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An Englishwoman adds fruit to her cookbook series

By Phyllis HanesFood editor of The Christian Science Monitor / November 17, 1982



Lobster and peaches have little to say to each other, according to Jane Grigson, an English writer who has done considerable research about fruit and its affinities in her new cookbook.

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Mrs. Grigson has found through experience that imaginative and unusual combinations of food need to make sense, to be reasonably practical, and most of all, to have good taste.

''I really hate trendy foods,'' she said, ''and peaches and lobsters don't go together well, even though they are both nice foods.''

But the recipes in her newest cookbook have something to say to each other and will speak well to many palates.

''Jane Grigson's Fruit Book,'' a companion to ''Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book'' (Atheneum, $19.95), is illustrated by Yvonne Skargon and has a glossary in the American edition by Judith Hill.

''I like fruit because there's something happy about it,'' Mrs. Grigson said in an interview in her New York publisher's office. This was her first visit to the United States but her seventh cookbook. She has written books on mushrooms, fish, charcuterie, English food, and other subjects.

''People joke more about fruit than any other kind of food,'' she said. ''Every country has its slightly ridiculous fruit, it seems - and it's such a handy food - you can eat it out of hand, sometimes just pick it off the tree or bush.

''It's available to everyone, whether it's wild fruit or berries or grown in the backyard. For many years it has been the hobby of elegant gardeners. It seems always to belong to a more graceful part of life,'' she said.

Writing cookbooks has not always been a way of life for Mrs. Grigson, who says her husband, Geoffrey, a poet, author, and anthologist, is the writer in the family.

''Geoffrey is not only a poet,'' she said. ''He dabbles in lots of things. He got me interested in hunting wild mushrooms.''

Jane Grigson was born and brought up in northeast England; she got a degree in English at Cambridge University and then worked in art galleries, in publishing, and as a translator.

When her work took her to France for three months each year she started to think seriously about food. ''But I came by food writing quite by accident,'' she said.

The first cookbook came from an idea she gave to a publisher that someone should explain all the interesting things found in the French charcuterie shops. It turned out to be her own first cookbook, ''The Art of Charcuterie.''

The Grigsons live in a 17th-century farmhouse in Wiltshire, in southern England, where they enjoy gardening and grow quince, pear, and medlar trees, and she does a lot of food testing.

They spend four months each year in northern France, in Troo, in a home of theirs that is in a cave - with an incredible view.

''Geoffrey wrote a book about painted caves and shortly after we received a letter about this cave with the view that could be bought for a small sum,'' she said. ''It was a long time ago.''

The cave has an added-on front ''house,'' and the original limestone dwelling is the master bedroom and cellar. Until a few years ago there was no electricity and the kitchen had a camp gas burner for a stove.

In New York on her first visit, Mrs. Grigson was introduced to the press by James Beard, the food writer, who gave a luncheon for her at his Greenwich Village town house.

Food writers of magazines, newspapers, and other media mingled up and down stairs from the glass-enclosed conservatory balcony to rooms lined with books, mostly on cooking; to rooms with food objects such as a handsome collection of faience and amusing pigs of all sizes; to the first floor kitchen, scene of the famous James Beard cooking classes.

Food served at Mr. Beard's buffet included fruit in every dish. There was prosciutto curled around melon, apple, and pear; shrimps with pink grapefruit; a chicken salad with fresh grapes; and wonderful tiny fruit tarts with just three fresh raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries in each.

Jane Grigson's cookbooks are a pleasure to read. There are well-chosen history and lore about each fruit, an occasional quotation from literature and poetry, some excellent recipes, and most of all a happy style of writing that is natural and often amusing.