An Appetite for Violets

Written by Martine Bailey
Review by Marina Oliver

In 1772 Biddy, under-cook at a Cheshire estate, is forced to accompany Lady Carinna, her new young mistress, to Italy while Carinna’s elderly husband is in Ireland. Given an old book of recipes by her mentor, Biddy collects more recipes on the journey through England, France and northern Italy, and writes a journal. Many of these recipes are included in the book, and very enticing some of them are! Meals are also described, with much detail of the cooking process. At the Italian villa, which is neglected and strange, Biddy is plunged into mystery and danger, persuaded to impersonate Carinna on visits to a neighbour. Her only friend iappetite-for-violetss the slave from Batavia, Mr Loveday. Their other companions, the courier and Lady Carinna’s companion, plus the lap dog, are far from friendly.

It could have become a mere travelogue, and though the scenery and the food are described extensively, the story is gripping enough, with an intriguing mystery, to make it something much more. Readers can feel the perils and problems of the journey, the sophistication of Paris and the cold of the crossing of the Alps in winter. For a first novel it is very accomplished, and especially enjoyable if you enjoy food. Biddy is an unsophisticated heroine with a passion for cooking, something she has absorbed from the author.