Jane Grigson’s friends and admirers share their personal memories, explain why her work was a source of inspiration and reflect on her legacy.
It was the mid-1970s that I first came across the work of Jane Grigson. I was bringing up my family of four small children in a remote Andalucian valley and it was long before I wrote about food (or anything else). That Mrs. Grigson was a supremely useful recipe-writer goes without saying, but perhaps the least accessible of her books – at least to a young mother struggling with babies born in ridiculously quick succession – is Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery. To me, it was a God-send.
My neighbours, members of a self-sufficient farming community baked their own bread in wood-fired oven, kept chickens, grew vegetables and chickpeas dried as winter stores, milked goats and made cheese. Fruit – figs, bitter oranges, plums – came from abandoned orchards, one of them providing the site for my own house, Huerto Perdido, Lost Orchard, though any productive trees were long absorbed into the cork-oak forest.
The first year – well – there was too much to learn to allow for inventiveness. Next year I decided to introduce my co-workers to Mrs. Grigson’s recipe for boudin as an alternative to morcilla. We already had the basics: blood and guts. The boudin recipe was French, I explained to my disbelieving co-workers. And – well – if I insisted, they’d help. The result, judiciously tasted in very small pieces, was very Madrileño, Madrid being the source of all things foreign, including the French. Thereafter, as a bit of a foreigner myself – result of a diplomatic upbringing – I fell upon Mrs. Grigson’s English Food with happiness and joy (my copy, I notice, is a battered first edition). Not only did I learn about the mysterious culinary habits of the land of my birth, but the accuracy of the recipes and the elegance of the writing – Jane was a stylist without peer – became a source of inspiration for what was to become my own life’s work. Some years later, when I finally met my heroine – second year of the Oxford Symposium, as I remember – and told her the story of the matanza and how well her recipes delivered (never mind the co-workers, the results were delicious), she looked at me and laughed. “I’m glad,” she said. “That’s such good news. I always wondered if they worked.” Much loved, much missed, so well remembered – Jane was (and is) a wonderful writer, a model for us all.