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Cooking the Books | The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

Welcome to Cooking the Books (where we try recipes found in, well, books!) This month, Children’s Assistant & STEM Specialist Ms. Meghan tried out a recipe from one of her recent reads:

Just in time to finish up Women’s History Month, here’s a historical fiction novel that follows four British women as they cope with food rationing, grief, and societal pressures during World War II.

I’ve had an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy) of The Kitchen Front on my Kindle for years now, and just never got around to it. Cooking the Books has once again knocked another book off my TBR (To Be Read) mountain. I just wished I enjoyed it more.

I’m in the minority here. TKF has a 3.97 star rating on Goodreads and a 4.4 star rating on Amazon. The novel details the lives of four British women from varying backgrounds as they compete for a spot on a radio program during World War II. Rationing was in effect at this time, and the book opens with the weekly allotment for one adult. A stick of margarine, half a stick of butter, three pints of milk, one cup of sugar…very different from the way we eat today. The radio program, based on an actual one, helped women stretch out their rations with creative (sometimes very creative) recipes. I enjoyed this look at an aspect of the war that I hadn’t seen written about before, especially in the crowded field of WWII novels. Unfortunately, that was about all I liked.

Overall, I found the book to be flat, predictable, and breezy. I am all for breezy books that give your mind a break, but that’s not how this one is advertised. The characters do a lot of speaking out loud; the author definitely does a lot more telling as opposed to showing. Perhaps because I didn’t enjoy it, I also found myself nitpicking. A character says he wasn’t aware that another was in the contest, then on the next page asks why the efforts to sabotage her had failed. A barn owl hoots instead of screams. Little things that should have been caught by the editor. Without giving away spoilers, a major life-changing decision is flip-flopped in the span of three pages. This just wasn’t the book for me, but as I said, it is the book for a lot of people.

There are a number of starter, main course, and dessert recipes featured in the book from historic sources, all of which adhere to the Ministry of Food rationing to various degrees. Unsurprisingly, there was an active black market for ingredients, and those who could afford them didn’t go without. Many of the recipes offer a lot of flexibility, which is to be expected when working with limited ingredients. For various reasons, I declined to attempt The Ministry of Food’s Sheep’s Head Roll or Chef James’s Whale Meat and Mushroom Pie. Instead, I made Audrey’s Fruit Scones. I vaguely remember making scones 20 years ago. This recipe contains a lot less sugar than modern recipes and produces a…perfectly adequate vehicle for getting butter and/or jam to your mouth. The apricot flavor was good, with comments that it ‘could use more apricot, less scone’ but other than that? Eh. A coworker said ‘mostly good, a little bland – but aren’t all scones?’. It does produce an incredibly wet, sticky dough; if you think you’ve got enough flour on your surface, think again.

Scones: 2.5/5 (based on all opinions)

Book: 1/5 (based on my opinion)


The Recipe


Audrey’s Fruit Scones

Makes 12 scones



3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cups dried fruit (raisin, sultanas, red currants, apricots, prunes, etc.)
¼ cup butter
¼ maragaine, lard, or suet (I used margarine)
1 egg, beaten, or the equivalent in dried egg powder
1 cup milk


Preheat oven to 425 F/220 C. Sieve the flour, salt, and baking powder into a bowl. Add the sugar and dried fruits and mix. Cut the butter and margarine into small pieces and rub it in. Mix the egg and milk and slowly add until the dough is a stiff consistency. Roll it out into a thick layer, about 1 inch thick, and use a floured cutter to cut it into circles. Place on a greased baking tray and bake for 10 minutes or until risen and golden brown.