Grub Street publishes cookbooks and all manner of food-related tomes but they have also taken on the mantle of preservers of our own culinary heritage and characters. The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food is one of their latest classics.
A few decades ago we English had a deservedly poor reputation for cooking – or lack thereof. But we did have fine cooks, and fine cooks who wrote, and they were the cornerstones on which our now more illustrious food fame was later to be built.
Talk to any celebrity chef (if you can get near enough) and they will likely present such worthies as Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson as a couple of their culinary muses. Much has been made of Ms David’s writing and quite rightly so. She was, in her day, an almost lone star in a squid-ink-black firmament, and noteworthy for her lifestyle. But there was also Jane Grigson who is possibly less well known by the general public but who could also claim her own place. She was a happy wife and mother, a sensible and practical woman who therefore tended to be overlooked.
Jane Grigson was born on 13th March 1928 and died too soon on 12 March 1990, just before her 62nd birthday. She was a food columnist with The Observer from 1968 until her death. She won many awards for her cookery books, including the accolade of having her Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery (1967) actually translated into French – a unique honour.
The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food doesn’t have dozens of colour images but it’s no worse for that. It’s that style of cookbook that will likely start on the bedside table before migrating to the kitchen where it will find a permanent home. It offers some quintessentially English recipes in the At Home in England chapter. Queen of Puddings uses simple ingredients to make a comforting and traditional dessert which is hardly ever seen these days.
Ms Grigson didn’t, however, confine her interests to France and the UK. The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food is a collection that contains a surprisingly broad spectrum of international cuisines. There is the very retro Fried Chicken Maryland with Corn Fritters. Jane introduces this recipe with these words: ‘This dish has lost its charm by over exposure in cheap restaurants.’ So went the way of many a good dish. We can now recreate for ourselves this standard, and appreciate why it became so popular in the first place.
I have many pick-of-the-book recipes. Jefferson Davis Tart is, unsurprisingly, an historic American recipe and takes advantage of light brown sugar and dried fruit to produce a truly sweet confection. Old-fashioned and not exactly a health food, this falls into the ‘a little of what you fancy’ category.
The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food evokes memories for cooks of a certain age. It will surprise and enchant younger would-be chefs. It’s a book to read, to use and to inspire. The food scene in Britain has changed so much and for that I will be eternally grateful, but this book allows us to walk along something of a time-line, and a delicious one too.
The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food
Author: Jane Grigson
Publisher: Grub Street Publishing
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018