Cookery writer and home economist Marguerite Patten CBE died last week (Thursday 4 June) aged 99. Here her daughter, Judith Patten, writes her obituary.
Mrs Patten wrote over 170 titles and sold well in excess of 17 million copies worldwide. She was awarded OBE in 1991 for ‘services to the art of cookery’, and CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2010 for ‘services to the food industry’.
She was also honoured during her lifetime with at least five Lifetime Achievement Awards. The first was in 1995 by The Guild of Food Writers; in 1996 the Trustees of the André Simon Memorial Fund honoured her with an award for her services to cookery; in 1988 she received the BBC Good Food Lifetime Achievement Award; in 1999 Waterford Wedgwood presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award; and in 2007 she was awarded the Women of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2000 she was the subject of ‘This is Your Life’; in 2001 she was the castaway on ‘Desert Island Discs’.
Until her stroke in 2011 Marguerite Patten lived in Brighton in East Sussex and as well as constantly devising new recipes and testing them she was an avid gardener and opera lover. Since Summer 2011 she was a resident in a nursing home near to her daughter, who lives in Richmond, Surrey. She is survived by her sister Elizabeth who lives in Oslo, her daughter Judith, and great-grandson Luke (born shortly before her death), five nieces and nephews and eight grandnieces and nephews; and two step-grandchildren. She was pre-deceased by her husband Bob (1997) and both her grandchildren, Joanna (2011) and Charlie (2015).
The early days
Marguerite Patten was born in Bath on 4 November 1915 and then moved to High Barnet, near London, where she was educated. It has been said that after her father died (when she was 12 and the eldest of three children) and her mother returned to teaching that she took over the cooking. “This is a terrible exaggeration,” she said in an interview. “I helped a little bit in the holidays, I remember making a rabbit pie. And there was always lots to do in the garden – pick and bottle and jam. But otherwise not a bit of it. Homework came first.”
She trained as a Home Economist – when regularly asked why she didn’t describe herself as a ‘celebrity chef’ she was adamant “I am NOT. To the day I die I will be a home economist.” As she said in an interview in Stella magazine in 2011: “To many people today we have become a dying race, which is a pity because we are needed more than ever. Our role is to educate people to help them in the home.”
She began her career in the electrical industry (abandoning the role of home economist for a short time to go on the professional stage, acting at Oldham Rep in a variety of roles). In 1942 she became a senior Food Advisers in the Ministry of Food, working in East Anglia and London showing people how to keep their families healthy on the rations available.
From late 1943 she ran the Ministry of Food advice Bureau in Harrods, which became the Harrods Food Advice Bureau in 1947. In the same year Harrods opened their Home Service Bureau and Mrs Patten, with her team of home economists, was responsible for all demonstrations on cooking and on newly introduced household appliances. These years of meeting the public enabled her to appreciate the needs and the cookery problems of a great variety of people. She left Harrods in 1951 becoming a freelance presenter and cookery writer.
Early in 1944 Marguerite Patten was invited to become one of the speakers on the BBC’s early morning ‘Kitchen Front’ series. From 1946, when ‘Woman’s Hour’ began, she became a regular contributor – and continued to make guest appearances on this and other programmes until 2011.
In 1999 she was given her own series, ten 30-minute programmes on Radio 4, ‘Marguerite Patten’s Century of British Cooking’. She cooked as she detailed the favourite dishes of each decade of the twentieth century. Social events and music of each period were included to add to the atmosphere. Until she suffered her debilitating stroke she was a frequent guest on a wide range of radio programmes.
In 1947 Marguerite Patten was asked to become the regular cookery expert in the very first BBC television magazine programme called ‘Designed for Women’; she continued with this programme until it ended in the early 1960s.
In 1956 the BBC started their ‘Cookery Club’ and appointed Marguerite as President. Each month for five years viewers sent in their special recipes, which Marguerite tested and then showed on TV.
In more recent years she enjoyed participating in various television programmes such as ‘Food and Drink’ (BBC 2); Carlton Food (which then became Taste), and as a judge on ‘Masterchef’ and loved being a guest on ‘Ready Steady Cook’. She was the Food Consultant on the Channel 4 ‘1940 House’ series and appeared in several episodes. She did a series of 12 programmes in 2001 for Taste called ‘Patten on a Plate’.
It is as an author that Marguerite Patten is perhaps best known. She wrote over 170 cookery books dealing with a vast range of subjects, ‘Cookery In Colour’ (published by Paul Hamlyn in 1960) was the first colour cookery book and owners/users of it (and others of her titles) regularly write appreciative letters to Mrs Patten some 55 years after its publication. It is not only relatively elderly readers who write her fan mail, just days before her death she received a letter from a fan who wrote:
- “My name is Martha. I am 16 and come from Suffolk. I really like baking and cooking, I do a lot of it. You are my favourite cook and I love ll your cookery books especially the wartime ones. I enjoy reading them like a novel because they are so interesting! It must have been so hard with all the rationing and shortages, but you were so good at being inventive with your recipes. You are brilliant!”
Sales of her books amount to more than 17 million copies worldwide and her cookery cards sold in excess of 500 million.
And that’s not all…
For many decades Marguerite Patten travelled all around Britain giving cookery demonstrations to thousands in large halls and theatres, including the London Palladium. She toured Australia and South Africa giving demonstrations on television and in public halls. She was a highly experienced public speaker and enjoyed giving after-dinner and after-lunch talks as well as addressing audiences at conferences and on passenger cruises.
Speaking exclusively to olivemagazine.com, Judith added: “She just loved and lived for her world of cooking, and it was so cruel to see it all taken from her when she could no longer speak. Her speech did get a little better, but she was old and frail and so I saw her virtually every day for four years, taking her on an almost daily basis her favourite, baked custard. Only trouble is that I didn’t inherit the genes, and they went from fantastically good to pretty awful. Thankfully just a few hours before she died she had enjoyed one of my better ones with pureed raspberry and pureed baked apple (two other favourites). She is sadly missed, but I am delighted for her for she really did hate the past four years!”
Try one of Marguerite’s recipes
Marguerite patten’s pistachio and pineapple ice cream
Marguerite Patten’s poached salmon
Main image taken by Andrew Crowley
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