Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Diana Kennedy … the “Mexican culinary anthropologist” …

 

Back in the 1950s people didn’t appreciate other country’s foods … as they do now … but it’d take the likes of pioneer cookery writers to set the standards … Julia Childs, Elizabeth David, and of course Diana Kennedy – who has put Mexican cuisine on the map …

 

Diana Kennedy in 2016

 We were due to see this film last year … but in the circumstances had to wait … that did not deter … I was so interested I bought her book – updated in 2016 from the 1984 earlier version: ‘Nothing Fancy: Recipes and Recollections of Soul-Satisfying Food’.  What an excellent read.

 

 

This no-nonsense English lady, born in 1923 – yes she is 98 - learnt to cook from her grandmother and mother … then went to work in Wales during the War as a timber girl – here she appreciated the availability of fresh food off the land …

 




Her book: Nothing Fancy
… it was after the War that her gastronomic adventures started … at home, around Europe, before moving to Canada in 1953 taking various positions, then on a whim visited Haiti in 1957.  There she met her future husband Paul P Kennedy (1905 – 1967), a correspondent for The New York Times in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean …

 

 

Book of the Month -
subscription service

(founded 1926)
Later … Diana with her friends and editors, particularly Fran McCullough, set out to promote authentic Mexican recipes – cooking for the Book of the Month Club – no doubt helped by her husband’s contacts in the journalistic world exposed her ideas to a large audience.

 




Things advanced rather rapidly … Diana’s knowledge of Mexican recipes, how they were cooked, then served in authentic cazuelas (earthen ware) … was immediately accepted. 



 

Cazuelas
Her energy is boundless – now aged 98 … we see her exercising, walking around, tending the garden, driving (fast!) to collect items for the house …

 

 

Frances McCullough in her foreword to the book ‘Nothing Fancy’ states that Diana Kennedy has documented and saved many of the dishes of the authentic regional cuisines of Mexico with the eyes of a botanist and an anthropologist as well as those of a fine cook.


Benito Juarez Market
Oaxaca
The first chapter – “Introduction” – lets us know about her traditional British upbringing, then expanding out into recipes and ideas found during her gastronomic adventures …

 

 

Her husband was very supportive – I guess eating fascinating interesting food when he was home – encouraged him to bring back recipes for her …


 

In the hills above
Zitacuaro
After her husband died she decided to build an ecological adobe house in Zitacuaro, Michoacan – about 3 hours SE of Mexico city, but she moved into the incomplete shell in 1980 … over time – we see the result in the film: “Quinta Diana” – as it became known – The Diana Kennedy Centre – where her organic, ecological, true to Mexico teachings continue.

 

 

The chapters in the book make for a fascinating insight into how she thinks … and thus what she considers a necessity for our future world in the culinary sense … the chapters I set out:

 

 

Freshly churned English butter
The Making of a Palate’ … she describes one of our early grocer’s (Sainsbury’s) layout, with its foods on offer … it takes me back to my youth – though 20 years later … then goes on to explain how her palate came about … she was always learning and experimenting as her gastronomic adventures expanded.

 

Water Droplet

My Betes Noires” … where she excoriates various items including cassia (the cinnamon imposter) … and water is liquid gold – do not ever waste a drop …

 


 

Escamoles: 
Ant-egg caviar
“Addictions” … she says her mother lived to 92, so I suppose it’s no surprise she is still going strong at 98, happily surviving on lots of starches, delicious fats … actually that was acceptable in the 1920s to ‘our time’!  She includes Escamoles – Mexican “caviar” … ant-egg caviar; and Seville orange marmalade, Le croissant …

 

“Equipment I Simply Cannot Do Without” … a Cuisinart machine; coffee/spice grinders; lots of cazuelas … a large selection of wooden spoons and stirrers, white rubber spatulas – no coloured ones! 



The Mexican national dish -
Mole Sauce


The “Ingredients” and “Cookbookese” … chapters include acerbic comments.

