Jane Grigson, the food writers' food writer
Food writers from around the world share their remembrances of Jane and of her contribution to food writing.
Ketcham Wheaton, Barbara
Sevilla, María José
My Christmas present from my husband in 1971 was Jane Grigson's newly published 'Good Things' cookbook, I was absolutely thrilled, I just loved it and read it from cover to cover. I loved M.J. Mott's line drawings and had a conjured up a clear image in my mind of what Jane would look like from the illustrations in the book. Can you imagine how amazed I was when I eventually met the real life cuddly version many years later in Ballymaloe.
Good Things is still one of my most treasured cookbooks and I've cooked virtually everything in the book including Priddy Oggys, Hannah Glasse's Rabbit Casserole, Salt Mutton and a selection of ratafias. Several of her much loved recipes e.g. Terrine aux Herbs and Gateau Pithivier have been absorbed into our repertoire at Ballymaloe House.
Consequently, Jane is often referred to in our conversation and constantly remembered with great fondness.
I met Jane Grigson in the summer of 1975, as the result of a review I wrote of her husband Geoffrey's book Britain Observed in the New Statesman. Geoffrey was, and remains, one of my literary heroes, not least for his fiercely independent spirit and his talent for expressing considered opinions that went against the fashionable grain. It would become apparent in the years to come that Jane loved him for those very same qualities. He said things, she confided in me once, she would never dare to say, however much she wanted to.
Jane was Geoffrey's third,and last, wife. He was her senior by almost 23 years, but the age differencedidn't matter to her. In her late 20s she had fallen for the art critic and curator Bryan Robertson, with whom she worked in a London gallery, but she soon realized it was a hopeless infatuation when she discovered he was gay. (In the last year of her life I reunited Jane and Bryan at a lunch I prepared for them. It was a joyous occasion, enlivened by gossip and laughter. I have seldom been such a happy listener.) Bryan had hoped that Jane would find her ideal older man one day, and so it was to be. Jane, who had admired Geoffrey's work - his study of Samuel Palmer and his Shell guides to birds and flowers, especially - when she was a schoolgirl, thought she was the luckiest woman in the world after meeting him and learning that her feelings for him were reciprocated.
The Grigson family was in somethingclose to disarray when Jane and Geoffrey married. If anyone knew how to soothethe famous curmudgeon's savage breast, it was the bright young woman from Sunderland. She moved into the house he owned at Broad Town in Wiltshire and transformed it into a loving place. It seemed that she would be content for ever with her early married life, as she typed and corrected Geoffrey's manuscripts. Everything was to change in the 1960s when one of their neighbours in Troô, in Loir-et-Cher, in France, asked Jane to be his secretary and researcher. Adey Horton was late delivering a book on charcuterie and French pork cookery he had been commissioned to write for a London publisher. His agreed delivery date was already history when Jane agreed to come to his assistance. Horton was so impressed with her skills that he eventually handed the entire project over to her. And that is how her career as a food writer began - accidentally. If Horton had been more diligent, Jane would have merited nothing grander than finding her name in the Acknowledgements.
That first of her scholarlyand approachable books was reviewed glowingly by Elizabeth David in the Sunday Times and achieved the rare distinction of being translated into French. It has become the standard work on the subject. Good Things, which came out in 1971, is my own favourite, not least because of the recipe for the wonderful curried parsnip soup she invented. For my mother's eighty-seventh birthday I cooked Honeycomb Mould, the pudding she rescued from the Victorian nursery. It is made with the juice and rind of lemons, with eggs, gelatine, sugar, cream and Guernsey milk. It has a cap of lemon jelly and beneath that a band of opaque cream jelly, and a honeycombed spongy base. My mother, who had worked in service from the age of 13, remembered the cook preparing it for the children of her employer in the grand house in Hampshire where she was first employed. That was before the First World War. She had never seen nor eaten it since then.
Jane was touched by thisstory. She liked it when food had a human and historical significance in people'slives. Her books and weekly articles for the Observer brought in the kind of money that Geoffrey, who had scraped together a living as a reviewer and anthologist for decades, had never dreamed of earning. He basked in her success. The meals I had with the two of them in Geoffrey's beautifully designed garden at Broad Town are among my happiest memories.
After Geoffrey'sdeath in November 1985, Jane lost some of her sparkle, though she put on a showof cheerfulness in public. She still used the word'daft', which she pronounced with a flat Geordie 'a', whenever she found something to laugh at. In the spring of 1989, I went with her on an eating tour of Scotland, to the highlands and lowlands. These were days of unalloyed pleasure, as we met chefs and restaurateurs and growers. I remember a picnic we shared at Loch Ness. The monster was in absentia, but there was a seabird that gobbled bread, cheese and salami as it perched on the bonnet of the car.'Geoffrey would have identified it immediately' she said. She opened a bottle of non-alcoholic wine someone had given her and poured us a glass each. After a couple of sips, she remarked'It's disgusting, isn't it? Let's have the real thing.' So we did.
Janedied on March 12, 1990, the eve of her 62nd birthday, She had been anticipatingdeath from cervical cancer for at least two years. In those final months, herchosen expression was'Sod it all', with or without an accompanying laugh. Waking from a coma, she saw her beloved sister Mary weeping at her bedside.'Oh, you silly cow' were her last words.
She was my best and dearestfriend for a precious time. I think of her every day. How could I not? Her generousheart and soul are there in my kitchen, permanent tenants.
Paul Bailey (this piece originally appeared in 'The Oldie' March 2015)
My copy of Jane Grigson's wonderful book, Good Things, is now in five parts. Its dull, amber pages are curled inside a paper cover that's almost unreadable and its spine is in pieces. In the 37 years I've owned it, I think I've made every recipe, some of them dozens of times. My 1968 copy of The Art of Charcuterie is doing a little better - it's only in two pieces, and opens at my favourite recipe, cassoulet. How can I thank someone who has given me so much pleasure for such a long time?
I did once have the opportunity to thank Jane. We met in San Francisco, at the home of the inestimable Mary Risley, owner ofTante Marie's Cooking School. But I've an uncomfortable feeling that Ididn't make clear my appreciation, or tell her how much I enjoyed her writing and her recipes. My excuse is that I was young. I was probablyalso tongue-tied, for I was thrilled to meet the author of a book that I loved. IfI'd know then of all the pleasure that I had ahead of me - the hundreds and hundredsof meals I've enjoyed because of her - I wonder what I'd have said.
Jane's books are on an easily-reachable, well-used bookshelf, where I keep the books with recipes I trust. It's the place I go to whenever I want to make something special, something good. Her books inspire me, and they are the first ones I reach for when I want more information on an ingredient or cooking technique. I'm still learning from them, and I'm still enjoying every minute I use them. Thank you, Jane.
