Roald Dahl, who would have been 100 this year, loved to eat. He loved nothing more than sticking his ‘nose bag’ on for long feasts with family and friends at Gipsy House, his home in Great Missenden, and described himself and his loved ones as ‘pigs, but we are, I hope, discerning pigs who care with some passion about fine cooking’.
Care he most certainly did. Food was often the lens through which Roald Dahl viewed the world. His literary works are bursting with examples and imagery of food to illustrate his characters’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as a means to deliver their rewards and punishments.
Dahl’s love of food was ignited at a young age. As a child at Repton School, Cadbury’s would send over boxes of their new lines of chocolate bars to be taste tested by the school boys. Dahl discovered his lifelong love of chocolate during this time and dreamt of inventing a chocolate bar so impressive that it would win the praise of Mr Cadbury himself. These formative years provided huge inspiration for the fabulous concoctions to be found behind the doors of Willy Wonka’s Inventing Room in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
His Norwegian mother, Sofie, was a huge influence. Stitched into the fabric of Dahl’s childhood memories is his mother’s cooking, especially her Norwegian recipes. He describes with affection and reverence her ability to ‘cook a meal for twelve without turning a hair’ and held great cooks in the same esteem as great artists.
It is no surprise that he went on to marry another great cook in Felicity, known as ‘Liccy’, whom Dahl described as possessing ‘not simply a fine palate but a kind of micro-palate so sensitive it can detect the presence of a single cumin seed in a large pot of beef stew’.
So dedicated to the pursuit of fine food and so impressed by Liccy’s talent at the stove, Roald Dahl employed a different young woman every year to learn to become a great cook under his wife’s instruction and tutelage. With Liccy, Dahl hatched plans for Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes and started work on Memories With Food At Gipsy House (which in later editions became Roald Dahl’s Cookbook),which included recipes from many of their young, year-long housekeepers. Both volumes were published after his death.