Deborah Vivien Cavendish DCVO, Duchess of Devonshire (1920 – 2014) was the wife of the 11th Duke of Devonshire KG MC PC DL (1920 – 2004), mother of the 12th Duke of Devonshire (1944 -) and grandmother of model Stella Tennant (1970 – 2020).
Born The Honorable Deborah Freeman-Mitford, Debo was the youngest of the seven children of the 2nd Baron Redesdale. The only boy, Thomas, was killed in action while a Major in the Devonshire Regiment, in 1944. His sisters, Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica (known as Decca) and Deborah (known as Debo) were Society beauties in the 1930s and 1940s.
Their eccentric mother, Lady Redesdale, insisted on a kosher diet for her children, simply because she believed that Jewish people live longer. Raised by a nanny and by governesses, the Mitford sisters were pretty much ‘free range’. Perhaps because of this early lifestyle, Nancy, Jessica, Diana and Deborah all wrote books, eventually.
Deborah Devonshire talked to Kirsty Wark in a rare interview when she hit 90 years old in 2010
Diana married firstly, a member of the Guinness family and secondly, Sir Oswald Mosley, (leader of the British Fascists) at the home of Goebbels, in 1936, with Adolf Hitler as a guest.
Unity Mitford was a fascist also and a favourite of Adolf Hitler’s. When Britain became part of WW2, Unity, then living in Germany, attempted suicide with a pistol given to her by Hitler. She survived, but the bullet was deemed to be in too dangerous a position, to be removed. Hitler arranged for Unity to be moved to neutral Switzerland and Lady Redesdale, accompanied by daughter Debo, brought Unity back to the UK. There were conspiracy theories, (refuted by Debo) that this was merely a cover to bring Unity back home. When Unity died in 1947, the cause was given as meningitis around the bullet.
When Deborah Mitford married Lord Andrew Cavendish, second son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire, in 1941, she wasn’t expecting to do more than live a relatively quiet life in the country. Any hint of glamour was provided by her husband’s uncle Lord Charles Cavendish, second son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire. His wife, Adele Austerlitz, was the sister of Fred Astaire.
In 1944, Debo lost her brother Major Thomas Freeman-Mitford and her husband lost his uncle Lord Charles Cavendish and his older brother, the heir, the Marquess of Hartington. The Marquess had married Kathleen Kennedy, sister of President John F Kennedy in May 1944 and he was killed in the September. Kathleen, Lady Hartington didn’t return to the USA as Adele, Lady Charles Cavendish did. Kathleen died in a plane crash in France in 1948 and was buried on the Chatsworth Estate.
1944 changed everything for Debo. She became the Marchioness of Hartington, her husband became the heir and she gave birth to Lord Peregrine Cavendish, now 12th Duke of Devonshire.
In 1950, the new Duke and Duchess of Devonshire moved to the Chatsworth estate, comprising a house with nearly 300 rooms and 35,000 acres of land. In those days, tourism at historic houses was pretty much non-existent and much of the burden of keeping the estate together, fell to Debo. By 1957, the house and estate were being opened to the public.
The 11th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire were innovators in other areas, being one of the first to open a farm shop, in 1977.
In 2013, staff from Chatsworth farm shop took part in a food and drink event at the Houses of Parliament.
By 2015, the farm shop was turning over £6.7 million per year. In this video by Ryohei Kawai, the farm shop manager (since 1984) André Birkett, can be seen talking to visitors.
André contributed recipes from the farm shop, to The Duchess of Devonshire’s Chatsworth Cookery Book and they can be found with the initials AB, at the end of each of his recipes.
Deborah Devonshire didn’t begin writing books until 1980 and the cookbook was her seventh book, published in 2003. a year before the 11th Duke of Devonshire died,
She writes in the introduction, that she told a hairdresser friend that she was going to write a cookbook, though she hadn’t cooked since the Second World War. His wife was alleged to have replied, that it would be like a blind person, driving down the M1.
