Thursday, April 12, 2018

Revisiting Jane Grigson

I'm slowly making my way through 'How To Eat a Peach', taking time to explore the memories and ideas it raises. Food is such a central part of our lives that's it's easy to take it for granted, but what is more evocative than flavour, and how many memories are created around food?

I can't quite remember when I bought Jane Grigson's Fruit and Vegetable books, but I vividly remember where, to the point that I can close my eyes and see the shelves of a long gone bookshop again. I remember why I bought them too, I was still living in the country, but working in Leicester. It was the first time I'd had regular access to a proper market, especially one that sold such a dazzling array of things. I needed to know what they were and what to do with them.

It was also around the time I started working for Oddbins where the staff were proper foodies so there was a lot of conversation about cooking and wine. We also worked 11 hour days without official breaks which in the early days meant I was only in for three and a half days a week. I really loved the flexibility of that working pattern, and again vividly remember sitting on the bus reading through Jane Grigson, planning what to buy and cook.

Large glossy hardbacks full of gorgeous photography are all well and good, but they lack the portability of these battered paperbacks. There is so much to love about Jane Grigson's books; the range of recipes she covers, her anacdotes and history that give these recipes context, the way she imbues things that I'd previously considered slightly mundane with magic and romance, and the emphasis on a key ingredient.

I can't open these books for a quick recap as I could with yesterday's Claire Macdonald's, the temptation to keep reading is overwhelming, and not just to keep reading Grigson, but to follow the references she mentions, or find something that further evokes a mood she conjures with a few ingredients and some reminiscences.

Another thing these books really did for me was help shift a mindset that started with a plan of what I would cook and then sent me out on a hunt for ingredients, to one where I'd see what looked best on the market on any given day and then plan around it. It made shopping much more fun, it also made the idea of the weekly shop of my childhood seem increasingly unnatural.

Mostly though it's the history and life she gives her ingredients. Carrots will never seem mundane again after reading Grigson* - there are whole worlds of knowledge in these books, and sitting here this afternoon I'm struck again by just how wonderful a writer she is.

*She has lots to say about carrots and their culinary history, all of which is delightful. She also includes a recipe for Angel's Hair Charlotte which is a sublime dessert which mixes a carrot jam with cream and boudoir fingers.

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