“It’s women that have to make the choice between two of the most basic desires: a career or a family.“
Jennifer Ryan ~ The Kitchen Front
Two years into WW2, Britain is feeling her losses; the Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is putting on a cooking contest – and the grand prize is a job as the program’s first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the contest presents a crucial chance to change their lives.
For a young widow, it’s a chance to pay off her husband’s debts and keep a roof over her children’s heads. For a kitchen maid, it’s a chance to leave servitude and find freedom. For the lady of the manor, it’s a chance to escape her wealthy husband’s increasingly hostile behaviour. And for a trained chef, it’s a chance to challenge the men at the top of her profession.
These four women are giving the competition their all–even if that sometimes means bending the rules. But with so much at stake, will the contest that aims to bring the community together serve only to break it apart?
When a book is described as The Great British Bake Off during WWII, you know it’s going to be a mix of tears, warmth and gentle sass.
And that’s exactly what The Kitchen Front is. Four women – each with their own secrets – cross paths when they all enter the same cooking contest. Their backgrounds may be different but they are all (to an extent) outsiders. Each woman’s situation may be pitied, frowned upon or deemed as scandalous, but they are determined to rise above it and do what they love – cook!
I did struggle to get into this book, as the first part is very slow. There are a lot of characters, back stories and recipes so although it’s not confusing as such, there’s just a lot of information. This means the story takes a while to unfold, but when it does it’s glorious.
The characters are wonderful. Each of the four main women is feisty and independent, even if they don’t realise it at the beginning. Their development is excellent and this is the true delight of the story. Seeing Nell come into her own as a cook and a woman is marvellous. Zelda seems unlikeable at first, but underneath is a loyal and determined friend. Audrey is a little less enjoyable, but her suffering is deep and her priorities different so it’s understandable that she would be less forthcoming at first.
The backdrop of the war feels realistic, but doesn’t overshadow the women’s stories; it serves to remind us of the hardships faced by those on the Home Front, fighting for survival in a different way.
Prose does seem a little modern at times, with some things feeling a little out of place. I am the sort of person who checks these things (for my own reference) and I’m often surprised how soon things were invented (pink gin for example was first made in the late 19th century, but I digress); however, there is a big difference between when something is invented and its widespread adoption in British homes!
The inclusion of the recipes is a nice touch although I didn’t read them in detail. Personally I would have preferred them all at the end of the book for reference. It was a bit repetitive having them at the end of the chapter, after reading about it while the woman is making it.
But it really is a lovely story of perseverance and acceptance. When I put the book down I had tears in my eyes, because the ending is so wonderful. They all get what they deserve, but in a way that is realistic, but empowering.
Book from Random Things Tours and Pan Macmillan. Opinions my own.