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.
The Mushroom Feast
First published in 1975 by Michael Joseph
Jane Grigson’s collection of more than 100 recipes for edible fungi which include cultivated, wild, and dried kinds. She writes: “The idea of writing this book came to us in the woods of the commune of Troo, a village in the Bas-Vendomois, where for the last twelve years we have made our second home in the human dovecot of its sheltering cliff.” The opening chapter is a useful guide to the twenty-one best edible mushrooms with simple, excellent recipes for each kind.
“The dark life of these tunnel-quarries is extraordinary. Shadows lie deep on the walls which are cut, mile after mile, in a pleated effect, where the stone has been removed in regular courses….As we walked and walked about, we often had to jump aside for the efficient little machines that trundle about with trays of mushrooms or loaded baskets. They may spoil the antique calm of the industry, but the introduction of machinery has meant that everyone can be paid twice as much as they were ten years ago, without the price of mushrooms being raised at all…. Everyone buys them.”