Elizabeth David

British, 1913–1992

Elizabeth David was a British cookery writer who, in the mid-20th century, strongly influenced the revitalisation of the art of home cookery with articles and books about European cuisines and traditional British dishes.

Born to an upper-class family, David rebelled against social norms of the day. She studied art in Paris, became an actress, and ran off with a married man with whom she sailed in a small boat to Italy, where their boat was confiscated. They were nearly trapped by the German invasion of Greece in 1940 but escaped to Egypt where they parted. She then worked for the British government, running a library in Cairo. While there she married, but the marriage was not long-lived.

After the war, David returned to England, and, dismayed by the gloom and bad food, wrote a series of articles about Mediterranean food that caught the public imagination, and in 1950 A Book of Mediterranean Food. She boldly called for ingredients such as aubergines, basil, figs, garlic, olive oil and saffron, which at the time were scarcely available even in London. Within a few years, however, paella, moussaka, ratatouille, hummus and gazpacho became familiar dishes across Britain, both in restaurants and in home cooking.

Books on French and Italian cuisine followed, and within ten years David was a major influence on British cooking. She was deeply hostile to second-rate cooking and to bogus substitutes for classic dishes and ingredients.

David opened a shop selling kitchen equipment in the 1960s. It continued to trade under her name after she left it in 1973, but her reputation rests on her articles and her books, which have been constantly reprinted.