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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Today's immigration figures show why the net migration target should be scrapped

We should measure different types of migration separately and set targets that reflect their true impact.

Today’s net migration figures show, once again, that the government has raised expectations of tackling migration and failed to deliver. This is a recipe for disaster. Today’s numbers run far in excess of 300,000 – three times over what was pledged. These figures don’t yet reflect the fallout from Brexit. But they do show the government needs to change from business as usual.

It has been the current strategy, after all, that led the British public to reject the European Union regardless of the economic risks. And in the process, it is leading the government to do things which err on the side of madness. Like kicking out international students with degrees in IT, engineering or as soon as they finish their degrees. Or doubling the threshold for investor visas, and in the process bringing down the number of people willing to come to Britain to set up business and create jobs by 82 per cent. Moreover, it has hampered the UK’s ability to step up during last year’s refugee crisis - last year Britain received 60 asylum applications per 1,000 people in contrast to Sweden’s 1,667, Germany’s 587 and an EU average of 260.

The EU referendum should mark the end for business as usual. The aim should be to transition to a system whose success is gauged not on the crude basis of whether overall migration comes down, irrespective of the repercussions, but on the basis of whether those who are coming are helping Britain achieve its strategic objectives. So if there is evidence that certain forms of migration are impacting on the wages of the low paid then it is perfectly legitimate for government to put in place controls. Conversely, where flows help build prosperity, then seeing greater numbers should surely be an option.

Approaching immigration policy in this way would go with the grain of public opinion. The evidence clearly tells us that the public holds diverse views on different types of migration. Very few people are concerned about investors coming from abroad to set up companies, create jobs and growth. Few are worried about students paying to study at British universities. On the other hand, low-skilled migration causes concerns of under-cutting among the low paid and pressure on public services in parts of the country that are already struggling.

The first step in a new approach to managing migration has to be to abolish the net migration target. Rather than looking at migration in the aggregate, the aim should be to measure different types of migration separately and set targets that reflect their true impact. In the first instance, this could be as simple as separating low and high skilled migration but in the long term it could involve looking at all different forms of migration. A more ambitious strategy would be to separate the different types of migration - not just those coming to work but also those arriving as refugees, to study or be reunited with their families.

Dividing different flows would not only create space for an immigration policy which was strategic. It would also enable a better national conversation, one which could take full account of the complex trade-offs involved in immigration policy: How do we attract talent to the UK without also letting conditions for British workers suffer? Should the right to a family life override concerns about poor integration? How do we avoiding choking off employers who struggle to recruit nationally? Ultimately, are we prepared to pay those costs?

Immigration is a tough issue for politicians. It involves huge trade-offs. But the net migration target obscures this fact. Separating out different types of immigration allows the government to sell the benefits of welcoming students, the highly skilled and those who wish to invest without having to tell those concerned about low skilled immigration that they are wrong.

Getting rid of the net migration target is politically possible but only if it is done alongside new and better targets for different areas of inward migration – particularly the low-skilled. If it is, then not only does it allow for better targeted policy that will help appease those most vocally against immigration, it also allows for a better national conversation. Now is the time for a new, honest and better approach to how we reduce immigration.

Phoebe Griffith is Associate Director for Migration, Integration and Communities at IPPR