In June 1950, when English cooking writer Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food was published in London, British adults were still living under the war rationing system and were allowed only one fresh egg per week. Leaving stale bread for the birds earned a fine of £10. Britons ate Woolton Pie, made of baked root vegetables, and chalk was a common additive to bread. David’s book reminded readers that food could do something more than keep them alive. She followed A Book of Mediterranean Food with books on French and Italian food, and by the time her fourth book, Summer Cooking, hit the shelves in 1955, Britons, “sick of the grey drabness of England and its shattered cities,” were ready to try her vibrant recipes. They had endured 5,291 days of food rationing.
If America has a recognizable food culture, Elizabeth David is its inspiration.
At the moment David was illuminating a sunnier, fresher cuisine for the British middle-class, two Americans who had spent time in Europe were embarking on similar culinary journeys that would change the eating habits of their home country. One was Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, a fluid writer who split time between California and France, and whose subject happened to be food and dining. She had read David and praised her for exploring “gastronomical planets other than her own.” In the mid-1950s, M.F.K. Fisher published her collection of food-centered writing, The Art of Eating, and like David’s initial work, it was a lyrical presentation of the joys of French and Mediterranean cuisine.