She was in France, waiting to be served in a charcuterie in Avallon, with time to gaze at the wonderful display of produce: hunks of farm-made butter; sausages and hams. When she noticed 'in astonishment' some very pricy pates. How could the burgers of this small town afford them? She just wanted something for a picnic, so bought some brawn. But her curiosity was aroused. Later, she experimented with a French recipe for sweetbread pate, and discovered why the people of Avallon happily pay such high prices.
It's just one of her recipes in Good Things (1971) '....not a manual of cookery but about enjoying food.' I bought some sweetbreads. Never cooked or eaten them before, but made her pate. It was such a success that I decided to join this new food writer on more of her culinary journeys.
I didn't just enjoy her food, but also her writing. She stimulated the imagination. Weaving into the text the originsand settings of foods to give context and authenticity.
I met her for the first time in 1984 at the launch of British Cookery in the Dorchester Hotel. There was aselection of pre-lunch eats. Anton Mosimann was circulating with a tray of fish-and-chips:a small portion, seasoned with salt and vinegar, in a paper poke with an outsidenewspaper wrapping. I didn't know anyone. But as we went in to lunch, she took me to her table and put me between her daughter, Sophie,and Patrick Rance. Afterwards, she introduced me to her husband, Geoffrey, andto Alan and Jane Davidson who became friends.
We met again a few years later in Aberdeenshire on a trip to investigate the provenance of Aberdeen Angus cattle.Alex Barker joined us and we set off to a farm to see the black cattle in thefields.
She was adept at raising the issues. Non-confrontational, but firmly focussed on, in this case, what was happeningto native breeds in Scotland? Why introduce the larger, leaner foreign breedswhen it was the pure-bred native, fat-marbled beef which had all the flavourand quality?
We went to an auction market for meat buyers, many from London, who were bidding for whole carcasses and she followed-upwith them on other issues of feeding, conditions, what they were looking for, and also time of hanging. We ended up in a butchers' shopbuying AA beef ourselves, and asking more questions.
I asked her some questions too. She was eleven at the beginning of the war, living in the North East of England, duringwar-time rationing. One of her most hated food memories of this time was theyellow turnip (swede) which Scots call a neep. As far as this vegetable was concerned nothing could turn it into a good thing, though she concededthat mashed through potatoes, it was maybe an ok partner for a haggis.
Looking back, it would be impossible to overstate the importance Jane had in my career as a food writer.
It all began with thepaperback edition of Good Things. This was the second cookbook I'd bought - I'm looking at it now - and it cost me ¬£1.10p. I liked the sound of the title; flicking through it, loved the way it was organized ‚Äì an eclectic mix of ingredients and techniques, but most of all I loved the way it was written. My hunger to know everything I could about food matched my interest in cooking, and Jane's effortless scholarly style combined with her ability to make you want to eat everything she talked about had me hooked from the first.
Good Things changed mylife. Ironically, despite my fresh-faced enthusiasm, I already knew there wereso many things I didn't particularly want to cook, had no appetite for dinner parties, and much preferred whatever was growing in our garden to anything else, however trendy. It was Good Things that gave me confidence to cook the way I wanted to, and not to worry about the rest.
But that was just thestart: Good Things led me to Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking, andSummer Food; Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern Food; and Edward Bunyard's Anatomy of Dessert. Through Good Things I also discovered Eliza Acton, Hannah Glasse, and the history of food, the book whetted my appetite for salting meat, charcuterie and wild mushrooms, and made me wish I'd been to France. Indeed, Jane Grigson and Good Things lit up so many lights in my head I could have serviced the whole of the North East.
I suppose it wasinevitable, then, that when, as a naive housewife in Stockton-on-Tees, I decidedto have a go and wrote my first piece Basil is Best, I sent it off to Jane Grigson at the Observer, asking sweetly how does a housewife get started?
To my utter amazement,Jane wrote back, explaining that though she wrote for the Observer, she had nosay in its editorial content, but she had enjoyed the piece and would forward it to her editor at the Observer, Paul Levy, as he also worked for House & Garden.
House & Garden hada private cook's column: Basil is Best got published with a photo of me grinning insanely under the dark North East skies in our veg garden with my 4 Marran chickens as an entourage.
As any fledgingfood writer with no journalistic experience will tell you, apart from not beingable to believe your luck, being published is like having a blood transfusion. It gives meaning, purpose and focus to your passion, and enables you to put all the thoughts running around your head down on paper, and share them with the outside world. Indirectly, Jane had not only channelled the direction of my all-consuming passion, but had kick-started my life's work, too
I was thenfortunate to win the Guardian's Mouton Cadet cookery competition (right up mystreet: they gave you a list of ingredients and you had to turn them into a starterand main course). Shortly after that (I think), I got a call out of the blue from David Higham literary agency asking if I'd like them to represent me; Chatto & Windus then followed asking if I'd like to write a book. Both had come via Jane's recommendation ‚Äì whom, by the way, I didn't meet or talk to until much later. David Higham led to a column in the Daily Telegraph for a time, and Chatto & Windus to my first major book, Fresh Thoughts on Food. All thanks to Jane.
It was around this time,too, that Jane wrote explaining that she was writing her Observer Guide to BritishCookery and did I know any producers who might be interesting for her to know about? Did I just! Seeking out traditional foods and artisan producers was, for me, on a par with finding buried treasure and something else I was busting to share. Here was my chance to spread the word about Wabberthwaite ham, Yorksire oatcakes, Cotherstone and Swaledale cheese, the Gooseberry Show at Egton Bridge, elder (boiled and pressed cow's udder ‚Äì the ‚Äòspam' of West Yorkshire), Whitby's Mecca of fish and chips, The Magpie - all these and more came tumbling out like a torrent.
Jane's acknowledgement in British Food sounds like I helped her; but actually, it was the other way around. That she even asked me, let alone trusted my judgement meant more to me personally than anything ‚Äì but that is not the point. It taught me that one doesn't need to be a famous food writer to make a difference: simply by supporting the things we believe in is ultimately what counts.
I guess most people contributing to a record of Jane's influence would have known her well. I didn't. I can't even remember when I first met her ‚Äì it would have been at the Oxford Food Symposium, but I did visit her briefly at her home in Wiltshire. We had a nice chat and a cup of tea; my last memory of Jane is leaning on her garden gate waving me good-bye ‚Äì with me, yet again, grinning insanely, not believing my luck.
It seems right to me, therefore, to finish where I started, with Good Things. I've subsequently spent a good part of my food writing career writing about organic food and farming. How food is produced, the wider implications of the food debate, and what does or doesn't constitute good food and good cooking is as important to me as the recipe. In short, I have become radicalized in the best sense of the word. But you know what? It's all there in Jane's introduction.
I have perhaps half of the dozen or so books on food and cookery written by Jane Grigson, and of those half-dozen the one I most often turn to is her Vegetable Book, first published in 1978.
