Remembering Jane

Jane Grigson’s friends and admirers share their personal memories, explain why her work was a source of inspiration and reflect on her legacy.

Anne Willan

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.