from one generation to the next
The first book chosen for the Cookbook Guru in 2015 is Jane Grigson’s “Vegetable Book”.
With it’s companion “Fruit Book”, it is the oldest of my “modern” food texts. First published by Penguin in 1979, the format of the books resemble a paperback novel. A single simple line drawing describes each vegetable featured.
This unassuming book begins with artichoke and travels through the alphabet of European vegetables to watercress completed by an appendix of useful dressings, stuffings, sauces and batters. The recipes have roots in the traditional cookery of the Mediterranean and the British Isles. Many are incredibly simple, purely a guide to emphasising the specific vegetable with careful cooking and restrained seasoning.
Grigson openly acknowledges her sources of inspiration as food prepared by friends and meals she enjoyed while travelling. Peppered amongst the recipes for soups, salads, side dishes and main course are poems, anecdotes, and social history.
Grigson is writing for the home cook with basic equipment and average skills. She may lack the flourish of modern vegetable promotors with her emphasis on cooked rather than raw vegetables, but each recipe is clear and accurate. By current standards many of Grigson’s recipes may seem dull but the more you eat from this book, the clearer it becomes to you that she was a cook, a fine cook. Her principles are sound and her understanding of flavour nuanced making the recipes perfect to use as basic building blocks. Simplicity may be her key but there is nothing insipid about her food.
In the thirty plus years this book has been on my shelves, I’ve prepared twenty or more recipes from it. Some I’ve gone on to reinvent, some I now cook ad lib, others I repeatedly make exactly as Grigson prescribes. One old favourite from the Vegetable Book is the Tomato and Oatmeal Tart (p157). I posted a savoury tart using the amazing oatmeal pastry recipe in the early life of this blog. The tart has been a summer staple in our house for decades.
I must acknowledge Grigson as my guiding light in the preparation of eggplants (aubergines) at a time in Australia when generally it was only eaten by Greek and Italian immigrants. She taught me to stuff them with lamb (p59), make ratatouille (p52), caponata (p54) and imam bayaldi (p55), although today I rarely consult the recipes, her guiding principals still influence the way I prepare these dishes.
Grigson was a working women, a journalist. She understood budget constraints and the pressures of time, but she was a woman who loved food, who revelled in the preparation and eating of wholesome tasty meals. Her enthusiasm spills over into her writing.
Together, Jane Grigson’s Fruit and Vegetable Books won the prestigious Andre Simon memorial book fund award in 1982.