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 write the food column for the New Statesman. She also writes for the Guardian and is the author of  Perfect: 68 Essential Recipes for Every Cook's Repertoire (Fig Tree, 2011) and Perfect Host: 162 easy recipes for feeding people & having fun (Fig Tree, 2013). She is on Twitter as @FelicityCloake.

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

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“Trembling, shaking / Oh, my heart is aching”: the EU out campaign song will give you chills

But not in a good way.

You know the story. Some old guys with vague dreams of empire want Britain to leave the European Union. They’ve been kicking up such a big fuss over the past few years that the government is letting the public decide.

And what is it that sways a largely politically indifferent electorate? Strikes hope in their hearts for a mildly less bureaucratic yet dangerously human rights-free future? An anthem, of course!

Originally by Carly You’re so Vain Simon, this is the song the Leave.EU campaign (Nigel Farage’s chosen group) has chosen. It is performed by the singer Antonia Suñer, for whom freedom from the technofederalists couldn’t come any suñer.

Here are the lyrics, of which your mole has done a close reading. But essentially it’s just nature imagery with fascist undertones and some heartburn.

"Let the river run

"Let all the dreamers

"Wake the nation.

"Come, the new Jerusalem."

Don’t use a river metaphor in anything political, unless you actively want to evoke Enoch Powell. Also, Jerusalem? That’s a bit... strong, isn’t it? Heavy connotations of being a little bit too Englandy.

"Silver cities rise,

"The morning lights,

"The streets that meet them,

"And sirens call them on

"With a song."

Sirens and streets. Doesn’t sound like a wholly un-authoritarian view of the UK’s EU-free future to me.

"It’s asking for the taking,

"Trembling, shaking,

"Oh, my heart is aching."

A reference to the elderly nature of many of the UK’s eurosceptics, perhaps?

"We’re coming to the edge,

"Running on the water,

"Coming through the fog,

"Your sons and daughters."

I feel like this is something to do with the hosepipe ban.

"We the great and small,

"Stand on a star,

"And blaze a trail of desire,

"Through the dark’ning dawn."

Everyone will have to speak this kind of English in the new Jerusalem, m'lady, oft with shorten’d words which will leave you feeling cringéd.

"It’s asking for the taking.

"Come run with me now,

"The sky is the colour of blue,

"You’ve never even seen,

"In the eyes of your lover."

I think this means: no one has ever loved anyone with the same colour eyes as the EU flag.

I'm a mole, innit.