THIS IS MY STORY
My life so far: Looking back on a peripatetic existence, I seem to have settled in rather more far-flung places than most. I’m a Londoner by birth, spent my early childhood in Latin America, brought my own children up in Andalucia, lived for a good few years in my husband’s ancestral homeland, the island of Mull in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, and have, for the last quarter century, lived in a rambling farmhouse in the wilds of Wales.
A few months ago - June 2017 - I moved lock, stock and very few possessions back to the city of my birth, and I here, right in the heart of the most exciting metropolis on earth, is where I mean to stay.
Born in London during WW2, my toddler food-memories are of dried bananas and powdered eggs - yuck. My father died in the war, leaving a two-year-old and a baby - me. Our mother married again to a diplomat on the Latin American circuit who’d just been posted to Uruguay. Primary school in Montevideo taught me to read, write and think in Spanish (I already spoke French, the diplomatic language). Holidays were spent with my schoolmates riding with gauchos, scrambling ostrich eggs over a camp fire and catching soup-fish off the harbour wall - early training for a career as a food-writer.
Shipped home to boarding-school in the Malvern hills (nothing good to eat) brought holidays in Madrid and San Sebastian (with my family), Monte Carlo, Venice and Austria (with my gambling grandparents). Both familes employed local cooks and my favourite place was always in the kitchen. At 16 - my family didn’t do university for girls - I was off to the Eastbourne School of Domestic Economy (basic culinary skills, diploma in housemaiding). Finishing school in Paris (short skirts, black stockings, Simone de Beauvoir) followed by Florence (home-made pasta, kitchen-Italian) was preparation for the London season, a marriage-market (class of 58, nobody wanted to marry me).
The following year, after my family moved to Mexico (where I took short-term work in the embassy), I embarked on life in London as an art student (Byam Shaw, then Kennington City & Guilds), doubled-up with paid-employ as office dogsbody at Private Eye in the very early days. Reader, I married the then-proprietor, Nicholas Luard (novelist, conservationist, travel-writer, 1937-2004). When four children arrived in quick succession, I decided I preferred family life among the Latins to wife and mother in 1960’s Swinging London. So I moved us all to a remote valley in Andalucia where I supplemented the family income as a natural history artist (botany for Kew, birds for the Tryon Gallery in London).
Which led to a cookery column in The Field (with appropriate illustration) and started me on the road I’ve followed ever since.
Journalism has always fuelled my work as a writer, allowing me to explore places, people and culinary traditions I’d could never otherwise have reached. As a contributor to newspapers and magazines, my work has appeared regularly over some forty years in The Scotsman, Daily Telegraph, Country Living, Country Life, The Jewish Chronicle, House & Garden, Food & Travel and the Daily Mail as well, for the last 15 years as a monthly columnist (with illustration), in The Oldie magazine.
As a tv presenter, in the early 1990’s I wrote and presented a 13-part cookery series for SBS Australia and BBC2 based on my research for European Peasant Cookery. Each half-hour episode was filmed on location among self-sufficient rural communities throughout Europe - including Eastern Europe just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’m delighted that the series is now being re-released as a free download on the website talkingoffood.com.
My career as a natural history artist never really went away, though I now use paint and paper to record places and people in hundreds of palm-sized sketch-books, raw material for illustrations as well as a way of communicating in markets and kitchens when I don’t have the language. This has also provided me with a visual diary on which I have based four memoirs-with-recipes, Family Life, Still Life, My Life as a Wife and the most recent, Squirrel Pie and Other Stories.
An appetite for storytelling - not useful when writing recipes - persuaded me mid-career, the late-80’s, to publish a couple of blockbuster romantic historical novels, Emerald and Marguerite, that made more money than anything else I’ve ever written (sooner or later I mean to return).
Meanwhile, for most of my writing-life, I have been involved with the organisation of which I am now Chair, The Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery, an annual gathering of food-historians, cookbook authors, journalists, students and amateurs of gastronomy started in 1962 by historian Alan Davison, philosopher Theodore Zeldin, food-writers Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. As a registered Charity with a remit to educate and inform, it’s exactly what was needed when I first began to write - and had it not been for Mrs. Grigson’s invitation to join one of the first discussion weekends, I might never have embarked on a literary career at all.
And as the grateful recipient of The Guild of Foodwriters' Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2016, I'm hoping to carry on for a good few years yet!