or electric gadgets!

tueA wooden chopping board  – along with a wooden spoon, crucial in any kitchen. And of course wood has its own inbuilt disinfectant and for this reason, if washed constantly in very hot water, is much healthier and more hygienic than plastic. This board is from John Lewis, which is still delivering, thank heavens, surely the correct thing to do: if the people who work there practice social distancing and wear a mask they are doing a huge service for the rest of us and are among the thousands of people to whom we offer our sincerest thanks. (Our gratitude was beautifully articulated by Angela Merkel in her speech last week; I’m afraid our government always sounds as though it is reading from auto cue rather than talking from the heart.)

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Here is probably the most un-thrilling photograph that has ever appeared on the Persephone Post. But this is crucial kitchen item number 2: it peels potatoes and carrots FAR better than anything more elaborate and, look, can be bought for 52 pence wholesale. For some reason it’s called a French potato peeler, which is a new thought and lends it a tinge of glamour. And here it is available non-wholesale for £1.81., still incredible value. (But buy three at a time. In our household well-meaning clearers-up of the kitchen throw them away all too easily.)

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Extraordinary times. But through it all runs three meals a day, four if you are British and have tea, five if you are very very British and have Elevenses, six if you count Madeira and an olive. So this week on the Post: our five favourite kitchen utensils, the ones we literally could not live without and use every day. First up the cast iron skillet. We have had ours since New York 1968 (Lower East Side, working in an art gallery, mini skirts, boots, god we were only a flicker away from being Twiggy). Ours look exactly like these fifty-one years later. The secret is never to wash the skillet in detergent, only use very very hot water; that keeps a very think layer of grease/olive oil permanently on it. Ours is literally our favourite kitchen utensil. Here is a UK website that supplies them. Their advantage is that they provide a wonderful surface for stir fries, fried potatoes, frittata (and obv. can go in the oven although don’t absent-mindedly grab it by the handle). The disadvantage is that they are heavy. But once you have one in your life it will be like acquiring a puppy, you won’t imagine how you survived without it.

About-Architecture-Champneys-KennedyThe jewel in Newnham’s  aesthetic crown, or rather jewels, are the six  Champneys buildings, details here. It was a fantastic tribute to the early women at Cambridge that it was thought so important to give them excellent buildings and beautiful gardens. Let’s raise a glass to all those hundreds of people who dug into their pockets, just out of idealism, because of their belief in women’s education. In A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf wrote: ‘The gardens … lay before me in the spring twilight, wild and open, and in the long grass, sprinkled and carelessly flung, were daffodils and bluebells, not orderly perhaps at the best of times, and now wind-blown and waving as they tugged at their roots. The windows of the building, curved like ships’ windows among generous waves of red brick, changed from lemon to silver under the flight of the quick spring clouds.’ In a changing world the buildings are a constant. When ‘all this’ is over, go and look at them (you just walk in through the porter’s lodge, smiling at the – female – porter as you do so) and can then wander freely round the garden. There will be roses and wisteria by the time we can do so. Courage, as the French say.

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59 Lamb's Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB