The food writer Theodora FitzGibbon was a late beginner, professionally speaking. Born Theodora Rosling in 1916 she received a cosmopolitan education, travelling widely in Europe and Asia with her Irish father Adam, a naval officer and bon viveur afflicted with wanderlust as well as a wandering eye. Theodora had a number of siblings conceived on the wrong side of the blanket. He also introduced his daughter to the delights of whiskey and cigars at a perilously early age. Later, in her teens, she began to forge a career as an actress on tour and in the West End, while her imperious good looks also helped her find work as a fashion model for some of the best-known couturiers of the day. (An old wartime film called Freedom Radio, about German resistance to the Nazi regime within the Third Reich, features the young Theodora Rosling in a cameo part, and is a rattling good yarn into the bargain if you’re lucky enough to find it.) It was not until she was in her mid-thirties that she wrote her first cookery book but she went on to produce at least two dozen more.
It is a sad and to me inexplicable fact that even in her own lifetime much of Theodora’s work was eclipsed by that of her contemporaries Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. Her output was impressive, especially the A Taste of . . . books, a series she devised with her publisher Dent, starting with Ireland as the first title in 1968.
The concept proved a winner, with recipes, history and anecdotes on one page and wonderful black-and-white photos – many of them well over a century old – on the facing page. In A Taste of Paris (1974), for example, the sixth in the series, gigot au pastis is accompanied by a picture of the semi-comatose Verlaine somewhere in Montparnasse with a generous half-pint of absinthe on the table in front of him. Finding the illustrations for the books in the series, incidentally, was the work of Theodora’s second husband George Morrison, whom she married in 1960 after divorcing the Irish-American writer Constantine FitzGibbon.
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