A Jane Grigson quotation sits on my desk. It’s written on a scrappy Post-it note; the glue on the back has picked up dust and a stray piece of cotton. It wasn’t meant to become a permanent feature, rather a scribble to remind myself to write the line somewhere more lasting, but I can’t quite bring myself to throw it away. It reads: ‘Anyone who likes to eat, can soon learn to cook well.’ It embodies Jane Grigson’s approach to food, pulling the rug from under those who shroud cooking in mystery or snobbery. For someone like me, who came to cooking relatively late in life, it is a mantra to live by. Grigson was a cook who, above all, loved to eat. Eating well is both the starting point and the ultimate end of all her cookery writing – as it surely should be for all cooking.
Jane Grigson was never quite as famous as her contemporary and friend Elizabeth David, but she is the cook’s cook. Her cookery was firmly grounded in her kitchen – whether in her English home in Wiltshire or her French home in the Loire valley. Her recipes weren’t as exotic as David’s, though the ingredients were sometimes unfamiliar. They were less about introducing readers to new cuisines than coaxing them towards a better kind of home cooking. And every recipe was infused with her characteristic wit and knowledge; where David’s writing tends towards the arch, Grigson’s exudes warmth.
She fell into food writing by accident. After a holiday in France, she and her husband, the poet and critic Geoffrey Grigson, along with their young daughter Sophie, bought a house in Troo in the Loire valley. She was immediately smitten with the French approach to food. While there she became interested in charcuterie and the preparation of meat, and suggested to a friend that he write a book about it. But after he bailed out of the project, Grigson was asked to see it through. The result was her first book, Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery (1967), a comprehensive and ground-breaking work, unlike anything that had come before.
Following its success, Elizabeth David recommended Grigson to the Observer as a food columnist. By her own admission, she felt out of her depth, but she approached it as she had the charcuterie book (and would go on to approach all future food writing projects): she took a topic and researched it exhaustively. She continued the column until her death twenty-two years later, and other books followed, all approached with he
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