The Bloomsbury Group in Food and Flowers

by on August 5th, 2014
The Bloomsbury Group in Food and Flowers Cover Image

I recently enjoyed two new books on England’s Bloomsbury Group.  So much has been written by and about this group of writers, painters, and thinkers, it seems a bit surprising that a new angle could be found.  But these two books are a delight, and if you enjoy gardening, cooking, or English history, check them out.

Virginia Woolf’s Garden:  The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House is written by Caroline Zoob; she and her husband lived as tenants in this National Trust property for more than ten years, nurturing the gardens and taking care of the house.  The photographs are by Caroline Arber, and they beautifully present the gardens, paths, and orchard on the property, as well as some interior shots of the house where the Woolfs lived for many years.  (I lingered especially over the the pictures of Leonard’s and Virginia’s writing tables.)  Mixed in with these current photos are archival pictures of the Woolfs and their guests in the gardens.  The text describes the extensive work that the Woolfs (primarily Leonard) did to create garden rooms, develop the orchard, and grow food for their table–which was often shared with guests.

The Bloomsbury Cookbook:  Recipes for Life, Love and Art by Jans Ondaatje Rolls is a little more story and a little less recipes, but that’s ok.  The book nicely summarizes the chronology and personalities of the Bloomsbury Group through anecdotes and the recipes of its members (and their cooks).  You will find the Woolfs here, and Vanessa and Clive Bell, and Lydia Lopokova Keynes, Dora Carrington, and Lytton Strachey, to name just a few.  Some of the recipes are more atmospheric than utilitarian (where would I find a calf’s brain?) but some of the vague measurements have been updated and there is a chart at the back that provides temperature conversions from centigrade to Fahrenheit, and imperial measurements to metric.  The many illustrations, most of which are paintings by members of the Group, are another highlight of the book.

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