You Gave Me The Answer - ‘Linda McCartney’s Family Kitchen’

Photo of Paul and Linda McCartney holding a lamb

If you think of the McCartney family, what comes to mind? There’s music, of course, but also photography, fashion, and a long-standing association with all things vegetarian and animal-friendly.

From Linda McCartney’s cookbooks and vegetarian food brand to Paul, Mary and Stella’s Meat Free Monday campaign, the importance of treating animals and the planet with ‘kindness forever’ has been evident in many projects and initiatives over the years. Paul and Linda even appeared on an episode of The Simpsons, persuading Lisa to eat a meat free diet that the character still observes to this day (and giving away the secret to finding a ‘really rippin’ lentil soup’ recipe in the process!).

2021 is no different: as Linda McCartney Foods celebrates an incredible 30 years in business this year, a brand new vegetarian cookbook is also on its way. Linda McCartney’s Family Kitchen features over 90 recipes for the modern, plant-based cook, and was put together by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney as a way of updating and reimagining some of Linda’s classic recipes. The book is out today in the UK and 29th June 2021 in the US, and includes family favourites such as American-Style Pancakes, Chilli Non Carne, Pad Thai and Crunchy Pecan Cookies – yep, our mouths are already watering!

To celebrate the book’s publication, we chatted to Paul about how the new cookbook was created, and what it was like raising a family with vegetarian values and recipes. Foolishly, we fired up Zoom just before lunchtime ...and the conversation gave us rumbling stomachs! So, we recommend grabbing a snack or two as you read on to see what Paul had to say… What are your fondest cooking memories with Linda? Was there a specific dish that you would prepare together, with your family?

Paul: I have millions of memories. When we first met, she said to me, ‘What would you like for dinner tonight?’ I said, ‘Oh, anything’. And she said, ‘No, I want menu suggestions!’ That was the first time I realised why people ask what you want: it’s so they know what to cook! Another time she asked what kind of food I like, and I replied, ‘Wensleydale cheese’. So then we had Wensleydale cheese for the next two years! At which point I said, ‘I don’t ONLY like Wensleydale – we could mix it up a bit’.

One of my favourite cooking memories is when we made ‘macaroni turkey’ when we first went veggie. The difficult thing was to try and keep the traditions, like Christmas and barbequing and things like that. So, we came up with this idea of a macaroni turkey, which was basically a mac ’n’ cheese that you let go cold, put in the fridge and allow it to solidify so I could be the traditional carver in the family and slice it. It was actually very tasty and looked vaguely like Christmas dinner, once it was all plated up. You were the carver at Christmas, but what about a regular day? Did you share the cooking at home?

Paul: I would always volunteer, because we were very close and I was often in the kitchen by her side. I would say, ‘Anything you’d like me to do?’ And one thing I didn’t mind doing was chopping the onions - even though it made me very emotional... I’d even cry sometimes! I quite liked chopping the onions, I liked the idea of sparing Linda the tears.

Generally speaking, I wasn’t a bad cook. But she was so much better that I only did the occasional meal. I did a good breakfast – I would use a lot of fruit, peel the mango and cut it all up, slice the melon and deseed it, and make it all nice on the plate. But she was definitely the main cook: the ‘Cook of the House’. What was the process like for the cookbook, working with Mary and Stella? Did you guys get together and test the recipes over some family dinners?

Paul: Yeah, originally we talked to the publishers about doing a family kitchen cookbook which used Linda’s recipes but brought them more up to date, because a lot of her recipes (which tasted insanely good!) had a lot of butter or cream in, which people tend to want to avoid these days. We then decided to do a vegan book, which would take care of all of that kind of thing.

We met the people we were going to be working with and gave them a ballpark idea of how we felt, how we didn’t want it to be – in Linda’s words – ‘too cranky’. I think that’s sometimes a danger with vegetarian food. But when you put good-looking and good-tasting food in front of people who aren’t vegetarian it’s great to hear them say, ‘I didn’t know vegetarian food could taste this good!’ We wanted that angle.

Then as the recipes came in Mary did a lot of work on it, as she is the new ‘Cook of the House’, and I’d actually been with her during the first Covid lockdown. That was one of the silver linings of it, I would get a nice Mary dinner each evening. So, she did most of the work and we tried a lot of recipes. I was able to say, ‘This is delicious!’ And sign off on everything with both Mary and Stell. You’ve said previously that Linda was a vegetarian trail blazer – that she did it before it was cool. What have you noticed about changed attitudes to the vegetarian lifestyle over the years?

Paul: It’s like chalk and cheese: it couldn’t be more different now than it was back then. When we first started it was very difficult to get good vegetarian food. Once, Linda and I went to dinner with her dad who was visiting London from New York, and he took us to a very posh hotel and we explained we were vegetarian. The guy serving us was totally puzzled and didn’t look too happy at all, and then brought out a plate of steamed vegetables, which we weren’t too happy with either! But that’s how it was, and then fast forward to now, where you can go to restaurants like abcV in New York. The food there is incredible – all of the menu is vegetarian and vegan – and the people who serve it are bright, young, cool-looking people who are really invested in the food and in what they’re doing. I often sit there with whomever I’m with and say, ‘Do you realise how amazing this is for me?’ From being lucky to get a plate of steamed veg to this, a real restaurant with a menu that tastes great, looks great and is very healthy. It’s been a huge change, and every time I go into a restaurant like that it makes me very happy. Going back to when you originally became veggie, do you think you were influenced by Linda? Do you think you would have gone veggie if you hadn’t met her?

Paul_:_ It was a joint decision, definitely. We were both quite happy eating meat, because she was a great cook, and we didn’t really think about it until we were on the farm one day eating a lamb dinner and both realised that the lambs outside were what we were eating. We didn’t like that! We said, ‘Shall we try going vegetarian?’ And actually, it was a very exciting point in our lives, trying to think of what we would have to fill the hole in the middle of the plate. Now of course, it’s really not difficult at all. You just go down the shops and most places will have great veggie options. It was a joint decision and we never looked back. It was a great thing to do, and it turned out we became part of a vegetarian revolution. The Linda McCartney Foods team are working on their Grow Your Own project at the moment, with these wonderful community gardens encouraging families to get stuck in across the UK. Was it important for you to teach your kids where their food came from when they were growing up?

Paul: It was always really nice to have a veg garden for the kids to enjoy. There was the thrill of walking down to the garden, scrabbling the dirt and finding potatoes, like finding gold! I still love it, it’s like magic. I mean, I know it isn’t because it’s just how potatoes grow, but when you just take away the surface of the soil and it reveals things growing quietly so I’m always quite amazed by that.

I remember I once found some interesting seeds when we were in France. We came across a market in a village square and we were particularly attracted by these seeds in packets, which turned out to be some kind of white turnips. I planted them in Scotland and remember later going down to see what mysterious veg had grown. It was fantastic! The turnips were sweet and you could eat them raw - I just cleaned them off and ate them.

So, I love the idea of Grow Your Own and I love getting kids of any age involved. When I was a kid loads of people in our neighbourhood had allotments, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to get involved in: helping people get allotments. When this project come up with Linda McCartney Foods, it sounded very similar to that idea, where we’re encouraging people to get out there and grow their own. Another silver lining of the Covid lockdown is that people with gardens have been growing more, because they’ve had more time than usual. It’s pretty amazing to have a fresh vegetable to eat, two seconds after you’ve picked it. As you can hear, I’m very enthusiastic about the idea - it’s such a simple thing but there is something really soulful about it. If someone was thinking about going veggie but hadn’t quite made the commitment yet, what would you say to persuade them?

Paul: I would say, start with one day a week, and realise how easy it is. Get in touch with Meat Free Monday who can give you millions of suggestions, recipes, facts and answers that will help you on your journey, and then just gradually ease into it. These days, it really is so easy. You can go into a restaurant and say ‘I’m vegetarian, what do you suggest?’ And they’ll reply, ‘Well, we have a nice risotto….’ Or just go into a shop and ask, ‘Where’s the vegetarian section?’ It all exists, and it’s actually very exciting and quite a simple thing to do these days.

And on that note, we think it’s time to eat! Do you have a favourite vegetarian recipe? Have you tried going meat free on a Monday? Head to the Meat Free Monday website for recipes, tips and encouragement, and let us know how you get on in the comments or on social media using the hashtag #MeatFreeMonday.

Buy Linda McCartney’s Family Kitchen here:

Check out Linda McCartney Foods’ ‘Grow Your Own’ initiative here.

If you’re still in a foodie mood, this month’s ‘Sticking Out Of My Back Pocket’ Spotify playlist has been updated with songs from Paul and Linda’s back catalogues that are about food, family and home. Soundtrack your supper here!