A rare cookbook: ‘Some Favorite Southern Recipes’ of The Duchess of Windsor’ [classic article]

For 20 years, I lived in the Baltimore neighborhood (Mt. Vernon) where Elizabeth Wallis Warfield Simpson Windsor grew up, more commonly known as The Duchess of Windsor. The apartments there were fancy, believe me! I didn’t live on any of the three streets she lived on, though, because by my time, they had become too sketchy for a young single woman.

The Duchess of Windsor was the woman King Edward VIII for whom he abdicated his throne in 1937. You may recall some of the story from the movie, The King’s Speech.

I’ve seen her outfits on display at the Maryland Historical Society and it was impossible not to recall one of her favorite sayings, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” The waists on her dresses were like a hand span!

Now, I laugh a little at the thought of her recipes, because I don’t believe she ate much of anything. However, I knew she had to entertain and be charming to lure a then Prince to her side — twice married and an American without current means. She includes a few menus and discusses how eating had changed since the turn of the century. (I guess, the beginning of diets.)

So, when I read in Town & Country this month that there was a rare recipe book out there, “Some Favorite Southern Recipes of The Duchess of Windsor,” and it’s my birthday month, I splurged and had it sent right away!

People tend to forget just how Southern the city of Baltimore and Maryland in general was. The initial skirmishes of the Civil War — the Pratt Street Riots — were right downtown and stretched up to Penn Station (through Mt. Vernon). Maryland sent a Confederate division to fight in the Civil War, “The Maryland 2’d, CSA.” Maryland’s Southern side has its own monument at Gettysburg Battlefield, now that there are Confederate monuments allowed. The adjacent upscale neighborhood to Mt. Vernon — Bolton Hill — was a hugely popular area for former Confederate officers to live after the war. Gen. Robert E. Lee used to make speeches in Baltimore upon his retirement.

We do know now that one of the supposed favorite Southern recipes — Lady Baltimore Cake — was not a true tradition, but rather, a made-up dish in a North Carolina romance novel. However, it altered the collective memory of folks and now Marylanders seem to have recipes for it “from their heritage”. They like telling tall tales in the South!

However, in general, The Duchess claims that her Southern recipes are more simple than others’ traditions and less spicy, now that there’s refrigeration. Possibly she had tummy issues, because no crab seasoning like an Old Bay blend is used. I’m from the Midwest myself, so salt and pepper is fine by me!

It’s also amazing that she clearly saw herself as a combination of an American ambassador to the UK and head of state. She puts in many of Martha Washington’s recipes, as if she were part of a direct line to the White House.

There are lots of seafood recipes, rabbit and terrapin. Back in the day, Mrs. Governor Tawes let it be known that she sent turtle meat to Winston Churchill — himself no fan of The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, due to the Duke’s political flirtation with Hitler and fascism. Because the Duke (and Duchess) were shipped off to The Bahamas as Governor General — to keep them away from world leaders — there are some tropical and Bahamian recipes in the book.

The Duke and Duchess were well-known — as we say in Yiddish — “schnorrers”. It translates to freeloaders. The recipes aren’t made with expensive ingredients. For seafood, the cheaper canned stuff is recommended. When it came to entertaining others, she didn’t spend a lot of the Duke’s allowance, doled out by King George VI and later, Queen Elizabeth II, who was most resentful of the couple.

The Duke and Duchess did enjoy the finer things in life when hosted. They were the guests of honor at The Greenbrier when it reopened under Dorothy Draper’s supervision.

 

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