A delicious life: Jane Grigson in the kitchen with her daughter, Sophie. Photo: Graeme Robertson/Rex
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Jane Grigson: the woman whose words you'll want to eat

Grigson's recipes still have the power to surprise – God knows what readers in 1971 made of sushi with sweet beans – and her enthusiasm for her subject is utterly infectious.

Jane Grigson is sometimes described as “the food writer’s food writer”, which is probably a euphemism for “the food writer all other food writers would secretly like to be”. I’m sure I’m not alone in the wide-eyed admiration and green-eyed envy with which I read her work.

Yet, on the 25th anniversary of her premature death, Grigson is in danger of becoming the secret pleasure of the food cognoscenti instead, puzzlingly less well known than contemporaries such as her great friend Elizabeth David, who is widely credited with nothing less than a British culinary revolution.

In a recent article celebrating her life, Rachel Cooke mused whether Grigson’s comfortable home life is to blame – rather than having the scandalous glamour of the famously difficult David, she was so happily married to the poet Geoffrey Grigson that when she appeared on Desert Island Discs in 1978 she chose his work as both her book and record.

Listening to her speak across the decades in that cartoonishly clipped accent of the pre-war generation (hardly a trace of her native Sunderland), one gets a sense of the immense geniality that won her the flinty heart of David, a woman who is said to have preferred male company.

A great humanity shines through in her writing, too. An early campaigner for animal welfare, she eloquently cautions readers of her long-standing Observer column not to be fooled by “barn eggs”, a label that conceals “some concentration camp under the nice Cotswold-tiled words”.

David hits the nail on the head with characteristic directness in her introduction to The Best of Jane Grigson: the Enjoyment of Food, a collection of her friend’s work recently reissued by Grub Street. She describes Grigson as “a writer who could combine a delightful quote from Chaucer on the subject of a pike galantine with a careful recipe for a modern chicken and pork version of the same ancient dish, and who could do so without pedantry or a hint of preciousness. Jane was always entertaining as well as informative.”

Though she read English at Cambridge and won awards for her Italian translation, Grigson wore her scholarship lightly, motivated as it was by a curiosity so boundless that her recipes still have the power to surprise – God knows what readers in 1971 made of her scattered sushi with sweet beans – and her enthusiasm for her subject is utterly infectious.

She is best known for her work on English and French food, both of which she saw with the clear sight of someone who moved frequently between the two countries (she spent her summers in what People magazine described as a “three-and-a-half-room primitive grotto” in the Loire Valley). “It’s easy enough to get a thoroughly disappointing meal even in France,” she writes in the introduction to my favourite of her books, English Food. “The food we get publicly in England isn’t so often bad English cooking as a pretentious and inferior imitation of French cooking or Italian cooking.”

Instead of insisting on that nebulous concept, authenticity, her recipes explicitly celebrate the links that bind us all across time and borders. Cookery, for Grigson, was an act of “continual plagiarism”.

Never precious, she is also gloriously practical: a recipe for shepherd’s pie includes instructions for stretching the dish further with extra potato or “cheap but good offal”, and one is reminded of David’s claim that, for many years, the family couldn’t afford a fridge.

Above all, reading Jane Grigson again, I’m struck by the beauty of her writing, as in this lyrical account of an English garden in summer: “Buzzing and warmth and crushing raspberries with your tongue . . . and everyone pleased that the crop should not be finished by the birds.” I came away, as always, feeling culturally, as well as culinarily, richer. Also, extraordinarily hungry.

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 01 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Crisis Europe

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In your 30s? You missed out on £26,000 and you're not even protesting

The 1980s kids seem resigned to their fate - for now. 

Imagine you’re in your thirties, and you’re renting in a shared house, on roughly the same pay you earned five years ago. Now imagine you have a friend, also in their thirties. This friend owns their own home, gets pay rises every year and has a more generous pension to beat. In fact, they are twice as rich as you. 

When you try to talk about how worried you are about your financial situation, the friend shrugs and says: “I was in that situation too.”

Un-friend, right? But this is, in fact, reality. A study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that Brits in their early thirties have a median wealth of £27,000. But ten years ago, a thirty something had £53,000. In other words, that unbearable friend is just someone exactly the same as you, who is now in their forties. 

Not only do Brits born in the early 1980s have half the wealth they would have had if they were born in the 1970s, but they are the first generation to be in this position since World War II.  According to the IFS study, each cohort has got progressively richer. But then, just as the 1980s kids were reaching adulthood, a couple of things happened at once.

House prices raced ahead of wages. Employers made pensions less generous. And, at the crucial point that the 1980s kids were finding their feet in the jobs market, the recession struck. The 1980s kids didn’t manage to buy homes in time to take advantage of low mortgage rates. Instead, they are stuck paying increasing amounts of rent. 

If the wealth distribution between someone in their 30s and someone in their 40s is stark, this is only the starting point in intergenerational inequality. The IFS expects pensioners’ incomes to race ahead of workers in the coming decade. 

So why, given this unprecedented reversal in fortunes, are Brits in their early thirties not marching in the streets? Why are they not burning tyres outside the Treasury while shouting: “Give us out £26k back?” 

The obvious fact that no one is going to be protesting their granny’s good fortune aside, it seems one reason for the 1980s kids’ resignation is they are still in denial. One thirty something wrote to The Staggers that the idea of being able to buy a house had become too abstract to worry about. Instead:

“You just try and get through this month and then worry about next month, which is probably self-defeating, but I think it's quite tough to get in the mindset that you're going to put something by so maybe in 10 years you can buy a shoebox a two-hour train ride from where you actually want to be.”

Another reflected that “people keep saying ‘something will turn up’”.

The Staggers turned to our resident thirty something, Yo Zushi, for his thoughts. He agreed with the IFS analysis that the recession mattered:

"We were spoiled by an artificially inflated balloon of cheap credit and growing up was something you did… later. Then the crash came in 2007-2008, and it became something we couldn’t afford to do. 

I would have got round to becoming comfortably off, I tell myself, had I been given another ten years of amoral capitalist boom to do so. Many of those who were born in the early 1970s drifted along, took a nap and woke up in possession of a house, all mod cons and a decent-paying job. But we slightly younger Gen X-ers followed in their slipstream and somehow fell off the edge. Oh well. "

Will the inertia of the1980s kids last? Perhaps – but Zushi sees in the support for Jeremy Corbyn, a swell of feeling at last. “Our lack of access to the life we were promised in our teens has woken many of us up to why things suck. That’s a good thing. 

“And now we have Corbyn to help sort it all out. That’s not meant sarcastically – I really think he’ll do it.”