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.

Tom Jaine

One of the more exciting evenings in the 1970s, when I was a partner with Joyce Molyneux in the Carved Angel restaurant in Dartmouth, was that graced by a visit from Jane and Geoffrey Grigson. We were, of course, apprehensive. No doubt there was some item on the menu that had come straight from one of Jane’s books. And I had read enough about post-war English literature to know that Geoffrey might be a very tricky customer indeed. But we need never have feared, for the evening went swimmingly; no one could have been nicer; and fortune smiled upon us when we had a second visit not long afterwards.

Actually, the evening went more than swimmingly because Jane and Geoffrey were so enthusiastic, informed, intelligent, engaged and friendly. A bit like their books, you might say. Years later, Joyce Molyneux would hang a grand Jane Bown portrait of Jane at the threshold of her kitchen. I have always found this apposite.

It wasn’t until a few years later, however, that the full glory of Jane’s work was borne in upon us: when we had a home and family to care for and the daily round of meals imposed its necessary and ineluctable discipline. If your shopping is reactive, not programmed in advance, then what is unloaded on the kitchen table may take you by surprise. Then is the moment that you blurt, ‘How can we possibly deal with the squash, curly kale, pig’s liver, autumn raspberries, gooseberries, loquats – or whatever it was that you found when cruising the High Street?’ The invariable response in our household has been, ‘What does Jane say?’ Such was the breadth of her writing that it was a fair bet that she would say something. And such was the depth of her two greatest books, Vegetables and Fruit, that you could guarantee that she would not only give up the culinary answer but would would educate you as well. Jane’s combination of the literary and the practical was her greatest gift – not forgetting her touches of autobiography (her readers know Trôo like the backs of their hands).

This means that for thirty years we have been largely cooking Jane Grigson. A family’s choice of culinary mentor is often like a person’s taste in music or in clothing: it all depends on when you started. But this chronological comment does not diminish Jane’s achievement for it is also true that other layers of influence are often piled on the foundation, perhaps even to hide it altogether. But with us, the bedrock that is Jane remains a constant element in our kitchen morphology.

Part of her enduring value to us is that we like her style of cookery which, to me, is home cooking to perfection. Another quality of her writing which we particularly enjoy is that she is never prescriptive, nor really ever hectoring. A friend in need is a friend indeed and, when in front of the stove on a stormy Wednesday night cudgelling the brains for something different with celeriac, my wife would rather the sweet company of Jane Grigson than myself.