Move over, caviar - vegetables are the new culinary chic
Jane Grigson, whose cookbooks are a mixture of history, literature, poetry, personal comment, and a bit of whimsy, is one of the most literate of food writers.Skip to next paragraph
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She is married to Geoffrey Grigson, a poet, critic, and anthologist, and they divide their time between a 17th-century farmhouse in Wiltshire, England, and a cave in Troo, a French name meaning valley, near Tours.
Living in a cave means, in a way, that they are troglodytes, and it came about through a book on painted caves that Geoffrey Grigson wrote in 1957.
''Shortly thereafter he got a letter from a friend who told him of an interesting available cave in Troo that could be bought for a small sum,'' Mrs. Grigson told me. ''We visited it and discovered it had the most incredible view.''
They bought it, and much of her work on her first book, on charcuterie (pork cookery), was written there, despite a rather primitive kitchen and no running water.
Jane Grigson grew up in the northeast of England, where there is a strong tradition of good eating. But it was much later, when she began to spend three months of each year in France, that she really became interested in food.
''I never thought I would ever go into cookery,'' she said at a dinner in Chicago for newspaper food editors. ''When I was young, I thought I'd go into painting or music.''
She took a degree in English at Cambridge University, then worked in art galleries as an editor and translator.
But her husband introduced her to the idea of setting recipes and foods in a concept of the past, which she feels makes food a lot more interesting.
''I didn't do much cooking at home, nor did my mother, until during the war, '' she said.
''Mother loved it when the help all left to go to war and she was able to get into the kitchen and cook, but it was not terribly fancy cooking. The English like plain living and high thinking, they hope.''
Mrs. Grigson's cookbook on charcuterie took four years of writing and testing.
''For four years we ate nothing but pork,'' she said. ''Then I worked on 'Good Things,' 'English Food,' and 'Fish Cookery.' ''
Her recent publications in the United States are ''Jane Grigson's Fruit Book, '' ''Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book,'' and ''Jane Grigson's Book of European Cookery.''
Since 1968 Mrs. Grigson has been writing cookery articles for the Observer Colour Magazine, where much of her material in the European cookbook first appeared.
''In England we're very protein conscious, as you are in the United States. We have always been fond of meat. Even our working classes eat a lot of meat,'' she said.
''For years it has been a measure of success, and many, many, years ago foreigners would come to England and say, 'Tut tut, your lower classes eat too much meat and that's why they're so uppity.'
''But as civilization progressed, gardening progressed, and during the Renaissance more vegetables and fruit were grown. The history of cultivating fruits in England is amazing.
''In the 15th and 17th century there were 300 kinds of pears being grown in England. It was lovely fruit and became the crown of the meal, although they also ate celery at the end of the meal, too.
''Now there's a revolution in food, and with it a return to gardening. Everyone's eating more vegetables than ever, which is wonderful, but I wish we all could enjoy more different kinds of fruits. The fruits and vegetables of the world are endless, and we eat only the tiniest fragment of them.