What makes it stand out from all the hundreds of books by other authors on the same subject is, I believe, the fact that Jane was married to Geoffrey Grigson, a botanical historian. With him at her elbow, and his collection of botanical books at her disposal, this book is a not just a collection of recipes but a compendium of culinary plant history. This, for me, makes the book just that much more enjoyable, because the history and cultivation of fruit and vegetables are the two subjects with which I have been occupied for the past 35 years.
And the moment I wrote this last sentence, I realised that the publication date of The Vegetable Book just precedes the time when I began my exploration of the history of the walled kitchen garden. That date, plus her infallible instructions for the preparation and cooking of virtually every vegetable known to cooks past and present, explains the amount of use I have made of that particular book by Jane. It is really well-worn.
The curious thing is that my copy of her Fruit Book, which she says was 'more fun to write than any of the others' and was written only three years after her Vegetable Book, shows nothing like the same amount of wear and tear. Yet it carries the same format, with erudite introductions to each subject from Apple to Watermelon. I can only suppose that I don't care to cook with fruit as much as I do with vegetables, but this book too, makes delightful and informative reading.
I met Jane very occasionally, and wish I had taken up her constant invitations to visit her in Trôo, but I was fairly busily engaged in motherhood at the time. My favourite memory of her is at some sort of cookery demonstration where a barely teenage girl was her assistant. Jane introduced her as 'My daughter, Sophie, a great help, and she's going to be a brilliant cook too'.
"It could be said that European civilisation - and Chinese civilisation too - has been founded on the pig" - this is the first sentence of Jane Grigson's introduction to her book Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery. I have a good many cookbooks but this is probably my favourite. It may not have the magnificent coloured photography so beloved by modern publishers but instead there are simple line drawings that are laden with information. Grigson's writing is erudite, clear, informative and lyrical. Her books come from an era when scholarship was expected of writers rather than being a rarity worthy of note. Leaf through French Pork Cookery and there are hundreds of recipes - how to use caul fat; what to do with a pig's spleen; black and white puddings; pork terrines; brains; Bath chaps. Between the covers there's a storehouse of knowledge. Jane Grigson believed that every pork joint would benefit from an overnight stay in brine. I have tried this and, like most of her techniques and recipes, it works. That's the salient point about Jane Grigson's writing it is always clear,always helpful, always a joy. What a wonderful legacy to leave. Thank you.
I never met Jane Grigson face to face but she and I became good friends in about 1987. I had just emerged from a particularly gruelling period at work, had established some kind of a routine with child care, my husband had said he didn't want to eat meat anymore, and I thought it was time I learned to cook properly. Someone suggested I read Jane's books; from that day to this Jane and I have been on first name terms.
It was the whiting in orange sauce that did it. I couldn't quite believe that a rather boring fish - my grandmotherused to feed it to the cat - and rather bitter oranges could produce somethingspecial, but it did sound promising, mostly because Jane's prose. The preambleto the recipe told of a search for scallops that turned into a search for whiting, and of the winter oranges where, 'one of the great pleasuresof existence is to observe the changing seasons and celebrate them in one's diet'. I was
hooked, the meal was, though I say it myself, a triumph, and Jane and I have been together ever since.
I may venture into the middle east, the far east, north Africa, and elsewhere, but when I need to be re-charged inthe kitchen it is Jane that I turn to, and she has never, ever let me down.
Linda Challis, Trustee of the Jane Grigson Trust
Jane Grigson is one of the quiet greats of the food writing world; her work wears its considerable scholarship very lightly. It's always accessible, always friendly and often wryly amusing too - opening one of her books feels like coming back to an old, and very wise friend. Practical, no-nonsense and packed full of fascinating little nuggets of detail, somehow one trusts her instinctively.
I met Jane Grigson in the late 1970s on my first experience of a culinary press trip. It was to Germany; we travelled from place to place by coach and wherever we stopped we were plied with huge amounts of sausages, rye breads and goose fat. In the coach I was thrilled to be sitting next to Jane, who I already revered. Our companions were a group of editors from various food and cookery publications. Jane and I were soon talking eagerly about things we loved to eat, in particular Sussex Pond Pudding, an old recipe for a steamed pudding made even more famous by Jane.
Mouths watering, we spoke of the way the river of melted butter and brown sugarmingled with the lemon juice which oozed out of the cooked lemon and burst throughthe crisply golden suet crust, and we sighed with pleasure as we remembered thatindulgent taste of rich sweetness with a titillating tang. But suddenly we wereaware of a hush around us.
'I've NEVER heard anyone talk about food like this', said one of the editors.The others nodded in agreement, and looked equally shocked. It was as if Janeand I were openly discussing our personal experience of a taboo sexual practice.We could hardly control our laughter; that moment was the start of a long, affectionate,and for me a wonderfully supportive friendship.
Growing up and eating in the 1950s and 60s was not the most exciting of culinary landscapes. My Irish mother was a good plain cook, much like other mothers of her time, providing roasts and shepherds pies on a weekly rotating basis, with the occasional curry thrown in when my dad was not around as he did not relish spicy food. But we did go back every summer to my maternal grandmother's farm in Ireland where I experienced what we would now term plough-to-plate dining; so I saw raw ingredients and helped gather them prior to meals which largely consisted of boiled ham, cabbage and boiled potatoes; repetitive but fresh and seasonal. Eggs gathered fresh from the hay yard, potatoes dug ten minutes before cooking drenched in home churned butter.
A window on the world of more exotic fare was provided at the home of my bachelor godfather who had an Italian housekeeper who only cooked Italian dishes and whose ingredients were lovingly and selectively shopped for in the delis of Soho. Dishes which contained rare treats such as olive oil, garlic, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, and mountains of real pasta. These were the early influences which brought the realisation that there was a world beyond narrow domestic fare and there were those who might further enlighten my inquisitive palate by their
writings. And so it was when at the age of fifteen, lo, Jane Grigson's articles first appeared in The Observer and I started clipping and tearing and adding them to my growing collection of all things food related lovingly preserved in a ring binder.
Her pull-out series on European Cookery was ground breaking and eye opening and I collected every one without fail. I have them to this day in that same ring binder, the pages as hard and crisp as sheets of filo pastry from use and more use. And so her articles led me to her books, when up at university and responsible for my own meals, I started my cookbook collection.
Thenin the 1980s as central London rep for Andre Deutsch publishers I found my wayto a new hole-in-the wall bookshop called Books for Cooks run by the formidableHeidi Lascelles. She wanted to go to the Oxford Food Symposium but said she felt intimidated by the prospect so would I accompany her and so it was that I finally met my food heroine Jane Grigson, and found her warm and kind and sharing; all the things in fact one finds in her writings.
