Monday, November 26, 2007

Revisiting Jane Grigson

I found a persimmon haiku in Jane Grigson's Fruit Book, a literary cookbook that has been reissued this year. I was browsing through the persimmon section, reading what Jane says, since we still have a giant bowl full of them--even though I've given bags away to three of my friends. Jane did extensive research into the origins of different fruits and their varieties, and has many obscure stories about fruits in this book, as well as recipes, some contemporary, some centuries old. But after all, she recommends just eating them fresh, which I will continue to do. I happen to like the cover art for my edition (the 1982 one) of this cookbook, too, so I had fun playing around with my freshly purchased Comice pears and Pink Lady apples.
This haiku is by Issa:

Wild persimmons
The mother eating
The bitter part.

Jane Grigson has some other wonderful cookbooks besides this one: The Vegetable Book, Good Things, English Food, and The Observer Guide to British Cookery, of which I have a signed copy. I was working in London in 1983 as an au pair for a family. The mother worked at the Observer magazine, and she was doing a big food series with Jane. The articles were extracted from the British Cookery book, and the mother I was working for gave me a signed copy. I never met Jane--and it's too late now because she died in 1990--but I liked hearing stories about her. Jane had a fondness for photos of cooked dishes, which my employer always tussled with Jane about. As a photo editor, she looked for good photos. She liked the photos of people in the landscape, harvesting Irish sea urchins in Kenmare, or the butchers in their shop in Darlington, rather than the photos of a brown pot of brown stew. I have to say she was right; I love looking at the photos in British Cookery. The book is a journey through different parts of England, focusing on local purveyors, seafood harvesters, farmers, and traditional recipes. I have to say I haven't delved into the recipes much. "Jugged Hare with Forcemeat Balls" and "Eel Pie" never really inspired me, and British cookery doesn't exactly have a stellar reputation. But I took a look through it again and found some wonderful, unusual recipes. I am making a vow to explore some of them this holiday season.

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