 



“My Bêtes Noires Vertes” … first she says she’ll look in your garbage can/rubbish bin …this should be sustainably kept – and she goes on to particularly white chef items … the bleach to obtain these whites – kills the water … which is liquid gold…

 

 

Buttery Crumpets
Then we’re onto recipes … Roast Pork with Sage and Onion Stuffing, Crumpets, English Clotted Cream … but lots of traditional ones that I happily remember being made by my mother, and family friends …

 

Seville orange marmalade

 
I am totally caught up in Diana Kennedy’s vision with that over-riding nostalgia of earlier days … Christmas is coming – actually we still have a traditional family time – everything fresh and home-made … happy memories too.

 



Oh Golly Gosh … as I used to say to my Ma … so many memories of times gone by – but this was a wonderful find.


 

Close up ... with her English tea

Diana Kennedy’s British upbringing rings out through her life – I can feel and see it … via the film and the book … encouraging us to think ahead … do not waste … enjoy foods from the land. 

 

 

While during her time in Mexico she has embraced authentic Mexican cooking and all that entails … disseminating Mexican culture through its foods and ensuring that native ingredients and traditional recipes found in villages are not lost.

 

Scottish (of course) shortbread -
often the tea-time fare of 
the English!


Diana Kennedy is recognised as the “grand dame of Mexican cuisine” – a true title if ever there was one.

 



I hope you can get to see the film … it is on YouTube … and perhaps read the book – which personally I think is more interesting … perhaps it’s the nostalgia of my mother’s and my life through Diana’s years …

Diana Kennedy ... 

The Diana Kennedy Center - more details about her life and work ... 

Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy - trailer ... I couldn't easily find which film would be best for each of your country's ... but from the trailer in YouTube I hope you can find it ... 


PS - I know and I knew I'd be castigated for calling shortbread English ... I know it's Scottish ... but we're talking an English lady ... so my wrist is slapped!


Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories 

39 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

I had no awareness of this talented woman. Thank you.
When our libraries reopen (soon I hope) I will certainly try and track down that book.
Our family grew up eating a very varied cuisine - for which I am very, very grateful.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari Om
...English shortbread??? Really, Hilary, I trust you know it to be Scottish!!! Now, that first link is not working... I did a search and can only find trailers for the film. Such a shame because you totally captivated my imagination with this one and I also had never heard of her. If you do find a link to the full movie do please share!!! YAM xx

Anabel Marsh said...

I hadn’t heard of her either, though knew of Julia Childs and Elizabeth David. And I agree with the previous commenter about the shortbread, definitely Scottish!

Denise Covey said...

Hi Hilary! Diane Kennedy sounds awesome! I love books about food! And she's still spry at 98! Wow. What a woman! I'll look for this book. Great post.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ 'everyone' - I'm struggling with connectivity at the moment ... so it took me a while to get to this amended point - i.e. overnight!


@ EC - thanks ... that's great - you'll enjoy the book - it's a delight to read, containing lots of interesting thoughts, English style recipes and then others she came across over and above her Mexican ones. It's fun ...

@ Yam - I know ... I knew I'd get a few people cross about the shortbread - but didn't think it through, as the internet has been appalling for me these past few days - hence the delay.

I also struggled to find the exact film type/stream to link to ... but I've now added in the trailer link ... and I hope from there you'll be able to view the film.

@ Anabel - I've put up the link to the trailer and from there you'll be able to select the correct streaming service. I knew I'd be chastised for the 'English' shortbread ... and I do know it is Scottish ...

@ Denise - that's wonderful ... it is the most amazing film - though the book I found so engaging ...

Cheers to you four - thanks for being here ... my internet is causing me hiatus, after hiatus - but I hope this post is now permanently up ... so pleased you were all engaged with the post. Hilary

David M. Gascoigne, said...

I had never heard of this talented and fascinating woman, Hilary. Why don't you and I fly off to Mexico and cadge an invitation for lunch? Can you imagine the conversations we might have, to say nothing of the food? To think of a well brought-up English woman introducing Mexicans to their own cuisine, even improving it a little, is quite mind-boggling really. I shall seek out the You Tube video! Hugs from Ontario. David

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi David - the answer to that is an enormous 'YES' ... and a stop over - I'd have to look round the garden, and you'd be espying birds of all sorts.