Now at Grub Street it is withgreat pride that I have been able to reissue books of Jane's that incrediblyhad been allowed to go out of print, and make them available again to generations of cooks to come. I can't think her legacy will ever disappear or become out dated and in my job as editor nurturing first-time cookery writers Jane is my example to them of how to find a voice; 'Read her' I say 'and you will understand how to be a guiding friend in the kitchen'.
Jane Grigson is my favourite English cookery writer. Her work combined so many strengths, all expressed in graceful, flowing, seemingly artless prose: deep scholarship, fastidious attention to detail in recipe-writing, a wide range of interests and enthusiasms, an original approach to the construction of cookery books.
But what I love most about Jane Grigson's work is its sense of warmth and humanity. Whereas some cookery writers speak to us as if from a distance, she gives the impression that she is there in the room with us. She makes us feel that she is our friend, that she wants us to be happy in the kitchen. If an ingredient is rare or costly, she gives humbler alternatives and doesn't imply that the result will be inferior. If the classic version of a dish is impractical, she explains how to simplify - again, without suggesting that you're not really doing it properly. If she suspects that some cooks will have trouble at a particular stage in a recipe, she quietly points it out.
Grigson's prose gives theimpression that all these qualities come naturally and easily, but they don't.They're the product of hard, careful writing. As someone said in a different context: 'if it weren't hard, everyone would do it.'
I turnto Jane Grigson's books more than those of any other writer, seeking advice,ideas, or just an enjoyable few minutes of reading while dinner's cooking. Ihate to single out one book when they are all so good, and so distinctive, butThe Mushroom Feast occupies a special place in my affections. There's the wide range interests: history, etymology, gardening, taxonomy, etc. There's the practical-mindedness: in a platter of crudités 'it is better to have three or four vegetables in perfection than twenty that have seen better days.' There's the sense that she lives in the same world as her readers. (The headnote for one dish begins, 'Fattening, but worth it.') There's the wide variety of culinary sources, and of cooking styles from humble to haute cuisine. And everywhere there is the wonderful turn of phrase: the head of a John Dory looks 'lugubrious'; the precision needed in making soufflés 'has the dignity and security of order about it'; fried rice is 'a good way of using leftovers discreetly.'
A final word in passing. Late in her life, Jane Grigson embraced microwave cooking. I too loved the microwave (and still do), and it heartened me that she was a fellow fan. There were few others among the eminent cookery writers of the day (and today there are probably even fewer). Had she lived longer, I wonder, would my collection include Jane Grigson's Microwave Cookery? I wish it were there on the shelf. But I'm deeply grateful for the books that are there.
Jane Grigson's good sense, breadth of reference, wit and wisdom make her books the best of companions at my armchair, desk and kitchen table. Even her still pertinent criticisms of shoddy food carry the sound of a warm human voice. "Our classical tradition has been domestic, with the domestic virtues of quiet enjoyment and generosity," she writes in the introduction to English Food. Is there a better summation of why home cooking matters?
Regrettably, I did not have the good fortune to meet Jane Grigson, but always felt I knew her through her work. How could I not? Her warmth, good humor and honesty are there in all of her books, and writing about food gave her the necessary scope to extend her vision. She wrote exquisitely about food and this led her to explore history, culture and horticultural lore, to name just some of her interests. She was down-to-earth in her comments, and I have always remembered and approved of our shared dislike of beetroot, which she called a bossy vegetable because of its readiness to stain everything around it. And this brings me to Jane's wit and my sadness for not having had the privilege of knowing the woman as well as her books. I am sure that any conversation with her would have delivered fun and laughter as well as her wonderful insights about food and what it represents.
Barbara Haber, Former curator of books at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University
The well-oiled machine of The Observer, Paul Levy, the chefs and Jane Grigson moved into the School in a big way, everyone was in awe.
My staff and students did a wonderful job in looking after them: very conscientous, aiming to please with the preparation of their ingredients, privileged and aware they were working with the crème de la crème of cookery world.
We clearly remember Jane showing the audience the delights of the Northumberland Duck. It was a shoulder of lamb, plus a saddle of lamb on the bone, which was cut lengthways and stuffed with a heavy herbed concoction, somehow put together and roasted.
I also remember Jane in Paris in the active days of the IACP, and listening to her talk at various gatherings. Moving easily from English cooking, she was always a passionate believer in the way the French cooked and handled their ingredients in the '80's and before. And, for me, it was an added extra that she always spoke as a wife of a poet.
Lyn Hall, Observer Cookery School 26th February 1984, La Petite Cuisine, Richmond, Surrey
Growing up, visits to see Jane and Geoffrey were pretty regular. My mother, Mary, was Jane's sister and we lived only about half an hour away from Broad Town.
I loved going to Broad Town Farmhouse. It was unlike any other house I knew - in via the stable door (never the front door), down the worn, dimly lit flagstone steps and into that wonderful kitchen, always at its best when Jane was presiding over it. There were nooks and crannies galore, hilariously wonky floors and all sorts of weird and wonderful things I'd never seen before, including two silver ex votos (a stomach and an ear) that now hang in my kitchen, alongside a few others that I've collected.
Sitting at the kitchen tablehaving tea, conversation would flit easily from one subject to the next and wasnever dull, even as a young child listening in, and there always seemed to be plenty to laugh about. There was normally some discussion around Jane's latest culinary adventure. My parents were often asked over for supper to eat the fruits of her labours, depending on what article she was writing for the Observer that particular week. I remember that my father was not too keen on either the squid or the every-course-is-made-with-rice week, though he wouldn't have dreamt of saying so!
Once, itmust have been around 1987, my mother and I visited Jane to find Paul Baileythere. I'd recently read 'Gabriel's Lament' but was far too shy to say anythinginteresting to Paul about his superb book. I remember thinking afterwards that Jane always seemed to know exactly the right thing to say, that it was always insightful and often funny.
Thanks toboth Jane and my mother, who was a wonderful cook in her own right, my siblingsand I have inherited a great love of food - whichI hope we have passed onto our own children, and through which we can honour the memory of two wonderful sisters.
The walls of my teenage bedroom were covered in cuttings and bits of paper. There were photographs ripped from magazines - landscapes, whacky portraits, still lives of food - and poems I had copied out as carefully as I could with my leaky fountain pen. Among poetry by Heaney and Wordsworth and Richard Wilbur there was a scattering of verse and prose about food, and most of it had been copied from the two Jane Grigson books I owned, her fruit book and her vegetable book. Right beside my bedside lamp there was a small illustration of strawberries blu-tacked to the wall, and words Jane had written about them. "Do you remember the kind and beautiful girl in Grimm's fairy tales, who is driven out by her stepmother to find strawberries in the snow? How she comes to the dwarves' house, and shares her crust of bread with them? And how, as she sweeps the snow aside with their broom, she finds there - strawberries? That vivid image of delight, of fruit and snow against forest darkness, is never forgotten. It's our northern winter longing for summer, a joy of the mind. And yet, in the sudden snow of winter a couple of years ago, I went to sweep our doorway - and found strawberries."
