Marguerite Patten's Century of British Cooking



Marguerite Patten’s Century of British Cooking
Marguerite Patten

Published by Grub Street, 1999 (Hardback)
Designed by Adam Denchfield Design
Illustrations by Bee Willey
Cover photography by Simon Smith
Food shots by Michelle Garrett

Marguerite Patten is an influential home economist, food writer and broadcaster, she has written over 170 books and her career, spanning six decades, has influenced many contemporary food writers. This book is an overview of cookery from 1900 to the present day - the design of the book with its clean, contemporary stylings; practical and easy to follow typography set In Gill Sans; and simple food photography positions her recipes and writing in the present. The cover of the book does an excellent job of establishing these ideas, suggesting not only simplicity, informality and order but, with its subtle reference to the British Isles also suggests an idea of Britishness.

Front cover
The cover shows a full-bleed photograph of a simple, white, large-rimmed plate against an undulating blue fabric background; shot directly from above with no perspective, the effect is of looking down onto a table set for dinner. The title of the book is written in an elegant but informal calligraphic script, printed in black, as if on the plate itself. Beneath the plate is a short quote, reversed out of the blue ‘tablecloth’, centred and set in a lowercase italic sans-serif - possibly Bernhard Modern - with the name of the author of the quote set below in a smaller titlecase.

The immediate effect of the cover is of simplicity, balance and order: the contemporary white plate, with its nod to minimal Modernism, is perfectly positioned on the page and is anchored by the quotation below it. However, a tension is created in the design by the calligraphic script which introduces an informal element and signifies craft and tradition, anchoring the design in hand-written restaurant menus and the studio workshop. A further level of meaning is generated by the royal blue tablecloth which, with its luscious folds suggests the sea with the plate signifying the British Isles.


Inside Pages
The book is 18 cm by 24 cm and is printed full colour on white coated paper. The layout is based on a simple one-column grid with equal inside and outside margins and symmetrical facing pages. Gill Sans is used exclusively throughout the book: ranged left titlecase Gill Sans light printed in black is used for recipe titles and also for the justified body text; Gill Sans medium is used for emphasis throughout the body text. Each section, which deals with a decade of cookery, opens with a solid blue page with overlaid text at a slightly larger size than the body text; the introductory pages that follow use the same layout as the recipes but with Gill Sans light printed in blue for emphasis. A similar page, printed in green announces the recipes for each decade with a simple black and white illustration of various ingredients on the facing page. Illustrations are also used, printed in a limited palette of coloured tints, to break up the uniformity of the text and creating interest for the eye.

This is a very simple and practical book that is easy to use and navigate: sections are clearly demarcated with a quickly-understood typographic hierarchy guiding the reader through the various parts of the text; the recipes themselves are easy to follow with legible and readable typography. Gill Sans is used throughout the book, chosen, I imagine, to signify both tradition and modernity - however the use of this typeface throughout gives the book a kind of blankness that verges on blandness. Marguerite Patten was a food advisor at the Ministry of Food during the second world war - the use of Gill Sans, with its echoes of British propaganda posters, subtly references Patten's wartime effort to feed the country, the moment she first became known to the public.

Continuing the theme of simplicity established on the cover, the photography in the book presents the food in a clean, simple manner: white crockery and tablecloths are used throughout with the food shot close-up, with no backgrounds and with a shallow depth of field so that objects beyond the edge of the plate are out of focus. Despite some of the recipes in this book dating from 1900, the design helps position this cooking in the present day with its references to minimalism, modernism and relaxed, informal eating.

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