A Tribute to Marguerite Patten

Thursday, June 11 2015

Having worked at Cakes & Sugarcraft for just over a year, our then Copy Editor, Jenny Stewart, arranged an interview with Marguerite Patten, then OBE (later awarded a CBE), for the Winter 2001-02 issue. Whilst most media interviews consist of a brief meeting in a studio or cafe, or sometimes just a phone call, Marguerite welcomed Jenny to her home and served freshly baked scones with homemade jam and endless pots of tea. Then in her 80s, Marguerite chatted warmly about a formidable career in food borne from a love of cookery that she discovered when she was just 13.

Marguerite ran the Ministry of Food Advice Bureau in Harrods from 1943 and became famous for teaching people how to cook on post-war rations. "People often talk about how inventive chefs are today, but really, people were much more imaginative during the rationing years because they had to be. For example, people made Christmas cakes from potato!"

Although she wrote over 170 cookery books during her lifetime (including a much-loved staple from Jenny's childhood, Cookery in Colour), she insisted that choosing a cookery book is a very personal decision. "People often ask me, what cookery books would you recommend, and I say don't ask me, go to the library or bookshop... Sooner or later you will see one and think, this is on my wavelength, that's the one for me."

As well as cooking and baking, Marguerite enjoyed sugarcraft. She first used royal icing to decorate wedding cakes before discovering sugarpaste in the 1960s during a tour of Australia ("I came back fired with enthusiasm about it and was telling everyone how wonderful it was!") then learning how to make sugar flowers in South Africa.

In addition to writing, broadcasting and being a food advisor, Marguerite dedicated much of her time to charity work. At the time of the interview, she recorded monthly Soundaround cassettes to teach blind people how to cook. To better understand how to cook without sight, she explained, "Initially, I learnt to cook blindfold. There are ways of overcoming any problem: for example, give your scones a little squeeze and if they feel fairly firm but still give a little, they are ready."

Marguerite's kindness, humility and empathy touched many, many people and we feel very privileged to have met a true cookery icon.


Highlights from a memorable interview