Until I discovered Jane Grigson, cookbooks were sets of instructions, manuals on the making of things. That in itself was precious, but when I came across her Fruit Book and her Vegetable Book I felt I had discovered someone who was speaking to me. Jane was scholarly and literary and she understood that food was more than just food, it was about memory, the imagination, stories, history. It was connected to everything. She understood, too - as you can see from her writing on strawberries - that food could be magical.
For quite a few years - in my late teens - I would tell people that you could cook for a lifetime just from her vegetable and her fruit book. I composed lists of everything I wanted to make, and I gradually worked my way through them. Before I read Jane I had no idea that the Romans used garum or that broccoli was good with anchovies. When I felt glum I would daydream about making Emperor Claude's Ribbons from her fruit book, a dish that I thought had the most poetic title in the world.
Eventually I bought every book Jane had ever written. I also pulled out every magazine piece and series she composed; in my study she still has her own box, marked with a label with her name on it.
Jane Grigson exemplifies what a food writer should be. She is cerebral and practical - it's hard to find practitioners who are both - and she is inclusive. She didn't just want to tell you about cooking and impart knowledge, she wanted you to cook too. She was neither grand nor snobbish. You knew that if you ever got the chance to cook for her she wouldn't mind if you produced something less than perfect.
I still have and use all her books, including the editions of the vegetable and fruit books that I bought so many years ago. (I love them more than any of her others). I never met her. Though in a way, I did, time and time again, because in my head we've talked about food for years. She is like an old friend.
In a way I owe Jane my career in publishing. Her daughter Sophie and I had been among a small group of boarders at our predominantly day school, so I had become familiar with Jane's unmistakeable motherly figure in the boarding house car park at the end of the week when she came to pick up Sophie. I'd also stayed a couple of times at Broad Town, their wonderful old farmhouse in Wiltshire, and was struck by how terribly 'modern' the mother and daughter relationship was - rather shockingly, Sophie called Jane 'Jane' not 'Mummy'; and their relationship appeared based largely on friendship (I would have died rather than tell my mother some of the things Sophie confided in Jane!) And Jane was very happy to extend her generation-bridging warmth and friendliness to the awkward teenage girls who passed through her kitchen.
Roll on a few years and, having left university with an English degree, I decided I wanted to work in publishing. Having no special knowledge or contacts in the publishing world, I wrote on spec to the only publisher I'd heard of, Penguin Books. To my delight, they invited me to an interview - as secretary to the cookery editor, Eleo Gordon.
Although I fared fairly dismally in the typing test, Eleo must have seen something in me. Did I have a referee? I dimly remembered that Jane's books were published by Penguin, so I tentatively suggested her name. I confess I had no idea that she was such an esteemed writer. Eleo was on the phone to Jane immediately. I'm not sure what she said, but they offered me the job.
Sally Holloway, Trustee of the Jane Grigson Trust
This is not a manual of cookery, but a book about enjoying food. From the first line of the first page of Good Things (1971), it was plain that the author herself was a good thing.
I met Jane Grigson soon after my first book was published in 1980. 'So what is your next book?' Jane asked. 'I'm not sure I know enough to write another book,' I replied. Jane held my arm and laughed, 'That's not the right approach, Geraldene. You write about what you care about and research your subject on the way.'
Over the next ten years Jane and I would meet at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery, at lectures and parties, and at gatherings of the Guild of Food Writers. Jane was one of the thirty-four founder members and though, as I remember, she was not present at the inaugural meeting in Claridge's in 1985, she supported all the worthwhile ideas such as the annual lecture and the food campaigns.
In its early years, after the Guild's AGM and lunch, the current minister responsible for food production was invited to speak about policy and answer questions.
During the salmonella-in-eggs scandal in 1988 a junior minister felt the full force of Jane's campaigning fervour. 'How can you stand there and defend this appalling situation, when I can no longer give a young child or an old person a soft boiled egg?' Jane's cheeks glowed. 'What are you going to do about it?' As she sat down, the rest of us applauded our modern Boadicea. The politician struggled to reply and then, doubtless sensing the animosity of the audience, became speechless.
In a career lasting only twenty-three years, Jane produced 10 major books and contributed regularly to the Observer newspaper. She preferred to write about 'life beyond the kitchen', and did so by placing food in its literary and historical context. And at the same time Jane made her views of our present world crystal clear. Her eloquent writing inspires, informs and delights and her recipes are sensibly intended for the home cook. But it is her ethical stance, her defence of the common good, and her trenchant opinions that I treasure most.
The last time I saw Jane was not long after her courageous article 'Fighting cancer with food' appeared in the Observer in September1989. I was driving to London that day so I picked all the ripe fruit - unsprayed and organically grown - in my Devon garden and piled the pears, plums, apples, a punnet of autumn raspberries, and a few late figs into a big basket and delivered it to Broad Town on my way. Jane was as warm and welcoming as ever and Sophie, Jane's daughter, carried in the basket of fruit. Jane insisted I stay to lunch even though Jancis Robinson and her TV crew were there to film an interview. Sitting around the dining table in the hall, there was a cheerful, carefree atmosphere, Jane shone, and we all enjoyed roast partridge in a dark, reduced sauce enriched with chocolate.
On a grey overcast day six months later, I was back in Broad Town, for Jane's funeral. Afterwards, as I drove home I had plenty of time to think about how best to remember Jane, how to build some memorial to this most exceptionally talented woman, who had died at the height of her powers on the eve of her 62nd birthday. By the time I reached Devon I had come to a decision: I would found an educational charity and a specialist library in Jane Grigson's name.
Geraldene Holt, Chair of the Jane Grigson Trust
I have only one small, fleeting memory. I only met Jane Grigson once. It was in the 1980s when I was working as a researcher on a regional Granada TV food programme.
The far-sighted producer was determined to smuggle in 'serious' food guests amongst the soap and quiz show celebs who were mandatory bookings ferried in to talk about their favourite meals.
We booked Jane to do a demonstration of the legendary Sussex Pond Pudding (well, it wasn't quite legendary then but I hope we helped give it the status it so deserved). She was a delight. Modest, gracious, practical and eloquent in equal measure. Alas, the head of Light Entertainment was not so impressed - I think he thought she should be dressed in sequins like Fanny Craddock and drop ingredients on the floor a la Julia Child. Sadly, the deadly strain of food tv as fun-filled game show was even then in the ascendency.
