As soon as I saw Cathy Kelly’s quote on the front of this book, I was sold. “The Great British Bake Off set in World War Two… an enchanting hug of a novel!” Well, who could resist that?
There are lots of recipes included (I don’t think many will be trying the Ministry of Food’s Sheep’s Head Roll though!) and food related information, as you might expect. At the start of the book, it lists wartime food rations for an adult for one week and I was shocked to see the tea ration made fifteen to twenty cups of tea! I can happily drink that in a day! Oh my!
The book begins by introducing us to Audrey Landon, who lives in Willow Lodge, Fenley Village. It is June 1942. Audrey is 40, her husband Matthew was killed in the war two years before. She looks after her three sons – Alexander (15), Ben (11) and Christopher (8) and does baking. She needs the money, as she has been struggling financially since being widowed.
Audrey’s younger sister, Lady Gwendoline Strickland (38), married into money when she wed Sir Reginald Strickland. They live in Fenley Hall, and the sisters don’t get on.
The Kitchen Front is a popular programme on the radio, described as “the cookery programme helping Britain’s housewives make the most of wartime food rations.” It is presented by Ambrose Hart, who lives in the village. The BBC want him to hold a local competition to find a woman to co-present the show with him, someone who has had professional catering or cooking experience. The winner will be decided by a wartime cooking challenge, split into three rounds.
There are several women entering, all keen to win for their own reasons – Audrey and Lady Gwendoline, Miss Nell Brown (who works as the kitchen maid at Fenley Hall with the cook Mrs Quince), Miss Zelda Dupont (who is 32 years old and head chef of the staff canteen at the Fenley Pie Factory). As the novel continues, we follow these four women as they compete, but also in their lives, each with their own problems and worries to deal with. I really enjoyed how this unfolded, especially Nell’s story.
It is a beautiful story of strong women being changed by the War. It is heart-warming and moving and you will fall in love with the characters. It’s happy, sad, dramatic, exciting, funny and one of the best books I have read.
9.5 out of 10