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Dinners for Beginners

by Rachel and Margaret Ryan
Persephone book no:

95 96 97

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155868

Dinners for Beginners is our eighth cookbook. It came out in 1934, the same year as The Country Housewife’s Book by Lucy H Yates. Both books were suggested to us by Persephone readers, one by the owner of a working farm in Kent (The Country Housewife's Book) and one by a busy young teacher (Dinners for Beginners).

The premise of the book is that it is for ‘people who know nothing about cooking. At the same time it is intended for all those – whether they can cook or not – who appreciate good food and like to entertain their friends, but cannot afford to spend more than a strictly limited amount of money on housekeeping.. The authors have tried to write a cookery book that EXPLAINS EVERYTHING. No knowledge is taken for granted. The beginner is not expected to know by the light of nature how to make gravy, sauces or pastry; she is told when the lid of a saucepan or fireproof dish ought to be on and when it should be off.’

The book contains 109 recipes and 28 menus of dinners for four people, seven for each season of the year, at a total cost of 5/-. This is about £15 nowadays and indeed it would be possible (if one excluded wine, cheese and coffee as the Ryans have done) to feed four people on £15. Here are some of the menus for autumn: Squab Pie (made with stewing lamb and vegetables), corn on the cob and baked pears; chicken in white sauce, braised celery, cheese potatoes and lemon cream; rabbit, cauliflower, blackberry pudding and junket; jugged hare with vegetables and rice and pineapple cream; and whiting with spaghetti and chocolate pudding.

Dinners for Beginners was written at a time when the working girl, or the bachelor, or the new wife could no longer rely on having someone to do the cooking for them. It would have been a perfect book for Felicity in Greenery Street (1925) or Catherine in Hostages to Fortune (1933) or indeed Rose in House-Bound (1942) and will be ideal nowadays for anyone wanting to cook delicious meals using traditional English recipes.


A 1932 linen designed by Duncan Grant for Allan Walton Textiles.

Picture Caption

Original cover of 'Dinners for Beginners'

Read What Readers Say

A Persephone reader via Goodreads

One of Persephone's cookbooks and one of the most enjoyable that I've read so far. Rather than just a collection of recipes, this is set out in 28 menus for simple and cheap but (for the time) interesting dinners for four, aimed at single people or young couples hosting small dinner parties in the 1930s. The authors don't assume that you have all day to cook, that you have servants or that you have a huge stock of items in the pantry. Each menu has only two courses and the authors give a timetable of exactly what to do when and a priced shopping list with a 5 shilling ceiling. Gives a real insight into the lifestyle of the newly servantless middle class in England between the wars.

Categories: Cookery Books

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