However, all the production team went out for a Chinese meal afterwards with Jane where, despite my tongue-tied gaucheness, I asked her to sign my copy of 'Good Things'. At the time, I had no idea that my future lay in food writing but that was the book that was to such a great inspiration. If I am ever asked to appear on Desert Island Discs, that will be the one I take with me
One of the more exciting evenings in the 1970s, when I was a partner with Joyce Molyneux in the Carved Angel restaurant in Dartmouth, was that graced by a visit from Jane and Geoffrey Grigson. We were, of course, apprehensive. No doubt there was some item on the menu that had come straight from one of Jane's books. And I had read enough about post-war English literature to know that Geoffrey might be a very tricky customer indeed. But we need never have feared, for the evening went swimmingly; no one could have been nicer; and fortune smiled upon us when we had a second visit not long afterwards.
Actually, the evening went more than swimmingly because Jane and Geoffrey were so enthusiastic, informed, intelligent, engaged and friendly. A bit like their books, you might say. Years later, Joyce Molyneux would hang a grand Jane Bown portrait of Jane at the threshold of her kitchen. I have always found this apposite.
It wasn't until a few years later, however, that the full glory of Jane's work was borne in upon us: when we had a home and family to care for and the daily round of meals imposed its necessary and ineluctable discipline. If your shopping is reactive, not programmed in advance, then what is unloaded on the kitchen table may take you by surprise. Then is the moment that you blurt, 'How can we possibly deal with the squash, curly kale, pig's liver, autumn raspberries, gooseberries, loquats - or whatever it was that you found when cruising the High Street?' The invariable response in our household has been, 'What does Jane say?' Such was the breadth of her writing that it was a fair bet that she would say something. And such was the depth of her two greatest books, Vegetables and Fruit, that you could guarantee that she would not only give up the culinary answer but would would educate you as well. Jane's combination of the literary and the practical was her greatest gift - not forgetting her touches of autobiography (her readers know Trôo like the backs of their hands).
This means that for thirty years we have been largely cooking Jane Grigson. A family's choice of culinary mentor is often like a person's taste in music or in clothing: it all depends on when you started. But this chronological comment does not diminish Jane's achievement for it is also true that other layers of influence are often piled on the foundation, perhaps even to hide it altogether. But with us, the bedrock that is Jane remains a constant element in our kitchen morphology.
Part of her enduring value to us is that we like her style of cookery which, to me, is home cooking to perfection. Another quality of her writing which we particularly enjoy is that she is never prescriptive, nor really ever hectoring. A friend in need is a friend indeed and, when in front of the stove on a stormy Wednesday night cudgelling the brains for something different with celeriac, my wife would rather the sweet company of Jane Grigson than myself.
I didn't know Jane for long, but I admired her enormously. I think the main thing I would want to say about her (beyond her being a really, really nice person) is that her food writing came out of a broad interest in the wider world.
She invited me to come for the day to their house in Wiltshire. It was a glorious day. I can't remember anything about the food, except that there was venison that someone had sent her. I remember the warm light in the kitchen and the tidy bookshelves. I was too dazzled by the fact that I was actually there.
She and Geoffrey took me off to see the Avebury Rings. They were both so knowledgeable, and generous in sharing that knowledge. It was one of the best days of my life.
Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, Honorary Curator, Schlesinger Library, Harvard University
It was the mid-1970s that I first came across the work of Jane Grigson. I was bringing up my family of four small children in a remote Andalucian valley and it was long before I wrote about food (or anything else). That Mrs. Grigson was a supremely useful recipe-writer goes without saying, but perhaps the least accessible of her books - at least to a young mother struggling with babies born in ridiculously quick succession - is Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery. To me, it was a God-send.
My neighbours, members of a self-sufficient farming community baked their own bread in wood-fired oven, kept chickens, grew vegetables and chickpeas dried as winter stores, milked goats and made cheese. Fruit - figs, bitter oranges, plums - came from abandoned orchards, one of them providing the site for my own house, Huerto Perdido, Lost Orchard, though any productive trees were long absorbed into the cork-oak forest.
The first year - well - there was too much to learn to allow for inventiveness. Next year I decided to introduce my co-workers to Mrs. Grigson's recipe for boudin as an alternative to morcilla. We already had the basics: blood and guts. The boudin recipe was French, I explained to my disbelieving co-workers. And - well - if I insisted, they'd help. The result, judiciously tasted in very small pieces, was very Madrileño, Madrid being the source of all things foreign, including the French. Thereafter, as a bit of a foreigner myself - result of a diplomatic upbringing - I fell upon Mrs. Grigson's English Food with happiness and joy (my copy, I notice, is a battered first edition). Not only did I learn about the mysterious culinary habits of the land of my birth, but the accuracy of the recipes and the elegance of the writing - Jane was a stylist without peer - became a source of inspiration for what was to become my own life's work. Some years later, when I finally met my heroine - second year of the Oxford Symposium, as I remember - and told her the story of the matanza and how well her recipes delivered (never mind the co-workers, the results were delicious), she looked at me and laughed. "I'm glad," she said. "That's such good news. I always wondered if they worked." Much loved, much missed, so well remembered - Jane was (and is) a wonderful writer, a model for us all.
Jane Grigson's writing about food was part of the fabric of life for me in the late 1970s and the 1980s. I wish I'd met her, though I never did, but her writing was the next best thing. Articles were there every week to be devoured through the pages of the Observer, and books - inquisitive, discursive, eminently readable and full of recipes which made one want to cook - appeared regularly. Through these she was a wise and witty counsellor whose words were a constant presence at my kitchen table, and an inspiration for me to find out more about the history and significance of all manner of foods.
Though I never knew Jane personally, she was one of those rare writers able to communicate in manner so frank, direct and matter- of-fact that you almost feel as if the author were in the room with you, explaining in a firm but always friendly manner how things are, how precisely they should be done.
Her work in The Observer was simply inspirational when Kim and I were setting out on our career as a young and aspiring food, wine and travel writing and photography team in the early 80s.
The book that made the most lasting impression was Jane's first, Charcuterie & French Pork Cookery. The scope, stature and breadth of knowledge was so vast and truly awe-inspiring; indeed, it was almost inconceivable to us that a book, written by an English author, could actually explain so clearly and matter-of-factly the wondrous mysteries of recreating, at home, those delicious porky delicacies, enjoyed, sampled, discovered on travels in France.
This was no mere cookbook in any sense: it involved butchery (and a knowledge of French cuts of pork), and domestic skills well beyond that of most of my generation, including curing, salting, air- drying, smoking. It was a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-stuck-in book. With recipes for the likes of boudin noir, andouillettes de Troyes, and pieds de porc à la Ste-Ménéehould, it was most certainly not for the squeamish.
When Jane describes, for example, le sacrifice du porc - the annual pig slaughter - she explains with intimate knowledge and even affection the various bits that tumble out from the gut, split from the anus to the snout. You know that this is something she has both witnessed and done herself many times. You feel always, instinctively and truly, in the hands of person of infinite knowledge and skill, in both cooking and writing.
