Marguerite Patten, Whose Wartime Austerity Lessons Made Her a Celebrity Chef, Has Died
During World War II, Marguerite Patten taught British families how to turn rations into respectable meals, entering radio and television to share her tips.
Marguerite Patten, the cookbook author who counseled the British people on how to feed their families with rations during World War II, died on June 4 at the age of 99.
Patten, who developed an interest in cooking at an early age, began her career as a home economist at Frigidaire, helping consumers to understand the benefits of a refrigerator in their homes.
She then worked for the Ministry of Food, where she provided advice and demonstrations on how to make the most of wartime rations from Harrods department store. Patten taught women how to make items like “mock duck” and how to stretch dried eggs.
She soon parlayed her talent for “ration-book cuisine” into a media presence, appearing regularly on the BBC’s radio program The Kitchen Front to share recipes and advice with the entire country.
In 1947, Patten appeared on the network’s television program Designed for Women, sharing a recipe for doughnuts. Patten would remain the program’s resident chef for the next decade, a position that earned her recognition as one of the world’s first-ever “celebrity chefs,” a distinction she vehemently protested. “I AM NOT,” she told The Telegraph in 2011. “To the day I die I will be a home economist.”
During that time, Patten also managed to write nearly 200 cookbooks, noted for being “determinedly unstylish, practical and unshowy,” so that they managed to live “in people’s kitchens” rather than on their bookshelves. Her most popular works included Cookery in Colour: A Picture Encyclopedia for Every Occasion, The How-To Cookbook, and Spam: The Cookbook.
Though Patten herself might never acknowledge the influence she had over the generations to follow, both home cooks and television chefs, her legacy is deeply embedded in Britain’s culinary history.
“Marguerite Patten was always a brilliant source of sound practice and common sense,” Jeremy Lee, chef at the acclaimed Quo Vadis in London, where he is known for his updated traditional British food, told The Daily Meal.
“Her books on pickles and preserves and practical approaches to cooking in general had a charm that gave a cook confidence when tackling a great heap of ingredients. A gentle and kind woman who spoke in the measured clipped tones spoken by women from another time, she remained herself over a long and distinguished career from telling readers how to feed families through the horrors of the Second World War to being a calm and caring influence in the high-octane food world of today.”