The Shell Seekers and Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher remain two of my favorite books. It’s rare that I will reread a book unless I need a comfort read so to speak. I needed that recently and desired to immerse myself into this story and return, through print, to Cornwall, London, Devon and Ibiza.
There was much I had forgotten so there were happy surprises. This book was written in 1987 and therefore a bit dated. We open with our central character Penelope Keeling who is 64 years old. She has discharged herself from the hospital after a heart attack and once you get to know her, you will get a sharp mental image of this strong, kind and likeable woman. She was brought up by an artist father, Lawrence Stern, and her French mother Sophie. There are many references and scenes that are pivitol regarding Lawrence Stern’s paintings, the Shell Seekers among those whose importance deserves to be listed as a character in it’s own.
You will travel back in time to when Penelope was a young woman durng WW II, her enlistment in the WRENS and how she met her husband. The times during the war are well written and you are immersed in the scenes of people rationing, happy and grateful for any extra that comes their way, deprivation yet hope and love surround Penelope.
Her children are Nancy, Olivia and Noel. With the exception of Nancy’s introduction at birth, we get to know her children mainly as adults. Each one is very different. Olivia is genuine and I know you will love her when she is introduced but Nancy and Noel are greedy and fairly unlikable. You need characters such as this to cause tension and do you ever get it.
I never realized how much food was mentioned in this book until I read a digital copy and used the digital bookmarks.
When Nancy requested a meeting with Olivia to discuss Penelope’s living situation, Olivia took her sister to a fancy restaurant she uses for business lunches. Omelette and salad for Olivia and consommé, escalope of veal with mushrooms for Nancy.
Olivia plans to have a gentleman over dinner. Crusty brown bread, butter, a pot of pate de foie gras; chicken Kiev and salad. Olive oil, fresh peaches, cheeses, a bottle of Scotch, a couple bottles of wine. She bought an armful if daffodils and loaded all this into the boot for her car.
In Ibiza there were many picnics by the pool. One day Cosmo took Olivia out on a boat and their picnic that day consisted of bread and tomatoes, slices of salami, fruit and cheese and wine that was sweet and cool from him hanging the bottles in the Mediteranean.
When they hosted a party there were boiled hams, roasted birds, concocted paellas, whipped eggs, stirred sauces, cheeses, breads and tomatoes.
Chelsea buns when Noel was in Knightsbridge.
In the kitchen the air was filled with the scent of roasting sirloin, baking onions and crisping potatoes. Penelope made a pastry, peeled apples, sliced beans and carrots.
Later she would arrange cheeses on a board, grind coffee and decant the thick cream she’d fetched from the village dairy.
Yorkshire puddings, beef, crisp and nutty vegetables, horse radish sauce and rich brown gravy.
A memory of Penelope’s French mother Sophie as we travel back in time during the war. Sophie made a chicken cassoulet in their Cornwall kitchen.
Lunches shared with Danus: a pot of homemade vegetable soup, half a cold chicken and a crusty loaf of brown bread. Stewed apples and a jug of cream.
Cold baked ham, baked potatoes and cauliflower cheese. For pudding there were jam tarts and baked egg custard.
Fresh fruit salad, Shepherds pie, biscuits and cheese.
The fresh fruit available in England might have been different than what I had on hand, but it’s a refreshing accompaniment to any meal.
Baked trout with almonds, new potatoes, raspberries and cream was the meal served for Noel after cleaning out the attic.
This meal of roast lamb and potatoes, peas and broccoli was just finished before a big blowout between Noel and Nancy. They certainly showed their true colors and argued over money. I love the way Penelope put them in their place.
Overall I can say I enjoyed this book very much and it was worth rereading. Family tensions and historical perspective, love and despair….it’s all here.
Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for Souper Sunday. Check out her cold cucumber soup. I brought her a fruit salad.