Jane Grigson was a remarkable woman, generous, witty, clever, lively and with a great sense of fun. She was an excellent person to spend time with. She was also a very fine food writer, who considered the quality of food, its origins and its preparation a subject for serious study. Her books are full of informative commentary - regional, artistic, literary; she had a feeling for history and also for the natural world. Jane enjoyed food, and her books convey that delight; she loved simple cooking based on seasonal, reliably sourced ingredients. Her immensely readable style helped convince me that Penguin should publish Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery in 1967, and I was fortunate enough to remain Jane's paperback editor for many years, sharing laughter and pleasure over many memorable meals.
Jill Norman, Trustee of the Jane Grigson Trust
My first memories of Jane are of a beautiful statuesque young woman, a senior editor at Thames and Hudson, where I was a very junior designer. We all admired her from afar.
It was only many years later that she became a role model, when her writings about food were breaking new ground, with her unique combination of modest erudition and graceful easily accessible prose; her recipes were delicious, they worked well, without the dead hand of editorial pedantry, and her observations on ingredients and history were always fresh and lively.
Jane had none of the hauteur and self-regard of many of her contemporary grandes dames, she was always kind, funny and approachable. Her generosity and warmth permeated all she wrote.
I am specially grateful for the long and informative introduction she wrote for my translation of Castelvetro, she gave so much to enhance the book, and that at a time when she was far from well. I remember her with affection and gratitude.
I met Jane only once, in 1986, when I wanted to write a profile on her and her books for Australian Gourmet Traveller. We had coffee somewhere in Covent Garden and talked for about 90 minutes. It was hardly an interview - she was such an easy person to converse with. Through her books I felt I'd known her for many years, and was delighted to discover that the author of these books was exactly the person sitting opposite me. Of her books, I wrote 'Their charm comes from their felicitous blend of personal experience, anecdote and erudition ... she has the happy knack of knowing what people want to read, what they want to learn about, before they themselves realise it.' I appreciated her plain speaking, her commonsense and logic, the curiosity which drove her to explore and understand the fundamentals of a cuisine rather than simply praise the end-products. And it was same desire for knowledge that prompted her to turn the tables and start questioning me: What did Aboriginals eat? How did they cook it?
Professor Emeritus Barbara Santich, The University of Adelaide
Remembered with admiration and affection, Jane Grigson will always be with us.
So many people remember Jane for awhole variety of reasons. My particular (but by no means only) memories are of long political discussions, sometimes late into the night and always from our strongly held socialist beliefs. Socialism for Jane came from her heart as well as from her head. The core was a deeply held belief that it was our duty to aspire to a society in which every child - irrespective of nationality or social background - should have the chance to develop his or her self to the fullest potential of their ability. This meant ensuring, as a minimum, that they had food, housing, health care and education.
ManyEnglish people will see a contradiction between a gourmet food writer and a socialist.Not so: one can lead a civilised life and still feel compassion for less fortunatepeople. In Jane's case, her socialist principles stemmed directly from her childhood experiences. Growing up in comfortable circumstances, Jane was horrified as a child to see other children in dire poverty - often going hungry and not even able to afford a pair of shoes in the depths of winter. Unlike many other people, these memories never left her and unlike others, she didn't try to rationalise them or to blame the victims.
I can imagine how Jane would havefelt today, with desperate parents, terrified of eviction from their homes, enduring the humiliation of queueing at charitable food banks to feed their hungry children. Recent figures show that more than a million children in Britain suffer from malnutrition; And this in early 2015, when we are told that the economy is 'picking up'.
Jane would have found it painful towatch the gang of greedy, heartless, Old Etonians who run this country tear upand throw away the hard won gains of the last 70 years with dreadful consequences for millions at the bottom of our society.
Jane,you are sorely missed.
I first met Jane Grigson at Oxford in the later part of the 1980´s. She was an impressive figure, an exceptional writer. I was an apprentice cook and aspiring writer who wanted to be like her. She already knew much about the food of the world. I was just passionate about the food of Spain with only a limited knowledge of food beyond the Pyrenees.
One morning she rang me up at my office, I could not believe my luck, I was talking to Jane Grigson! Having written extensively about Spain, she wanted to know more about the way some vegetables such as cardoons and borage were prepared in Northern Spain .
Jane knew my family had come originally from Navarre, an area in which such vegetables were not only produced on a large scale but also cooked to perfection, especially at Christmas time. Cardoon was cooked and still is in a medieval style, with an almond sauce; borage , just the stems, for the leaves are never used, are cut into small pieces, boiled with potatoes and just dressed with the best olive oil you can find. The last time we talked she told me she was sorry that she could not come to a press trip I was organizing. With an easiness to be admired she said that it was too late for her . I was devastated.
These days I often write about vegetables and pulses and in winter, in our house in Spain I grow artichokes and cabbages of the kind Jane included in the Spanish section of her book European Cookery where she also wrote about the meat, fish and bread Spaniards love.
"My general feeling about the way Spaniards eat is that it remains rather medieval", Jane said. I am sure Jane would have been glad to hear that even if, in the hands of some of the best chefs in the world Spanish food has changed beyond recognition in the last two decades, the majority of Spaniards are still enjoying the food that she mentioned in her writing: a plate of lentils with chorizo, an 'intimidating' plateful of roasted lamb or the same tuna fish dish the Basques have been cooking for thousands of years.
María José Sevilla
Scholar, journalist and hands-on cook -- that was a rare combination when Jane started publishing, and even today nobody pulls it off the way she did. Her books are full of lessons for the rest of us. I love going back to Food with the Famous and seeing what a good time she has bringing the library and the kitchen together, as if they were long-separated siblings now happily reunited.
I recall when I first read Jane's column in the Observer I knew a kindred spirit existed, her food was the food I wanted to eat and cook. One of her key early works, Good Things, was full of that beguiling combination between imaginative ingenuity and practical sensibility; as I read, how I ate the pages themselves, constantly delighted and full of anticipation. Her work with that of Elizabeth David, both imbued with a knowledge and love of food history, kick- started the revolution in British cookery, so that she is constantly worth returning to for ideas that are timeless and classic.
I met Jane Grigson, regrettably, at the very end of her life. I read her article in the Observer Colour Magazine on British Vegetables and remarked to my wife Jane that her sources of history were a bit old (she had not consulted anything I had written!) Jane said, 'don't moan about it, write to her', which I did. A week later I came home from work in Swindon to find Jane very excited - Jane Grigson had just phoned. I phoned her back. She took me to lunch (in Shaun Hill's restaurant at Cricklade), questioned me for information and insisted that I must produce a paper for the next Oxford Symposium, which I believe had no more places but she had me 'fitted in'. She also rewrote part of her introduction to Gillian Riley's translation of Castelvetro to incorporate my ideas. We subsequently talked vegetable history over the phone. I remember being green with envy when I phoned her on one occasion and the conversation touched on Gerard's Herbal of 1597. She put down the phone, reached up to a shelf and calmly informed me she would just leaf through her copy. Sadly, she was too ill to attend the Food Symposium and died soon afterwards. She had, however, launched me into the world of food historians, for which I will be ever grateful.
