UK wartime food ed­u­ca­tor Mar­guerite Pat­ten dies at 99

The China Post - - LIFE - BY DAN­ICA KIRKA

In many ways, Mar­guerite Pat­ten was the United King­dom’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, the UK 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.

‘10,000 things you can do with

left­over foods’

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 the UK 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.”

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