The Kitchen Front

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I read the large print version so all page numbers reference that edition.  I also listed to the audio version.  *IMPORTANT TO NOTE* The printed version has recipes at the end of each chapter.  The audio does not even mention the recipes.  The book is set near London in 1942 and follows four women as their lives intertwine and their friendships grow.

Audrey is a war widow and mom of 3 boys (Alexander-15, Ben-11, Christopher-8).  She is in her early 40s because her younger sister (Gwendoline) is 38.

Gwendoline married up, buys pies for her dinner parties from Audrey; she and Audrey have a difficult relationship.  Gwendoline's husband, Sir Reginald Strickland, has a canned meat empire.  

Zelda Dupont is a bit of a fake, not to mention an unwed mother-to-be.  She was working her way up to head-chef in London but has had to relocate to a smaller town to be safe during the war, putting her career aspirations on hold during her pregnancy.

Nell is a young, innocent, timid worker in Gwendoline's mansion.  She works under Mrs. Quince.

Together these four are the competitors in a cooking contest, vying to win a hostessing job on "The Kitchen Front" radio program.

On a scale of 1 - 5:

Sex:  1

Religion:  1 

Gruesome:  1  

Suspense:  2

Morality:  2

Traditional:  4

Sex - seduction (LPgs 82-84)

Religion - Beautiful prayers of thanks, even through grief and hard times. (LPg. 244-5)

Gruesome - the idea of war, even with no battlefield details, may be gruesome to some

Suspense -  when Paolo and Nell hear shots and hide in the game shed - will they be discovered?   when Gwen confronts her angry husband - will she get out okay?  Who will win the cooking contest?  Will Zelda get back with her ex?  Will Nell and Paolo see each other again?  Will Zelda give the baby up?  Will Zelda accept the head chef job?  None of these questions are strong enough to make you stay up late reading, but they do keep a reader interested in the story.

Morality - an unmarried woman is pregnant and plans to put the baby up for adoption.   A woman lies about bruising caused by spousal abuse. (LPg. 285)  A married woman begins a dalliance with another man. In a bar, a man tells a woman to get rid of the baby and she replies that it is illegal to do so.(LPg 370)  Some competitors try to cheat in the cooking contest.

Traditional - Zelda says Ambrose is "obviously not a ladies man".  Negative stereotypes of Italians. (LPg. 149)

Discussion Questions

After meeting the contestants, who did you think would win?  Who did you want to win?  How did this change through the three rounds?

Both Gwendoline and Zelda seek to eliminate others.  How much of winning a competition is about raising yourself up and how much is about bringing others down?  

Audrey had traditions about bees. (Exchange for bees - don't buy them, and talk to them. LPg 103.) Do you have any similar traditions?

Audrey helped Gwendoline even though Gwendoline had been rather mean to her.  Would you help her if she were your sister?

Zelda was surprised that the pearls Jim Denton gave here were fake.  (LPg. 162) Have you ever been surprised by the authenticity of a gift?

Did you know Chef James that helped Gwendoline was the same man that Zelda had been involved with?  Did you think he was sincere in his feelings for Gwendoline?

Did you think Paolo was sincere in his affection for Nell?  Mrs. Quince told Nell things would work out with Paolo (LPg. 400)  Did you believe her?  Why or why not?

When Zelda talked Audrey out of killing the hen, was she being friendly or competitive?

When Gwen went home after round two, she heard her husband in a rage, yet still she went inside and to the room.  Why?  Would you have done anything differently?

Did you think the women should have blackmailed Sir Strickland instead of going straight to the ministry with the accounts book?

Mrs. Quince left her treasured recipe book to Nell.  Do you have a treasured recipe book?  Who will you pass it on to?

It was suggested that a wise housewife "keeps her family healthy by giving them at least one uncooked and one correctly cooked vegetable every day."  Do you?  Have you ever heard the importance of eating a balance of raw and cooked?  Which of the five rules do you follow. (Beginning Round 3, LPg. 373)

When Gwendoline and Zelda had tea, Gwendoline mentioned that tea reminds people "of being safe and warm, like the way the taste or smell of a certain food can carry us back to a different place." (LPg. 427) What are your taste or smell triggers?  

Did you like the name of the restaurant that the women opened?  What would you have named it?

Theme Ideas

Make your own butter by shaking cream in a jar, then have a tasting party. (LPg. 10)

Serve berry scones, like Audrey's husband Matthew had loved. (LPg. 11)
Serve farmhouse scramble, "beans, onions, potatoes - all fried up with eggs" like Zelda made when Audrey was upset after receiving Matthew's things. (LPg. 237)
Serve madelines, like Zelda recalled having with tea. (LPg. 427)