Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
An Appetite for Violets is an exuberant tale full of charm about an eighteenth-century cook for a British gentleman whose new young wife suddenly descends on the household while her husband is away. Biddy Leigh is a pretty country girl with a passion for cooking. Recipes from her collection grace the beginnings of chapters, from Taffety Tart ("Roll and fill with pippins and quinces and sweet spice and lemon peel as much as delights.") to Funeral Cakes ("Add grains of ambergris and so mix it up, and put into it three or four spoonfuls of flour. Then put into paper coffens and bake them in the oven.")
A madcap flight to the Continent, where Biddy's mistress plans to use her in a risky scheme, offers an excuse for a jaunt through the world of eighteenth-century fancy cookery. If readers guess at many details of Lady Carinna's plot long before the innocent Biddy catches on, there is still plenty of suspense and bafflement to satisfy. Biddy herself is a delightful mixture of good humor, pluck, naïveté and just enough intelligence to keep readers from looking down their noses at her.
Details relating to fashion, food and travel in An Appetite for Violets are well-researched, though the characters' behavior can stretch credibility. Sticklers for historical authenticity may find the lower-class characters too breezily uncowed by their masters and mistresses to be quite believable, while the aristocrats seem a little too comfortable with the lack of deference they are sometimes shown. But readers looking for a mouth-watering romp through the history of cooking will easily excuse these lapses in a thoroughly entertaining novel. (2014, 391 pages including a selected bibliography of sources)More about An Appetite for Violets at Powell's Books or Amazon.com