Remembering Jane Grigson, a British Food Writer Gone Too Soon*

Since it looks like I won’t be sitting in a pub quaffing Guinness anytime soon, I decided to dig out a few of my British cookbooks and think of England.

Thinking of England, especially if you’re a food-crazed blogger with a penchant for the past, means recalling food writer Elizabeth David, and of course, Alan Davidson — who started the whole Oxford Food Symposium.

And Jane Grigson.

Not as well known here in the U.S. as Elizabeth David, who incidentally was responsible for propelling Grigson into the public eye in the first place, Jane Grigson (1928 -1990) wrote eleven books and numerous articles for The Observer. When she died in 1990, one day shy of her 62nd birthday, Alan Davidson said of her:

She won to herself this wide audience [of millions of people] because she was above all a friendly writer, equipped by both frame of mind and style of writing to communicate easily with them.

Davidson considered each of her books to be classic.

In his The Wilder Shores of Gastronomy (2002, a collection of 20 years worth of articles from Petits Propos Culinaires), Davidson included a chapter entitled “Jane Grigson: A Celebration in Three Parts.” Isobel Holland, Lynette Hunter, and Geraldine Stoneham compiled a 33-page bibliography just of the numerous editions and printings of Grigson’s thirteen books, and in the introduction, reprinted in Wilder Shores, they wrote:

Her books glow with a warm awareness of history, of the myriad tangled skeins of connection which link a kitchen of today with kitchens of the past, of the gradual evolution of recipes and customs, of how some things have got better and others, many others, worse. … (p. 328)

As for a complete bibliography of her many articles and such, dream on. No such thing yet exists.

Here’s a list of her books, none of which are in my local public library, although the university library sports one of them, and – at one time – I owned seven, marked with a plus sign:

+Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery (1967)
+Good Things (1971)
Fish Cookery (1973, recently reissued)
+English Food (1974)
+The Mushroom Feast (1975)
+Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book (1978)
Food With The Famous (1979)
+Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book (1982)
The Observer Guide to European Cookery (1983)
The Observer Guide to British Cookery (1984)
The Cooking of Normandy (for Sainsbury’s) (1987)
+The Enjoyment of Food – The Best of Jane Grigson (1992, posthumous)

Grigson’s charcuterie book testifies to her underlying sense of humor and ever conscious awareness of the hand of history sweeping over the dinner table.

And the book came in very handy for me once, in Haiti, because a development project rearing goats from the central plateau hired me to create a palatable goat liver paté for a marketing effort aimed at the Haitian elite. Taste testing took place in a local upscale supermarket and at a local upscale butcher shop owned by a French-Canadian butcher. Although the recipe I chose for the base, Pâté de Foie de Porc, turned out well enough, I found that with goat liver as a base, I needed to add a little more wine with a splash of brandy and quatre-épices (black or white pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon or ginger) to pep things up.

This seems to be a good place to mention that I detest liver of any persuasion, and the assignment of cooking this paté nearly caused me to lose my breakfast more than once while the liver bubbled away in pot.

Actually Jane Grigson, more so than her mentor Elizabeth David, might well be considered to be one of the first modern food writers to tout the glories of local food. As Isobel Holland, Lynette Hunter, and Geraldine Stoneham in their comments in Wilder Shores:

She emphasizes the need to husband our own agricultural heritage and to understand that of others.

Grigson won both the Glenfiddich Writer of the Year Award and the André Simon Memorial Fund Book Award twice. The International Association of Culinary Professionals established an award — the Jane Grigson Award — which “honours distinguished scholarship and depth of research in cookbooks.”

Her other legacy includes her daughter, Sophie Grigson, also a renowned British food writer and cookbook author, a celebrity on the same scale with many American FoodTV stars.

Since most of us will not soon be in England, why not seek out one of Jane Grigson’s books and get acquainted with a talented writer? Given the heat of future summer days, you might find yourself preferring Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book or Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, of which Jane Davidson expounded:

Brilliant … A lovely cover evoking thoughts of idyllic summer ensures that the Fruit Book is rapidly picked up. Its contents ensure that it is not rapidly put down … .

As a matter of fact, when librarians in England were asked why none of Grigson’s books seemed to be available on the shelves, the answer was that the books were so good that people continuously “nicked” them all.

Now that’s quite a plug for a writer, I think.


*Note: This month of Women’s History, I’m featuring several women whose names might be fading in the flurry of food-related social media and the extreme focus on the so-called “influencers.”

For more about Jane Grigson, see The Jane Grigson Trust. Also Jones, Steve and Taylor, Ben. “Food writing and Food Cultures: The Case of Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 4: 171 – 188, 2001.

3 thoughts on “Remembering Jane Grigson, a British Food Writer Gone Too Soon*

  1. Yes, fish, the seventies,the village of Carna on the wild west coast of Ireland. And for me Grigson led to David and eventually to Bourdain. Yes Grigson, sorely missed. And sorely undocumented.

    Liked by 1 person

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