By Stephen Cockburn
Katie Stewart, the well known cookery journalist and author who had lived in Cuckfield for the last 45 years, has died after a short illness. She was 78. Although Scottish and very proud of it, she was born in 1935 at Sidcup in Kent. During the War her doctor father took his family back to Aberdeen for the duration but returned to Kent where she grew up, a country girl with her own ponies, and went to Blackheath High School.
After training at Aberdeen’s School of Domestic Science and the Westminster Hotel School in London she landed the job of nanny to a wealthy French family in Paris, where she also gained a Diploma from the Cordon Bleu School. In 1957 she sailed across the Atlantic to another job in the test kitchens of the Nestle Company at White Plains, New York. Two years later she returned to London and was offered a job as a food writer with The Daily Mirror.
In 1963 she became Cookery Editor of Woman’s Magazine and when that closed in 1966 was appointed Cookery Editor of Woman’s Journal. She stayed for 32 years. Concurrently she wrote for The Times, which had noticed her pioneering use of colour pictures and invited her to publish pages of recipes and write a Saturday column. She became a household name during the twelve years she did that, from 1966 to 1978, and wrote The Times Cookery Book, perhaps the most treasured of her ten published volumes. Latterly she wrote for BBC Homes and Antiques Magazine, on the strength of which she was awarded ‘Cookery Journalist of the Year’ in 2001 by the Guild of Food Writers. Following this, she was honoured in 2008 by the same Guild’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.
Not afraid to be seen at work, Katie made several series of television programmes for Grampian Television in the 1970s and she was always willing to put on a demonstration for any Charity or good cause.
She married in 1961, gave birth to Andrew in 1964 and moved to Fathings in Broad Street, Cuckfield after the marriage was dissolved in 1968. She employed a Belgian lady housekeeper, wrote tirelessly on a manual typewriter, often well into the night, and set off to London early most mornings. All her recipes were practised frequently before being published, so she was confident that, by following her instructions carefully, every reader could achieve the same delicious result. The consumption of cooked cakes and biscuits was a particular treat for Andrew and his school friends but he alone allowed to scrape out the bowl in which the mixture had been prepared!
Katie became very popular in Cuckfield. She was immensely kind to all who asked for advice or help – her fish kettle was out on loan regularly. Most Cuckfield Societies or Associations received her stalwart support – especially when catering was required for a public celebration, jubilee, major anniversary or just an
In 2001 her supporters raised more money than anybody else to ensure her election as Mayor of the Independent State of Cuckfield. The election is openly corrupt, votes are one penny each, and the largest sum contributed – it’s all for Charity – buys its candidate the Mayoralty for the year. As The Times wrote:- ‘In a handsome red-velvet mayoral gown, she made a striking contribution to local affairs. These functions she performed with grace and friendliness.’
She was a great Cuckfield character, modest in everything and kind to everyone. She will be much missed in the community she graced for almost half a century.