The Pauper's Cookbook by Jocasta Innes

published 1971     introduction

What I could have done with, right from the start, was a cookbook… tailored to the tastes and limitations of a greedy pauper. No talk of truffles and peach-fed hams and chickens simmered in champagne in this book to lead them astray or make them discontented. But no half-hearted trickery with a tin opener and a pinch of herbs either. This book would deal with good solid rewarding food but – and this would be its great advantage to people like myself – all the recipes would be so cheap that one would be imperceptibly, painlessly condition to buy and cook economically and well. It stood to reason that there must be a good few other people in my situation, trying to conjure good food from limited cash, battered old pots and pans and kitchens more nightmarish than dream. What a blessing for us all such a book would be, I thought, and waited for some highly qualified expert to leap in and write it.

observations: OK no clothes connection. At all. But Jocasta Innes died last week, and that is something that should be marked: her Pauper’s Cookbook inspired a generation of flat-sharers and bedsit-dwellers. Her Paint Magic may have had a bigger effect on their décor (particularly when they found they had more money and a place of their own), and the Pauper’s Homemaking Book was full of superb and practical ideas. But it’s the cookbook that still lives in many a kitchen. I recently ate an onion tart at quite a fancy restaurant, and thought ‘that was nice, but not as good as the Pauper’s Alsatian Onion tart’ – a best-ever, Top 10 recipe for a dish that costs pennies, tastes like a million dollars, and is perfect for entertaining.

There’s an updated edition, which I recently bought for a first term university student. But I will stick with the early one, where she doesn’t even assume the reader has a fridge, gives us a whole section on ‘slimmer’s salads’, and tells you how to make beef tea, that staple of Ladys Bountiful in novels of long ago.

Links on the blog: This is the book for all those flat-sharing or making-their-way women we feature so often in Clothes in Books, students or in their first job:
The Girls of Slender Means – where the message is really, don’t eat, stay thin.
The Best of Everything – cooking probably only as a means of catching a man.
The Valley of the Dolls – too busy taking drugs to eat.
An Experiment in Love - who is that toying with her chicken? Could it be…. 
The Dud Avocado – Sally Jay Gorce fails the dinner party test.

picture, of a frugal housewife, is from the UK Ministry of Information.


  1. Moira - There really is something about cookbooks and life hints for 'the rest of us.' And I have to say, I like the author's first name.

  2. I hadn't realised Jocasta Innes had died, Moira. It's one of those names from the past and I only know her through the paint magic book.

  3. I had a copy of this as my go-to cookery book through the 70s. It was lost (I guess somebody needed it more than me by then) and I replaced it with the later edition, but as you say, the original was the best. Jocasta and Katherine Whitehorn's Cooking in a Bedsitter - two great books by two great women!

  4. Oh yes Sarah - I loved Cooking in a Bedsitter too, and as you say, both authors seemed great role models. I mentioned in a blog entry on The Dud Avocado that I was introduced to the book by Cooking in a Bedsitter - even if I'd never cooked a single thing from it, it would be worth it for that....


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