The film amazed me - but the book is my #1 ... so many interesting thoughts in it ... an incredible no-nonsense English woman - with a love of all things Mexican.

It's be great to visit - just a gentle dream for now! Cheers Hilary

Liza said...

I am officially hungry now...

Nilanjana Bose said...

Fresh produce off the land, served in earthen ware bowls, no waste strategy - all of it would transition well to my mum's kitchen as well :) Hadn't heard of Diane - what a fascinating life!

Hope your week is going well and your net issues are sorted.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Diana sounds like an amazing woman! Thanks for introducing her to me. I love the idea of "Soul-Satisfying Food!" That's what food really should be, shouldn't it?

Lynda Dietz said...

Her book sounds as fascinating as the woman herself! As always, your descriptions of everything make me want to visit, cook, tour, and more.

cleemckenzie said...

What an interesting and full life she's lived. I'd love to see her home in New Mexico. It seems so many talented people wind up in the heartland of the Aztec!

Sherry Ellis said...

I'd like to try some of her recipes. Sounds like a very talented lady!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

She's quite the pioneer. We lived in New Mexico for four years and love authentic Mexican food. (Which is really hard to get where we live now.)

Tyrean Martinson said...

Wow! I didn't know anything about her, and despite your excellent post, I definitely want to know more. Thank you for the introduction to this talented and interesting lady!

Bish Denham said...

Wow! Who would have thought an English lady would become the queen of Mexican cuisine! Now I'm curious and will have to look for her book.

Keith's Ramblings said...

As a collector of food and cookery books, I'm surprised I've not heard of her before! Really interesting.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Liza – every time I think about her … a meal comes to mind! – so I totally understand …

@ Nila – yes … I think our generation relate back to our mother’s way of life – giving us that benefit of a healthy start to our journeys. So pleased you related …
Net issues – not resolved … frustrating – I deferred, but now wish I hadn’t … such is the way of the world.

@ Elizabeth – she comes over … as more than amazing! Extraordinary … and yes – the title does encompass so much of our home life with its comforting foods – exactly as we should remember our early years.

@ Lynda – the book is a delight to read – and I’m so pleased the post entices you to learn more …

@ Lee – thank you … she is certainly living life to the full. I too would love to visit Quinta Diana – it’s 3 hours SW of Mexico city. The Aztecs have a wonderful history that we should not forget – so her records will be essential for the future.

@ Sherry – yes me too … I’d love to spend some time with her … and learn from her.

@ Diane – she certainly has been a pioneer for nearly all her life. She was further south … but I’d love to learn more about the Aztec and Mexican culture.

@ Tyrean – that’s great you want to learn more about her and her way of life – she’s offered so much over her life.

@ Bish – thank you … I know – quite an extraordinary thought … an English lady saving the Mexican cuisine. Her book is so informative … I’m sure everyone who reads it will enjoy it.

@ Keith – well that’s a surprise – as it was to me … so I’m pleased you’re interested.

Thanks to you all – it’s great to see you’re all so interested to learn about this incredible woman. Take care - Hilary

hels said...

British cooking in the 1950s was regarded as a bit boring, even after rationing ended. Diana must have thought she was in heaven when she discovered Mexican food.

retirementreflections said...

What a fascinating woman! I immediately checked our local library on line and was abl
e to request a copy of Nothing Fancy. I look forward to reading it. Thanks so much for this introduction!

Yolanda Renée said...

I don't get into books on food or cooking or recipes. I have too many allergies and right now too strict a diet to want to read them. Watching the food channel makes me sad. LOL I can't eat any of it! Loved your post though.

And I've no doubt you'll come up with the perfect entry for The Scream. You always do and I always learn something new!

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

I liked this, what a woman

diedre Knight said...

This was delicious (wink), Hilary! Good thing I just had lunch or I'd be raiding the pantry after reading this post. Mrs. Kennedy was/is certainly a fine cook. As we're not an hour from Mexico, the cuisine is well-known and much loved ;-)

Sandra Cox said...

What a fascinating woman. Thanks for sharing.
Cheers,

Joanne said...

