In his obituary of Jane Grigson, the distinguished author and editor of the Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson, wrote that she bequeathed “to the English-speaking world a legacy of fine writing on food and cookery for which no exact parallel exists…She won for herself this wide audience because she was above all a friendly writer…. the most companionable presence in the kitchen.”
On opening one of Jane’s books you are immediately captivated by her writing style and her warm character, her generosity with what she knows or has discovered. Her books are both personal and authoritative, whether describing the vast harvests of herring caught around Britain in the nineteenth century, or walking through the mysterious, damp darkness of mushroom caves in France, or remembering the unexpected joy of picking perfectly ripe, warm fruit, the reader soon falls under her spell. Jane weaves a web of poetry and history, literary reference, biographical anecdote and horticultural detail, her writing sharpened now and again by brisk opinions that are as refreshing as light rain after a summer drought. Jane writes not only about domestic cooking – her work contains thousands of recipes – and its challenges and surprises but also the sensual pleasure of eating which she always sees as a celebration of life itself.
After writing her final book on food, Jane Grigson reflected that cookery writing was “almost a form of autobiography. It’s been my way of finding out why I’m on this earth, and adding something to the sum of human happiness.”
In this, Jane Grigson succeeded beyond her furthest desires.
Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book
First published in 1978 by Michael Joseph
With poetry and history, fable and anecdote, Jane Grigson takes us on a kitchen garden tour with her superb collection of recipes old and new for this essential and delicious food. She considers the true appreciation of vegetables, either cooked or raw, to be a fairly recent development in the English home which makes this guide to 76 different vegetables a timely and welcome inspiration to both cook and gardener.
“The artichoke is an edible thistle. To John Evelyn it was the ‘noble thistle’; to a nineteenth-century writer on food, E.S.Dallas, it was an amusing moral lesson, ‘It is good for a man to eat thistles, and to remember that he is an ass’. John Evelyn – as one might expect – is nearer the mark, for the artichoke was the aristocrat of the Renaissance kitchen garden, as the asparagus was of the Roman.
….So we are back with the private gardener, which could soon include everybody. Perhaps lively vegetables, the improvement of varieties, have always depended upon him, since Adam put his foot on the spade, with Eden in mind. Now we might extend the picture to include high-rise blocks, patched with vegetation on every balcony – Marmande and plum tomatoes in pots, herbs in window-boxes, courgettes and squashes trailed round the doors. Inside there could be aubergine, pepper, chilli and basil plants on the window sill, jars of sprouting seeds, dishes of mustard and cress, with mushroom buckets and blanching chicory in the dark of broom and airing cupboards. In my most optimistic moments, I see every town ringed again with small gardens, nurseries, allotments, greenhouses, orchards, as it was in the past, an assertion of delight and human scale.