The Food Lovers' Cookbook Collection
Good Things By Jane Grigson
Jane Grigson, born in the North-East of England, was educated at Cambridge University where she gained a degree in English. Her career started in publishing until she landed a job with the Observer newspaper writing cooking articles in 1968.
She also began spending a few months each year in France and, like many who are exposed to the food culture of this country, became obsessed with French food and French cooking techniques. She wrote Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery which was published by Penguin in 1970. This was followed by Good Things three years later.
Book after authoritative book followed including Fish Cookery, English Food, The Mushroom Feast, the Fruit Book and the Vegetable Book.
Her writings have been highly awarded. She was United Kingdom Cookery Writer of the Year in 1977 and she was later awarded the Andre Simon Memorial Fund Book Award.
We could have chosen any of Grigson's books for this review, however we finally decided on this collection of essays because of some of the heartfelt writing in the introduction. In it she pleads for people to contribute to the deepening of the food culture and to eschew fast foods and return to the roots of cooking that deliver so much pleasure at the table.
She says "I feel that delight lies in the seasons and what they bring us. One does not remember the grilled hamburger and frozen peas, but the strawberries that come in May and June straight from the fields, the asparagus of a special occasion, kippers from Craster in July and August, the first lamb of the year from Wales, in October the fresh walnuts from France where they are eaten with new cloudy wine. This is good food."
She then makes an impassioned plea against the dumbing down of true flavour that occurs in modern food processing. "When one thinks of the civilization implied in the development of peaches from the wild fruit, or of apricots, grapes, pears, plums, when one thinks of those millions of gardeners from ancient China right across Asia and the Middle East to Rome then across the Alps north to France, Holland and England of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, how can we so crassly, so brutishly, reduce the exquisite results of their labour to cans full of syrup and cardboard-wrapped blocks of ice?"
The book is then structured around thirty two essays that include a number of recipes related to that topic. The first is about one of her favourite foods - kippers and other cured fish. She starts this essay by eulogising the famous 'red herring' which is a strongly slated and smoked herring produced in the town of Yarmouth. She talks about production methods and explains how to prepare kippers which are soaked in brine and then smoked on the famous tenterhooks for a day or so. She then nominates the best places to find kippers including her favourites from Craster where 'in sheds above the harbour the Robson family cure some of the finest kippers in Great Britain. These plump, silvery brown, almost translucent fish are best eaten ungrilled, unbaked, unjugged, unfried - in other words, just as they are."
Further on in the book there is advice on salting meat, preparing snails, cooking with rabbit and hare, some advice on key vegetables such as asparagus, carrots, celery, chicory and leeks and then further advice on preparation of fruits such as gooseberries, prunes, apples and quince.
There are hundreds of recipes in this treasure of a book and they are all worth exploring. The recipes are often very simple such as the mussel omelette where you simply soften some chopped shallots in butter, add lots of freshly cooked mussels and then add eggs and parsley and cook.