Book Review: The Duchess of Devonshire’s Chatsworth Cookery Book

This book deserves a place on the shelves of all food lovers. It gives an insight into the ethos of Chatsworth, together with its extraordinary food empire, as well as being an excellent cookery book and a delight to read.

Chatsworth has a long history of welcoming visitors and sharing its treasures. It is also famous for its food. The kitchen’s high standards extend to the farm shop and the restaurants, all of which use local ingredients and often the same recipes (or receipts, as the Duchess of Devonshire prefers to call them) that are used in the house.

The production of food is an expanding business and an important element of local employment. The farm shop alone has five butchers, whose job it is to prepare the well-hung meat, poultry and game which comes from the home farm and the estate, as well as local farmers. Thirteen bakers produce bread, cakes, pies and biscuits, and ‘receipts’ for many of these are in the cookery book. The meat counter and delicatessen are works of art, rivalling anything that can be found in London.

Chatsworth has a special atmosphere and the people who work there are remarkable for their friendliness and pride in the estate. The Duchess is the leader of the team. Together with the four chefs from the house, the farm shop and the restaurant, she has compiled a fascinating book, with dishes drawn from family, friends and their cooks, past and present. These combine English and Irish country-house food with imaginative classical French cooking, reinterpreted with a Chatsworth flavour. It is clear that the Duchess loves food and she has the gift of making the reader feel that she is a friend.

The book itself is compact and fits nicely in the hand. The pages remain open when you put the book down and it is illustrated with small, evocative line drawings. Each ‘receipt’ begins with a short, informative paragraph and the instructions are meticulously clear and easy to follow, with helpful explanatory notes. Most are followed by the initials of one of the chefs or the Duchess herself.

Some of the food is rather grand – such as the pink and white seafood bombe with saffron sauce – some, like the economical and delicious beef brisket, are updated versions of dishes that have vanished from modern kitchens. Others combine the familiar with the surprising: oxtail daube with parsnip purée, leeks in a mustard sauce, or pot-roast ham with oatmeal glaze. Puddings and cakes include an apple and black treacle ‘receipt’ which is, in the Duchess’s words, ‘good for horses and good for us’.

Throughout, the emphasis is on fresh, seasonal food, local ingredients and common sense. The Duchess and the Chatsworth chefs are perfectionists and they produce some of the best food in England. Few of us are lucky enough to have home farms, but with local butchers, farmers’ markets and farm shops filling the gap, this cookery book makes it possible for readers to share in that perfection – and feel much better for it as well.