Sunday, 30 January 2011
Fanfare for the bon viveur: Jane Grigson
If anyone deserves a page on this blog it is Jane Grigson. Her enthusiasm and the accesibility of her large and varied body of work inspired the confidence with which I now approach any kitchen and cooker.
From curing your own hams and salamis to picking your own mushrooms and pignuts, Jane Grigson was - along with Elizabeth David and Magaret Costa - one of the first cooks to re-invigorate British cooking after the postwar slump it had become victim to.
Hers was the food of a lost tradition which had been displaced by the disgusting and ersatz recipes of chefs like Fanny Craddock. Out went rice rings filled with tinned pineapple and angelica and back came hearty stews, filling soups and heavy puddings.
Unlike a lot of celebrity cooks of her period, Grigson understood the value of the countryside and the fantastic produce that it had (and still has) to offer. Living in North Wiltshire - about 10 minutes from Marlborough - she realised what great mushrooms, rare breed pork, lardy cakes, bacon, bradenham ham, Sally Lunns, bath buns, cider, real ale, juniper and all manner of other delicious treats available for those people who were prepared to go that little bit further to go and source them.
Just to give an example of the real passion that Grigson had for her food, here is a small excerpt from her 1970 book Good Things:
‘some ordinary kippers are passable, I would agree. But if you really want to know what a kipper should taste like, luscious and bland, the surest way is to order them from kipperers at Craster…such small kippering establishments choose the best and fattest herrings at their peak’ (Grigson, 1970: 16)
As you can evidently see, her passion is second to none and her championing of local produce has been vitally important in getting people to become interested in the provenance of their food whilst also reaffirming the the British indeed have a cuisine which deserves some global respect.
Sadly Jane Grigson died in 1990 after a long battle with cancer, but her legacy lives on. Testament to this is her body of work, each one an entertaining if exhaustive compendium of recipes on a different thematic subject. One of the other major reasons for her survival as a cooking great is the accesibility of her recipe and the success and ease with which they can be executed.
So often cooks are far too ambitious when it comes to writing for the home cook but this is not so with Grigson where simplicity and bold flavour are the stars. Of course this is not to everyone’s taste and if that is so, then I doubt many of the recipes in her (and indeed my) writings will appeal. But there is no denying her great legacy, her inspiration and indeed the savour of her excellent recipes.
Therefore she gains a special place on my wall of fame and easily merits this small appreciation of her acheivements.