Saturday, January 08, 2011

Weekend Cooking: The Kitchen Child by Angela Carter

Shortly before Christmas the Guardian website had a series of short story podcasts where relatively famous authors read short stories from relatively famous authors and then share a few thoughts as to why they liked the story and why they chose it to read. I have used the words relatively because I hadn't actually heard of all the authors who were doing the reading, or all of the ones who were being read!

The podcasts were, in order:

Philip Pullman reading The Beauties by Anton Chekhov
Julian Barnes reading Homage to Switzerland by Ernest Hemingway
William Boyd reading My Dream of Flying to Wake Island by J G Ballard
Anne Enright reading Fat by Raymond Carver
Colm Toibin reading Music at Annahullian by Eugene McCabe
Margaret Drabble reading The Doll's House by Katherine Mansfield
Jeanette Winterson reading The Night Driver by Italo Calvino
Rose Tremain reading Extra by Yiyun Li
Tessa Hadley reading The Jungle by Elizabeth Bowen
Helen Dunmore reading My Oedipus Complex by Frank O'Connor
Ali Smith reading A Conversation with my Father by Grace Paley
Helen Simpson reading The Kitchen Child by Angela Carter

It is the final story in this list, and my favourite of the 12,  that I want to concentrate on for my Weekend Cooking post this week.

When I mentioned that I hadn't heard of all of the authors, both Helen Simpson and Angela Carter were in this category. From what I can tell by what I have read online Helen Simpson is a short story writer herself, and Angela Carter was known for her fairytale retelling. From what is said it seemed that Carter's fairytale retellings can be somewhat dark and gothic, featuring werewolves and other magical creatures and wikipedia mentions that her works include feminism, magical realism and science fiction.

From the little I knew this short story was not anything like I expected. It is light and frothy, but still with substance, sunny, charming and funny, and well worth spending a few minutes to listen to.

The story is about a young boy whose mother is a cook in a large house. He doesn't know who his father was. All he knows is that he was conceived whilst the lobster souffle his mother was cooking rose ("25 minutes in a medium oven") but the identity of his father remains a mystery. Each year at the time of the grouse shoot, his mother once again cooks the souffle although she doens't overseason it with cayenne as she did that first time due to the shock of being accosted in her kitchen. The boy ("conceived upon the kitchen table, born upon the kitchen floor") is desperate to know who his father was. In this short story we shares his childhood in the kitchen from his birth, his first crib (the copper salmon kettle), the baths in the soup tureen that normally carries turtle soup. The child is precocious, learning the skills of the cook with ease at the foot of his mother. He learns his letters (A for Asparagus through to Z is for Zabligione), invents shortcrust at the age of three, and so on.

Also alluded to in the course of the story are the different levels of the household servants within the big house and the masters who don't seem to have terribly good taste when it comes to food. There is the housekeeper who seems to take her rum with a splash of tea, and who would love to replace the Yorkshire woman who is the cook with a continental chef , with the birth of the cook's baby appearing to be the perfect opportunity, but it doesn't work out that way at all.

I have now listened to this particular short story a number of times now, it doesn't lose it's charm with familiarity. If you have a few minutes spare, I would encourage you to click on link above and lose yourself for just a few minutes in the kitchen of the great house.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.


  1. I must check is these are all still online to download. To my shame I still haven't read much Angela Carter, but have enjoyed the couple of short stories I have so far.

  2. The links I have at the top of the post were still working for me this afternoon, so you should still be able to get them

  3. Both authors (reader and writer) of the featured story are new to me. Sounds like a wonderful listen. I'm definitely going to have download the podcsst. Thanks, too, for the other suggestions on Twitter.

  4. I must listen and find out what happens!!

  5. You know have me curious about what happens to the boy as well as listening to all this wonderful sounding food. I'm off to listen.

  6. Lovely story! Thanks for sharing it.

  7. Aw, this sounds like the perfect short story - sweet, with quite a bit for foodies to enjoy, as well.

    Despite the break-in troubles that seem to unjustly plague you, I hope you managed to have a Happy Holiday, Marg! And here's hoping for a wonderful, break-in free, 2011!

  8. Thanks for sharing this, now I just have to go and download that wonderful short story :)

  9. I just listened to a new post on the Guardian-Margaret Drabble reading "The Doll House" By Katherine Mansfield, I also listened to a wonderful reading of Elizabeth Bowen's "The Jungle"-I will in time listen to all the podcasts on the Guardian and a lot of those on the New Yorker also-