Wow - I definitely to find the film and the book. I think you'd like to join her family for Christmas - hope she reads this blog and invites you. I would like a buttery crumpet. And then enjoy Mexican cuisine. She sounds like a force of nature with excellent genes. Yummy post and quite enlightening. Thanks - now I suppose local Tex-Mex is just not going live up to this post - but I'm hungry. Bueno, senora (prob. not correct Spanish). Adios

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Sounds like a fascinating life! I never heard of her, but not surprised at that :)

Dan said...

I should look into this. I love Mexican food, but we don’t have a good Mexican restaurant anywhere near us, It would be interesting to learn more about what is authentic. Still going strong at 98? That remarkable. I hope she keeps it up for years to come.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Hels – as it was just after War – things were pretty scarce and life was still hard – so not surprising.

@ Donna – yes an amazing lady … and how great that you’ve been to your library to order the book to read – it’s just wonderful – I’m sure/I know you’ll enjoy it.

@ Renee – I’m sorry you battle with foods and allergies … I’m so lucky I enjoy all foods. Yes – the Scream will make a fun read.

@ Jo-Anne – thank you …

@ Diedre – I just always want to pop out and get various things I don’t have at home … Diana Kennedy’s recipes and ideas take me across my life-time of food. You’re lucky if you can enjoy traditional Mexican food where you are …

@ Sandra – yes … she is amazing – just reminds me so much of my early home life.

@ Joanne – I would so love to meet her, as too join her down in Mexico – sadly not to be: but I can appreciate her life and times. She’s certainly an entrepreneur … and as you say a force of nature …

Buttery crumpet – yes we still have them! Fast food is not on my table ever!

@ Rebecca – you’ve had so many travels in your life – and are so busy with your trips and books … at least you’re aware of her now.

@ Dan – you’ll enjoy her book and her take on life … to me the book is better than the film, but one learns other things. Yes – she is still going strong – amazing as you say … and I too hope she stays fit and healthy for a while yet.

Thanks to you all for visiting … enjoy the book, or the film and thoughts of Mexican cuisine! Cheers Hilary

Inger said...

I hadn't heard of her either. Reading about her made me think of the very different lives we live.

mail4rosey said...

This is my first to hear of her! I am curious to see the movie. It's wonderful that her husband's line of work allowed her to have more exposure to her work.

Sandra Cox said...

She looks in amazing shape for 98.
YOU take special care.
Cheers,

Sandra Cox said...

I guess 93 in the pic.

D.G. Kaye said...

Very interesting article Hilary. I love Mexico and their culture and had never heard of Diana. I will look into to book. Thank you. Hugs :)

DMS said...

I learned a lot here today. I had never heard of her before and her life and dishes (and books) sound so interesting. Thanks for sharing the links. I hope to check them out later this week. :)

Have a great week.
~Jess

Christine Rains said...

How wonderful this woman and the adventures she's had. Thank you for sharing.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

She sounds like a fascinating woman. I'd love to read the book and try some of the recipes.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Inger – I’m so glad I posted about the film and particularly her life … wonderful history …

@ Rosey – yes … but it was so sad her husband didn’t live that long after they married – yes ten years … but not long. But his contacts and their life must have opened her eyes to Mexican ways of life … as the lived there … letting us being able to appreciate her knowledge.

@ Sandra – thanks for visiting … she’s such an extraordinary woman.

@ Debby – I know you love Mexico – and I’m certain you’ll love the book, as too the film … enjoy both.

@ Jess – thank you … that’s great you’ll look into her publications and the film … they are light and fascinating to see – great descriptions of life …

@ Christine – you are so right … she lived her life to the full … utilising her amazing skills – particularly her palate …

@ Lynda – that’s wonderful to read – I’m sure you’ll enjoy the read, as too some of her recipes – many very English from her upbringing … as well as the authentic Mexican ones …

Thanks so much for being here … and it’s wonderful so many of you will be checking out her books, recipes, ideas and the film … cheers Hilary

Deniz Bevan said...

I hadn't heard of her before! This is a fascinating glimpse into a long life. And, ooh, that roast pork sounds tasty,,,

Elizabeth Seckman said...

What an amazing lady. I'll have to check it out.