Stork Margarine Cookery Service
Van den Berghs & Jurgens: London, 1954
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

Produced "as a mark of celebration of the happy return of Stork Margarine to the kitchen", this slim volume was offered free, by mail order, for anyone who wished for a copy, as fourteen years of food rationing in Britain came to a close. With a cover faded and foxed by more than fifty years in a kitchen, the peas in their tureen have taken on a fugitive bluish tinge; the traffic light colours of the three jam tarts, floating disembodied alongside, have in one case tarnished to teal rather than lime.

Stork Margarine, like all other butter-substitute manufacturers, underwent a voluntary de-branding under rationing. Margarine continued to be available but had no particular name attached. With the lifting of restrictions, the free cookery books reinserted Stork back into the pantries and refrigerators of post-war British kitchens. In fact, under war conditions, Stork, with its cheerful bird brand character, had never really gone away. An assiduous campaign offering advice and guidance on making do and getting by, under the aegis of the company’s "Cookery Service", had ensured that the name of the unavailable product retained its culinary currency.

Stork’s rebirth was marked by the hundred-page volume with eight colour pages illustrating the finished products that the recipes promised. The fare depicted tends towards the plain, by twenty-first century standards, with offers including non-specific "meat pie" and "fruit pie". The methods are also plain spoken; there are no literary references or autobiographical flourishes, a la Nigella. The kinds of ingredients required are those that can still be found in any corner shop on any local street in Britain. My mother, in fact, cooked the rock cakes from this manual pretty much every week of her adult life. These were reliable recipes for challenging times; many endure as teatime standards.

What is fresh, then and now, is the photography. The rush of colour in the inserts gives the impression that not only had rationing been lifted, but also that the country’s lights had been turned back on. The grey pastry of the inset black-and-white images contrasts sharply with the saturated colours of the spreads that draw attention to their own palette: Orange Milk Jelly, Red Cap Sponge Pudding. Tablecloths in patterned yellows or dense carmine act as a foil to food arranged by colour theory as much as appetite: cherry red garnishes and candied orange peel pop when laid out on duck egg blue ground and the glassy beryl green of Wood’s Ware plates.

Photographic flash is reflected in the polished skins of the russet apples that adorn the still lives in this austerity rendition of a classical aesthetic tradition, but the photography is never mentioned in The Art of Home Cookery. No technique is outlined and no author is credited. The content and style is reminiscent of John Hinde’s pink striped blancmange and dark glossy prunes in his Civilians in Wartime book of 1941 but by 1954 the message of these food photographs is release from restriction. Tables are laden with doilies as if for a party; Pyrex supports piled-up cream horns of plenty. With all this abundance however, comes a whiff of something suspect. The cream is only ‘mock’ and the prominent ingredient in all dishes is a synthetic greasy substance aggressively marketed. Some 1,174,720 Stork booklets were distributed in 1954 offering a ‘service’ that was actually an extensive sales ploy. The celebration was highly staged, and its colours are tainted as a result.

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