Jane Grigson’s friends and admirers share their personal memories, explain why her work was a source of inspiration and reflect on her legacy.
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.
Then in the 1980s as central London rep for Andre Deutsch publishers I found my way to a new hole-in-the wall bookshop called Books for Cooks run by the formidable Heidi 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 with great pride that I have been able to reissue books of Jane’s that incredibly had 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’.