Saturday, March 18, 2023

Weekend Cooking/Cook the Books: The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

When I saw the current list of selections for Cook the Books, I knew that this book was definitely going to be a must read. I mean, it's a foodie novel set in WWII. And yet, if you think about it, that can't be that easy to write, given that there were strict rations in place. However, that is really what this book is about. How to eat well when you have such limited access to ingredients.

The story revolves around four women who find themselves competing against each other in a cooking competition in order to win a coveted role as a co-presenter in a radio show called The Kitchen Front. The show exists to provide information and inspiration to women, talking about creative ways to cook taking into consideration the limited food resources that they currently have.

Two of the women are sisters but Audrey and Gwendoline are estranged. Audrey's husband has been killed in the war and she is barely managing to keep her family house from falling down around her. She needs to keep things going in order to look after her sons.

Gwendoline married well and is now a titled Lady living in the big house. Everything she does is designed to ensure that her position in the community is enhanced and maintained. Gwendoline also has a massive chip on her shoulder about Audrey being their mother's favourite, and it has lead to the sisters being alienated from each other. However, for all that Gwendoline is meant to be living the dream, it isn't all sunshine and roses. She has secrets that really need to stay secret.

Nell works in the kitchen of the big house alongside the cook who is almost her substitute mother. Nell is a shy young woman, but she  is a very talented cook. She sees that she is assisting Mrs Quince but really Mrs Quince knows that winning this competition is going to give Nell the opportunity she needs to get away from working in the big house and making her way into the world.

The final contestant is Zelda. She currently works as a cook in the pie factory which is owned by Lady Gwendoline's husband. She has her own secret, one that isn't going to be able to keep a secret for too much longer. She needs to win this competition so that she can get back to her real life being a chef in London.

As the competition continues, we get insights into each contestants thinking about each of the 3 dishes that they need to make, where they get their inspiration from\, and how they manage their day to day lives in the midst of the turmoil and challenges of life in WWII. The unexpected outcome of competing against each other, is that they actually started to become closer to each other

I enjoyed watching the relationships betwen the women evolve and another highlight for me was the fact that there really was a show called The Kitchen Front on the radio in WWII, and there really were cooking competitions which were designed to help lift morale

As you would expect, there are many food references in the book and there were even some recipes. Some of the recipes are not recipes that we would want to eat now. An example of this would be the Sardine tart in which the pastry is made using the oil from the sardine tin - ugh!. But there are definitely some that would definitely still be tasty! As soon as I saw it mentioned, I had a penchant to cook Chicken Cacciatore, and there is a recipe included in the book so that was my plan to cook, but then I saw that Amy from Amy's Cooking Adventures had already made it, so I have ended up sticking in my swim lane and making an Eggless Chocolate Sponge Cake.  

I have had an idea to make a WWII cake since I first read about a one agg cake in a Viola Shipman book a few years ago, but I hadn't been able to find a recipe for that cake so instead this was a good substitute.

Now, I wouldn't call this an unqualified success! I ended up making the recipe twice because the first time my cakes came out looking very much like giant cookies! They tasted fine, especially when I dished them up broken into pieces with lashes of cream and berries,  but I was wondering if maybe I didn't measure it properly as I am not used to cooking in pounds and ounces. The second time I made the recipe, it was better, mainly because I only cooked it in one cake tin. I also added a bit more milk to the mixture. It still wasn't pourable but it was better. Texturally it still looked a bit like a giant cookie from the top, but it was at least a giant cookie that had depth and was spongy like cake should be!

Gwendoline’s Eggless Chocolate Sponge Cake 

Serves 4 to 6 

For the cake 

1¾ ounces sugar 

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 

4 fluid ounces milk and water mixed 

3 ounces butter or margarine 

1 tablespoon golden syrup or treacle 

6½ ounces flour 1½ ounces cocoa 

½ teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon baking powder 

For the icing 

2 ounces butter or margarine 

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 ounce powdered milk 2 tablespoons sugar 

½ teaspoon vanilla essence 

Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar and bicarbonate of soda in the milk and water. Add the butter or margarine and syrup or treacle and mix slowly but well. 

Sieve the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Add the mixed ingredients from the saucepan and mix well, again slowly. Pour into two cake tins and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. When cooked, leave the cakes in their pans until cool. 

Next, make the icing. Melt the butter or margarine, then mix with the cocoa powder, powdered milk, sugar, and vanilla essence until soft and shiny.

The next Cook the Books selection is Lessons in Chemisty by Bonnie Garmus which I am very much looking forward to reading!

I have also linked this post up with Foodies Read hosted at Based an a True Story, British Isles Friday (hosted at Joy's Book Blog) and for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted here at The Intrepid Reader!

Important note:

l am away this week and can't access Mr Linky so for this week only, please add your links in the comment!

Weekly meals

Saturday - Out for dinner
Sunday -  Out for dinner
Monday -  Out for dinner
Tuesday - Out for dinner
Wednesday - Butter chicken and rice
Thursday - Meatballs
Friday - on holiday

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page


  1. I love THE KITCHEN FRONT! Such a great book, just like every one I've read by Ryan. I think this is the first "foodie" book I've read, though, that did NOT make me hungry. So many of the recipes sounded disgusting. LOL.

    1. There were definitely some recipes in it that I wouldn't want to eat Susan!

  2. I've enjoyed other books by this author and am looking forward to this one! Glad you liked it.

    1. I will read more of Ryan's books now CLM

  3. I guess as long as the cake tasted good, then it was success???? I'll have to add this book to my list. Here's my link for this week.

    1. It tasted like chocolate cake so that's a winner!

  4. I have this book on my library TBR list and have passed over it recently, I will grab it this weekend.

  5. Oh my that cake looks good. I have not read this Jennifer Ryan book yet but it's on my radar.
    Here is my contribution this week - wine and scallops and couscous:

  6. I will be reading more Jennifer Ryan books now Tina!

  7. In the past I made War Cake from MFK Fisher. While edible, not great. So I can completely relate to "there were some recipes in there I wouldn't want to eat" Have a great week ahead! Sharing this unique veggie recipe...

    1. One of my friends has shared her go to eggless chocolate cake that she has used for years, so I might give that a go!

  8. I've never heard of golden syrup or treacle . But that cat looks great. I may start brownies. Have you ever tried Better than Robert Redford?


    2. I had never heard of Better than Robert Redford cake before! I might need to try it!

  9. I try to avoid WWII stories but a cooking competition during the war sounds too fabulous to pass up.

  10. I enjoyed this selection very much and I think that your cake turned out as well as could be expected with rationing.

    1. Given the current egg shortages around the world it is probably timely too!

  11. Thanks for the full description and for sharing this with British Isles Friday. The Kitchen Front has been on my list for a while but I'm moving it up!

    1. I hope you enjoy it if you do get to read it Joy!

  12. How can you go wrong with Chocolate Cake? Sounds delish!

  13. I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of an egg-less cake but they did what they had to do during that difficult time. I really enjoyed the bravery of these women

  14. I was wondering about that cake, so thank you for being brave and making it, twice! I am glad your persistence was rewarded :)