I struggled to get to Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham – through no fault of its own. It arrived when my reading and reviewing pile was pretty insurmountable AND at a time I going into hospital. Surprisingly I was not in the mood to read during my stay or the week or so after, so poor Maggie and her wartime story had to wait.
But when I finally read it, I eased through it in a night.
by Caroline Beecham
Published by Allen & Unwin
on July 27th 2016
Source: Allen & Unwin
Amid the heartbreak and danger of London in the Blitz of WWII, Maggie Johnson finds her courage in friendship and food.
They might all travel the same scarred and shattered streets on their way to work, but once they entered Maggie's Kitchen, it was somehow as if the rest of the world didn't exist.
When the British Ministry of Food urgently calls for the opening of restaurants to feed tired and hungry Londoners during WWII, Maggie Johnson seems close to realising a long-held dream.
Navigating a constant tangle of government red-tape, Maggie's Kitchen finally opens its doors to the public and Maggie finds that she has a most unexpected problem. Her restaurant has become so popular that she simply can't find enough food to keep up with the demand for meals.
With the help of twelve-year-old Robbie, a street urchin, and Janek, a Polish refugee dreaming of returning to his native land, she evades threats of closure from the Ministry. But breaking the rules is not the only thing she has to worry about. . . as Maggie fights to keep her beloved Kitchen open, she discovers that some secrets have the power to change everything.
When we first meet Maggie the passionate cook is running the canteen in a radio factory. But she’s under the thumb of an uninspired and crotchety manager and her creative juices* are stymied. (*See what I did there!?)
She and fiancé Peter had planned to open a small country hotel…. before the war. But that was then.
It’s now 1941 and the British Government has opened communal feeding kitchens – British Restaurants – to offer low cost meals to its residents… with the aim of offering one hot meal a day.
Although Maggie struggles with her confidence a friend convinces her to apply to manage a kitchen and before she knows it she’s undergoing business training and being drilled about what she is and isn’t allowed to cook.
In many ways it’s a dream come true for Maggie, but in the shadows of war, supplies are limited and Maggie soon learns – while the success of her kitchen means more visitors and clients – it doesn’t also mean more rations.
Thankfully Robbie introduces her to the resourceful Janek who helps Maggie set up her own victory garden, to supply her kitchen.
Maggie’s a kind and generous person. She fills her team with friends and family, determined to help those she can. But things get complicated and the backdrop of war means tensions are high.
The book is littered with references to food and meals, along with handy wartime hints in how to stretch your rations further and so forth. The bakers or cooks out there will also delight in the collection of recipes shared at the end of the book, including the likes of Toad in the Hole, Rabbit Curry, Mutton Stew etc…
I enjoyed this novel but felt it could have drilled a bit deeper on a few occasions. It touches on the losses of war and impacts on those left behind; of the children shipped off to the countryside; and the suspicion those from other cultures come under during such a testing time. But it keeps the tone light rather than delving too deeply.
The eventual animosity between Maggie and her aunt and cousin – who she’s generously employed also felt a little weak as did the romantic tussle.
However, this is an easy and delightfully uplifting read and those familiar with English cuisine or with not-so-fond memories of wartime rationing will certainly enjoy English-born, Aussie=dwelling Beecham’s debut novel.
Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham was released in Australia on 27 July 2016 by Allen & Unwin.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
Click here for more information about the book and events inspiring it including original recipes and newsclippings etc.