Morris as Camp Cook

Fiona Rose

It is well known that William Morris was a generous host: his friend and fellow socialist Bruce Glasier recalled a picnic in 1889 hosted by Morris on the banks of the Thames where he, “took upon himself the duties of Master of Ceremonies. He insisted on doing everything himself – opening the packages, laying out the plates, knives and forks, and glasses, and uncorking the wine bottles. What a feast was spread before us... And all the time Morris kept our fancy on the wing with stories and curious lore, and droll comments on the comestibles he laid before us.” It is also acknowledged that Morris loved good food and fine claret. His biographer JJ Mackail suggested Morris had gourmet tastes, “in the matter of food, as also of wine (in which he had fine judgment), his taste was more French than modern English”.  Morris also enjoyed conversation centred around food, a friend who stayed with him for a few days recalled, “he could not remember that they had talked of anything but eating”.

Mackail goes further stating, “for Morris cookery had an important place among the arts of human life, and he knew a great deal about it in theory, and something also in practice”. Morris’s busy schedule and employment of a cook in the household meant he didn’t have much opportunity or need to partake of the culinary arts. However, he was appointed camp cook on his trekking adventure to Iceland in the summer of 1871, a position he took up with great gusto.  He prepared for the role by making a stew over a barbecue in the garden of the Burne-Jones family in Fulham.  Morris’s attempts as Chef met with some success in Iceland: he recalled a campfire stew dinner he cooked at Lithend, “I was patient, I was bold, and the results were surprising even to me who suspected my own hidden talents in the matter… the pot was scraped, and I tasted the sweets of enthusiastic praise”.

 

Glasier, Bruce J, William Morris and the Early Days of the Socialist Movement, (London, Longmans, Green and Co, 1921), p. 58-59.

Mackail, JW, The Life of William Morris, (London, Longmans, Green and Co, 1901), Volume I, pp. 223-224.



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