Jane Grigson’s friends and admirers share their personal memories, explain why her work was a source of inspiration and reflect on her legacy.
I have perhaps half of the dozen or so books on food and cookery written by Jane Grigson, and of those half-dozen the one I most often turn to is her Vegetable Book, first published in 1978.
What makes it stand out from all the hundreds of books by other authors on the same subject is, I believe, the fact that Jane was married to Geoffrey Grigson, a botanical historian. With him at her elbow, and his collection of botanical books at her disposal, this book is a not just a collection of recipes but a compendium of culinary plant history. This, for me, makes the book just that much more enjoyable, because the history and cultivation of fruit and vegetables are the two subjects with which I have been occupied for the past 35 years.
And the moment I wrote this last sentence, I realised that the publication date of The Vegetable Book just precedes the time when I began my exploration of the history of the walled kitchen garden. That date, plus her infallible instructions for the preparation and cooking of virtually every vegetable known to cooks past and present, explains the amount of use I have made of that particular book by Jane. It is really well-worn.
The curious thing is that my copy of her Fruit Book, which she says was ‘more fun to write than any of the others’ and was written only three years after her Vegetable Book, shows nothing like the same amount of wear and tear. Yet it carries the same format, with erudite introductions to each subject from Apple to Watermelon. I can only suppose that I don’t care to cook with fruit as much as I do with vegetables, but this book too, makes delightful and informative reading.
I met Jane very occasionally, and wish I had taken up her constant invitations to visit her in Trôo, but I was fairly busily engaged in motherhood at the time. My favourite memory of her is at some sort of cookery demonstration where a barely teenage girl was her assistant. Jane introduced her as ‘My daughter, Sophie, a great help, and she’s going to be a brilliant cook too’.