Jane Grigson's Fruit Book by Jane Grigson
|Jane Grigson's Fruit Book by Jane Grigson|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: If this was the only cookery book I possessed we would still eat superbly. Just about every imaginable fruit is covered with recipes for sweet and savoury dishes. There's also information about the origins of the fruits and some seductive writing to boot. The only drawback is that most recipes are for six people.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 528||Date: April 2000|
|Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd|
Delia Smith taught me to put food on the table, but two people have influenced more than any others the way that I buy and prepare food. They're Nigel Slater and his predecessor as the Observer food writer, the incomparable Jane Grigson. I indulged myself at Amazon last year and bought "Jane Grigson's Fruit Book", first published in 1982, but republished in the Penguin Cookery Library in 2000. I was going to say that it's as relevant today as it was when it was published, but I think it's actually more relevant today given the poor choice of fruit provided by the supermarkets.
The format is very simple: think of a fruit and it will be there in alphabetical order. If it might be known under a different name - