Sotheby's serves Wallis Simpson's kitchen wisdom


New York -- Who knew? Who knew that the Duchess of Windsor, the woman who said you could never be too rich or too thin, could "remember no time when I was not interested in food"? Who knew that the king gave up his throne for this woman he loved and a lifetime of Salad Russe (peas and carrots in mayonnaise) and Glace Abricotine (crushed peanut brittle mixed in ice cream)?

For an estimated $6,000 to $8,000, you can turn your kitchen into one fit for the woman who would be, but never could be, queen: Wallis Warfield Simpson of Baltimore. That is what Sotheby's, the famed auction house, hopes to receive when the bidding begins on "The Duchess of Windsor's Personal Cookbook" today.

The chatty, never-published manuscript is part of a larger collection of Windsoriana -- photos, letters and other glimpses into the odd existence of the couple whose romance captivated the world.

If the current British royalty's trials and tribulations are an increasingly banal soap opera, the duke and duchess' story was all-sweeping, Gothic romance, at least as it played out at the time. He abdicated the throne for "the woman I love," a twice-divorced commoner from Baltimore whom he could never marry and still expect to remain king. Although later would come denouncements that he was a Nazi sympathizer and she a rather gauche social climber, at the time they were Chuck and Di and Liz and Dick all wrapped up in one exceedingly well-dressed and entirely frivolous package.

Indeed, when they visited her hometown in October 1941 -- her first trip here since their marriage -- the city simply stopped. An estimated 200,000 people crammed the streets to see them motor from City Hall, where they had been greeted by government officials, to the Baltimore Country Club, for a tea and Rosa Ponselle singing "Home, Sweet Home." (The duchess was seen straining to see her girlhood home on Biddle Street in Mount Vernon.

The interest in the duke and duchess continues today -- albeit tinged with more camp and less out-and-out reverence than in the past -- and Sotheby's expects energetic bidding on the photos (including a series of wedding and honeymoon pictures never before published), letters and, of course, the cookbook.

"There's been quite a bit of interest, like everything involving the Duke and Duchess of Windsor," says Marsha Malinowski, a Sotheby's assistant vice president and manuscript specialist.

The cookbook, written in August 1958, is 36 typewritten pages of reminiscences, recipes and hand-written bits of editing by the duke (he's in red ink) and duchess (larger, pencil scrawls) themselves. She tells of his pleasure at the salad she made for him, of how they never ate onion or garlic ("poison to the duke and me") and of the "fun buffets" and "romantic dinners" that they held.

"I remember no time when I was not interested in food," she writes. "I have a collection of cookbooks which I read as avidly as the duke, who will never shake the sand out of his shoes, reads the National Geographic."

Perhaps that is the secret to the lifestyles of the rich and thin -- read about rather than actually eat food. And if the recipes in the cookbook are any indication, reading is perhaps a more delicious experience than making such high-sounding yet decidedly lowbrow fare as "Gateau Egyptian" (spongecake iced in blackberry jelly -- "melt the jelly first so it will spread smoothly").

While she never mentions her hometown by name, she does have fond culinary memories of her girlhood. "Like all Montagues, my mother was a wonderful cook," she writes. "No butcher could fool her."

For all her attempts at a warm, us-girls tone, the manuscript reveals an imperious nature. "Our cook, I must say, is less help when I plan a ladies' luncheon than at any other time. When I say, 'Cook, I'm having five ladies to lunch on Thursday,' I'm answered with a shrug of his shoulders that makes it clear the very idea is impossible," she writes. (An editor helps her a bit, replacing "Cook" with his name, Lucien.)

As for why Lucien is so dismayed, the duchess quotes him as saying, "What can we have that the ladies will eat? For, of course, these ladies are dieting."

(Wouldn't you in the presence of Her Royal Too Thinness?)

Her solution: "Even if it is rich, if you can make it not look rich they will eat it."

The duchess displays a propensity for spirited cooking. Her "Avocado Pears Tahiti," for example, is avocados halved and pitted, their cavities filled with "rum slightly flavored with brown sugar." Another favorite is "Sauce Liberal" -- an atrocious-sounding concoction of mayonnaise, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, heavy fresh cream and, "lastly, . . . a good quantity of gin." And "Tipsy Sweet Potatoes," with sherry as the operative ingredient.

No wonder the duchess remarks that a buffet can be "the most fun party."

While the cookbook also prints more lavish fare -- lobster mousse, shad roe souffle -- her tastes were not entirely royal. She speaks lovingly, for example, of how she used to enjoy "lap lunches" after visiting her weight-reduction salon in Delray Beach, Fla. She would gather up salami, cheese, biscuits and peppermints from the market next door and eat them as she was driven home.

And she writes of her battles with her French kitchen staff over their insistence on using . . . fresh ingredients bought at the market that very day! "I wonder often if American housewives appreciate their good fortune in having so many excellent frozen foods," she sighs.

She snips that she never won "the Battle of the Freezer completely. There is yet to be frozen so much as one cut of meat, one bird or one fish of any kind."

"To be honest, I don't know if she ever actually cooked," says Ms. Malinowski.

Indeed, The duchess's recipes hardly indicate intimate knowledge of cooking. "Peas and Onions" is one recipe: "Cook peas in the regular way. Just before they are done, add a medium size can of small, drained onions. Drain. Season with salt, pepper and butter."

Still, she clearly relished the idea of sharing her kitchen wisdom and imagined her readers sharing her recipes with others.

"And I will be happy to be part of this exchange, if occasionally, one of you will say, 'A tasty dish, this! It came from the Duchess of Windsor.' "

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