A further recollection: one day when I was out, Jane Grigson rang and spoke to my wife Jane, wondering if I knew anything about the transfer of new crops from the East by returning Crusaders. Jane consulted her ex-tutor, a Crusades expert and relayed his opinion that any transfer would not have been directly by knights coming back from the Middle East but via Norman Sicily where Arabs, Normans, and Jews all lived. Jane Grigson thanked Jane for the information and commented, 'That's fine, just as long as they were not growing them on a wet flannel on their windowsills.'
As you grow up you realise that there are certain books that have always been part of your family house, as important as the floorboards, walls and ceiling. Luckily for me, Jane Grigson's books sat in my parents kitchen, in particular Good Things and English Food. For years I didn't realise that many of the recipes I was learning from my mother were in fact by Jane Grigson. It was only after leaving home, when I needed a cookbook shelf of my own, that my parents bought me books by Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David, recipes to span a generation.
My personal favourite is Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book, what a wonderful idea and so perfectly suited to people who care about ingredients first. It was essential reading when I got an allotment and would even help me choose what to plant. Every home delivery veg-box service should come with a copy of Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book with their first delivery so after two months of cabbage you're still enjoying it. As well as being a joy to use Jane Grigson's books are still a delight to read.
Jane Grigson and I shared many things. We were both born and brought up in northeastern England, we were both sent to boarding school, and we both graduated from Cambridge University, Jane with an M.A. in English myself in Economics. Most importantly, both of us loved food. There were nearly 10 years between us and when we met we were almost in middle age, but it did not seem to matter. We talked the same language, there was instant empathy.
We share a favorite country: France. We would troll the markets, sniffing and poking, exchanging glances, each of us knowing what the other was thinking. After living in Paris and Burgundy for 20 years, I was pretty sound on cheeses. Jane knew much more about charcuterie than I did, particularly the famous rillons and rillettes.of the Loire. Of course she had written the classic book Charcuterie & French Pork Cookery (1967) which continues to be the definitive guide to French charcuterie and has even been translated into French, the ulitimate, and rare, compliment.
I first met Jane in 1977, when she came to have a look at La Varenne, the cooking school I had founded in central Paris two years before. Jane was at home at once, with her love of passing on knowledge to others, she was chatting with the chefs at once, even the formidable Chef Chambrette with whom she was soon exchanging views on how best to cook the different breeds of pig. Albert Jorant the pastry chef was equally receptive, he liked plump women.
Le Loir was where Jane lived in France, not La Loire. She and her husband Geoffrey Grigson inhabited a troglodyte dwelling cut into the soft tufa stone cliffs of the riverbank. The layout was classic, she explained, going back hundreds, even thousands, of years. A small, glass-fronted porch covered the cave mouth and the front room, the only one with any natural light. A couple of dark bedrooms had been hollowed out behind and the whole was ventilated by a shaft to the top of the cliff. For the first years when Jane's daughter Sophie was small, water had to be carried from the river in plastic jugs, and light came from oil lamps not electricity.
By the time I met her, Jane was writing a regular column for The Observer newspaper and she sold the editor on the idea of an Observer French Cookery School, to come from La Varenne. By then we had an established curriculum and hundreds of tested recipes, so putting together text on such subjects as Boiling, Poaching and Braising, or Petits Fours was easy, especially with Jane's masterly editing. The series was a success, it came out as weekly inserts and the circulation of the Observer went up by 10% as a result.
Jane and I continued to be friends, particularly after Geoffrey died in 1985. By then my husband Mark Cherniavsky and I had our own property in France, which had come with a hectare of walled vegetable garden and an archetypal French peasant to go with it. My abiding memory is of Jane, a sturdy figure in wellington boots, talking earnestly to Monsieur Milbert, who was leaning on his hoe, hand rolled cigarette affixed to his lip. Both were surrounded by rows of leeks. Watching them, I wondered how many times in that 300-year-old garden precisely the same kind of encounter had taken place, though I suspected there had rarely been two such experts.
Anne Willan, 2015 Jane Grigson Trust Lecturer, Oxford Symposium
[W]e so often lack piety towards our best things', wrote Jane Grigson in Good Things (1971). She was writing about kippers, and the sad fact that cured herrings - one of Britain's 'worthy contributions to fine food' - were now of such 'indifferent' quality on fish counters.
Grigson herself never lacked piety towards the best seasonal ingredients. Yet she found a way to express her appreciation that was devoid of earnestness or gastronomic pretension. She urged us to buy lobster, occasionally, if we could afford it, because she couldn't think of anything 'so sweet, firm and succulent'. But she also insisted, wisely, that, even at the height of midsummer, 'frozen peas are sometimes the only honest choice'.
Good Things is my favourite of all her books. I used to read it at the kitchen table as a child. A certain greediness in its tone appealed to me then. The title is both an invitation and an injunction. Good Things are what her recipes promise us but also what she wants us to demand: to learn the difference between muddy Fenland celery and the year round 'flabby' kind; between a hand-raised meat pie and an 'assembly line' horror.
As she explains in the Introduction Good Things - a collection of her Observer columns - is 'not a manual of cookery but a book about enjoying food'. As a greedy child, I spotted that Grigson's appetite felt more unbridled than Elizabeth David's. There's a wonderful moment where she confesses to nibbling the sprigs of parsley on cold buffets, to the surprise of the waiters. We should use, she insists, as much butter as possible with spinach, given that government subsidies make it so cheap compared to France.
Some of the earliest things I cooked were from Good Things. I remember in particular the walnut biscuits cooked on rice paper with a 'delightfully chewy texture'; mushrooms cooked with bacon, breadcrumbs and parsley; and a sublimely buttery Crécy soup.
But returning to the book, I am struck not so much by the recipes - though they remain inviting - as by the sheer quality of her prose. Grigson combined virtues that are almost never found together. She was scholarly yet forthright; enthusiastic but not uncritical. When she drew on food history, it was never the 'potted' kind; rather the sort that informs the way we cook now. She revived many forgotten British treasures, such as mackerel with gooseberry sauce, not for tradition's sake, but because the 'sweet-sour astringency' of the fruit cut the richness of oily fish. Her breadth of references stretched from Isaac Newton's baked quinces to the Burgundian snail industry. Yet often Grigson's sentences are as clear and wise as a children's picture book: 'Carrots are sweet. And carrots are a beautiful colour. And they are cheap'.
Grigson taught us that the proper attitude to food may be a kind of secular piety: to 'prove all things' and 'hold fast that which is good'.