British wartime cooking educator Marguerite Patten dies

AP News
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Posted: Jun 10, 2015 1:02 PM
British wartime cooking educator Marguerite Patten dies

LONDON (AP) — In many ways, Marguerite Patten was Britain's first celebrity chef — although she herself would have shunned the term.

The home economist who helped teach Britons how to survive on scarce rations during and after World War II died June 4 at age 99, her family said in a statement. Patten had been living in a nursing home near Richmond, Surrey, since 2011, when a stroke robbed her of her speech.

After gaining fame through a wartime program on the BBC, she gave presentations in theaters and community halls for decades, sharing nostalgia and her message that even those on a budget could eat well. Many never tired of hearing her war stories.

"The world will be a lesser place without the beautifully talented Marguerite Patten," chef Jamie Oliver said. "She will continue to inspire me. Like many others, I'm so grateful for all the work she did over the years."

Patten made her mark as a senior adviser in the wartime-era Ministry of Food, which sought to teach people on this island nation how to stay healthy on the meager rations necessitated by war.

With Nazi bombers blitzing London and U-boats choking off imports, Britain was quickly starved for supplies.

Campaigns such as "Dig for Victory" encouraged Britons to grow their own food. Soccer fields were transformed into vegetable patches. Eggs, butter, meat and cheese were all strictly limited. Squirrels and horses became sources of protein. The enterprising traded recipes for baked hedgehog and carrot fudge.

An aspiring actress before the war, Patten was offered the chance to help present a five-minute radio broadcast called the "The Kitchen Front," which provided nutritional advice and ration-stretching recipes.

Patten took her work on the road, setting up a stall at market squares around the country. She ventured into factories, developing what she called a "fairground voice" as she talked to groups of 250 people or more.

"We didn't wait for people to come to us," Patten told the BBC. "We went wherever people were."

In the winter months, when there were no imports of fruit or vegetables, Britons had to make do. Patten recalled people using mashed parsnips with sugar and banana flavoring as a substitute for the fruit.

Patten herself combined margarine, cream and corn starch to make "mock cream" — and made no apology for that, describing it as "jolly good."

The tough times didn't end in 1945. The war devastated Britain's farms and factories, and rationing continued into the 1950s. All the time, Patten was there with advice and a big smile, head slightly tilted to one side, regal but somehow accessible.

She first appeared on BBC television in 1947, presenting a cooking segment in a program called "Designed for Women." Brisk, clear and matter-of-fact, she educated a generation to abhor food waste.

"There are 10,000 things you can do with leftover foods, but under no circumstances put it in the bin!" Patten told The Associated Press in 2008.

Her books include "Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts from 1940-1954," ''Spam: The Cookbook" and "Marguerite Patten's Century of British Cooking." She also wrote about preserves, tacos, chutney and soup.

Long after rationing ended, Patten still traveled around Britain for decades speaking to groups that ranged from Rotarians to the Oxford Literary Festival.

"I never really went away," she said in 2009, when asked by The AP about her enduring popularity.

Patten told the BBC she didn't mind being known as a doyenne at all — "because that sounds respectable."

"Claiming celebrity — it isn't such a grand thing as people pretend it is," she said when her last book was published. "It's not who we are, it's what we do I think that's important.

"I would far rather be called a helpful cook, an imaginative cook or a chef if you want to use that word. But celebrity doesn't really say much."

Britain remembered her. She was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1991 for "services to the art of cookery," and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2010 for "services to the food industry."

She is survived by her sister Elizabeth; her daughter, Judith; great-grandson, Luke; and two step-grandchildren.