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February 23, 2021

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

It's no secret I love WWII historical fiction. But I'm not sure how many of you know that I also love to cook. Some of the difficulties of getting groceries early in the pandemic had me thinking about what it was like during WWII food rationing. So that was really the draw for me to read The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

The Kitchen Front
February 2021; Ballantine Books; 978-0593158807
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); historical fiction
I was really excited to see the recipes and I have a few that I want to try like Hominy Pie, Cornish Pasties, mushroom soup, and the Apple Honey Cake. I actually have a lot of apples I need to use up so I will probably make the cake next weekend. I made up a mushroom soup recipe last year and loved it so I'm interested in trying the one from the book. There are definitely a few recipes that I won't be making like the whale steak (can we even buy whale meat?) and sardine rolls. 

The Kitchen Front is the third WWII novel that I've read this month and they've all been different. I've read a few WWII focused on the home front but even so, this one was different since it focused on food rationing and what regular households were dealing with. The story focuses on 4 very different women:

Gwendoline - the lady of the manor. She serves as a Ministry of Food Home Economists. She gives cooking demonstrations based on the Ministry's food policies. She is married to Sir Strickland who made his money in tinned foods and he owns a pie factory. 

Audrey - sister to Gwendoline, she lives in her childhood home where she raises her three boys and has a growing pie and cake catering business. Her husband was shot down over Germany. (I envisioned Steph Farrow, played by Clare Calbraith, on Homefires for this character).

Nell - she is the kitchen maid at the big house (the manor own by Gwendoline and her husband). She was an orphan and has worked her way up really being the assistant cook but she doesn't have much confidence in herself. (She reminded me a little of Daisy, played by Sophie McShera, from Downton Abbey).

Zelda - she was a chef at a hotel in London until a bomb destroyed it. She nows runs the canteen in Sir Strickland's factory. When she was in London she fell in love with a fellow chef and became pregnant. He doesn't want anything to do with her and all Zelda wants to become a head chef in London.

During WWII, the BBC had a radio program called The Kitchen Front which provided tips for housewives on how to stretch rations, make some of the less desirable food items available more palatable as well as provide updates on what food items were scarce or abundant each day. In Ryan's story, the host of the show is Ambrose. While he knows a lot about food, as a man he can't really relate to the target audience so the BBC wants to find a female co-host (this was true in real life as well). Ryan envisions a cooking contest to pick the co-host. The four women are the contestants.

Their stories were interesting and I liked the characters. In the beginning, I thought Gwendoline was a horrible witch and Zelda was very full of herself while I was rooting for the underdogs Audrey and Nell. Each woman sees the contest, and job as a radio co-host, as the ticket out of their current lives. I liked the character growth of each woman over the course of the story. 

But still, it was the little facts about food rationing that Ryan inserts naturally into the story that I found most interesting. Like, did you know that it was illegal for an adult to eat an orange? Only children were allowed oranges. The Ministry of Food suggested mixing mashed carrots into goat's milk to make the milk more palatable to children (I grew up drinking goat's milk and I don't remember it tasting any different than cow's milk). 

If you are interested in food, cooking, WWII food rationing, or stories about women overcoming obstacles, then The Kitchen Front is your kind of book.

Buy The Kitchen Front at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. This book sounds great. I like historical fiction that looks at how the same event affects different classes of people.
    I also have a link up for books about food at