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.

Catherine Brown

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 origins and 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 a selection 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 outside newspaper 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, and to 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 the fields.

She was adept at raising the issues. Non-confrontational, but firmly focussed on, in this case, what was happening to native breeds in Scotland? Why introduce the larger, leaner foreign breeds when it was the pure-bred native, fat-marbled beef which had all the flavour and quality?

We went to an auction market for meat buyers, many from London, who were bidding for whole carcasses and she followed-up with them on other issues of feeding, conditions, what they were looking for, and also time of hanging. We ended up in a butchers’ shop buying 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, during war-time rationing. One of her most hated food memories of this time was the yellow turnip (swede) which Scots call a neep. As far as this vegetable was concerned nothing could turn it into a good thing, though she conceded that mashed through potatoes, it was maybe an ok partner for a haggis.