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.

Malcolm Thick

I met Jane Grigson, regrettably, at the very end of her life. I read her article in the Observer Colour Magazine on British Vegetables and remarked to my wife Jane that her sources of history were a bit old (she had not consulted anything I had written!) Jane said, ‘don’t moan about it, write to her’, which I did. A week later I came home from work in Swindon to find Jane very excited – Jane Grigson had just phoned. I phoned her back. She took me to lunch (in Shaun Hill’s restaurant at Cricklade), questioned me for information and insisted that I must produce a paper for the next Oxford Symposium, which I believe had no more places but she had me ‘fitted in’. She also rewrote part of her introduction to Gillian Riley’s translation of Castelvetro to incorporate my ideas. We subsequently talked vegetable history over the phone. I remember being green with envy when I phoned her on one occasion and the conversation touched on Gerard’s Herbal of 1597. She put down the phone, reached up to a shelf and calmly informed me she would just leaf through her copy. Sadly, she was too ill to attend the Food Symposium and died soon afterwards. She had, however, launched me into the world of food historians, for which I will be ever grateful.

A further recollection: one day when I was out, Jane Grigson rang and spoke to my wife Jane, wondering if I knew anything about the transfer of new crops from the East by returning Crusaders. Jane consulted her ex-tutor, a Crusades expert and relayed his opinion that any transfer would not have been directly by knights coming back from the Middle East but via Norman Sicily where Arabs, Normans, and Jews all lived. Jane Grigson thanked Jane for the information and commented, ‘That’s fine, just as long as they were not growing them on a wet flannel on their windowsills.’