The 9th Duke of Devonshire was Governor-General of Canada 1916 – 1921 and his cooks were expected to cook for royalty. Mrs Tanner, who had trained under Escoffier in Paris, cooked a menu for King George V and Queen Mary in July 1933 when they stayed at Chatsworth during the Royal Show. The Escoffier influence can clearly be seen, in Crème Sarah Bernhardt, Barbue Grimaldi, Caneton à l’Anglaise, Poussin rôtis and Salade Waldorf for example.
It would seem that the Redesdale and Devonshire chatelaines were prestigious keepers of volumes of household expenses.
Deborah Devonshire states that her favourite cookbooks come from a distant cousin, Dorothy Allhusen. A Book of Scents and Dishes (1925) and A Medley of Recipes (1936). Mrs Allhusen would write in the ‘take some’ style, which Debo likes, but has 21st century home cooks searching online frantically, trying to work out what a slow oven is.
Debo isn’t shy about gossiping about her relations. The eccentric Lady Blanche Hozier, her father’s aunt, lived in Dieppe and chucked the ‘slops’ over people she didn’t like. She was a gambler who walked around Eaton Square in a nightgown, with a chicken on a lead. There is a question raised about the paternity of her daughter Clementine, who became the wife of one Winston Churchill.
Sorrel is used as an ingredient in the book, because Chatsworth has sorrel given to Debo by her sister Pamela, who in turn gleaned it from Robin Adair, a disciple of the great Marcel Boulestin.
Deborah Devonshire advocates making batches of stock and freezing them. She gives recipes for white chicken stock, brown chicken stock, clear chicken stock, fish stock and vegetable stock.
Only Germiny soup, is suitable for low carbers. Likewise, the only suitable egg recipes are egg mousse, poached eggs Meurette (omit sugar) and poached eggs with fried capers and parsley butter.
Butters and sauces appear with the main recipe, rather than in a separate section. There are quite a few, it’s just a PITA finding them: Portugaise sauce, béarnaise, Hollandaise, butter, vegetable butter and lemon butter sauces, beurre blanc, sorrel sauce, Madeira sauce, Viennoise, mustard sauce, chicken liver sauce and mushroom and port sauce.
Besides fish stock, fish and seafood are represented by Lady Gage’s smoked haddock à la crème, salmon piccatas with sorrel sauce, anchovy mayonnaise, mussels à la Prée, Bolton Abbey oysters (but not the fish sauce), and roast monkfish “not quite Cubat”.
Although much use is made of dairy products, recipes often include flour When it comes to meat and poultry, low carbers are woefully under-represented by steamed stuffed chicken breast with mushroom and port sauce (omit the savoury rice) and brisket of beef with vegetables and a herb dressing.
Vegetables fare better, with: baked Savoy cabbage, baked squash, lettuce, pea and onion stew, slow-baked tomatoes, leeks in mustard sauce, cheese ice, walnut dressing, mushroom purée, pea mousse, spinach with sorrel and courgette, tomato and red onion gratin.
Obviously, there are non-low carb baked goods galore, including bread, cakes and puddings.
To me, the book is a cobbled together mish-mash of recipes and the only recipe I want to try, is the baked Savoy cabbage.
Having said that, I very much enjoyed the dry wit and entrepreneurial spirit of the 11th Duchess of Devonshire.
I am pleased that I own a signed first edition of the book, which I treasure, as being a glimpse of a bygone age, especially because I met her husband, the 11th Duke of Devonshire.
When Deborah Devonshire died, HRH The Primce of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and her ex-husband Andrew Parker Bowles attended her funeral, along with 600 staff.
Chatsworth funeral for Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – BBC News
Prince Charles and Camilla mourn beloved Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire | Daily Mail Online
Two years after her death, Sotheby’s held a sale of some of Deborah Devonshire’s “personal treasures”.
This post on the website blog, is the result of a challenge from Paul Couchman of The Regency Cook (paulcouchman.co.uk) as we both own a copy of The Duchess of Devonshire’s Chatsworth Cookery Book.