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.

Maria José Sevilla

I first  met Jane Grigson  at Oxford  in the later part of the 1980´s.  She was an impressive figure, an exceptional   writer.    I   was  an  apprentice cook and aspiring writer  who wanted to be like her.  She already knew much about the food of the world.   I was just passionate about the food of Spain with only a limited knowledge of  food  beyond the Pyrenees.

One morning she rang me up at my office, I could not believe my luck, I was talking to Jane Grigson!  Having written   extensively about Spain, she wanted to know more about  the way  some vegetables such as cardoons and borage  were prepared in Northern Spain.

Jane  knew my family had  come originally from  Navarre, an area in which  such  vegetables  were not only produced on a  large scale but also cooked to perfection,  especially at Christmas time. Cardoon  was cooked  and still is in a medieval style, with an almond sauce;  borage , just the stems, for  the  leaves are never used,  are cut into small pieces, boiled with potatoes  and just dressed with the best olive oil you can find.     The last time we talked she told me she was sorry that she could not come to a press trip I was organizing. With an easiness to be admired she said that it was too late for her . I was devastated.

These days   I often write about vegetables and pulses and in winter, in our house in Spain I grow  artichokes  and cabbages of the kind Jane included  in the Spanish section of  her book  European Cookery where she also wrote about the meat,  fish and bread  Spaniards love.

“My  general feeling about the way Spaniards eat is that it  remains rather medieval”, Jane said.   I am sure Jane  would  have been glad to hear that even if,  in the hands of some of the best chefs in the world Spanish food has changed beyond recognition in the last two decades, the majority of Spaniards are still enjoying the food that she mentioned in her writing: a plate of lentils with chorizo,  an ‘intimidating’ plateful of roasted lamb  or the  same tuna fish dish  the Basques  have been  cooking  for thousands  of years.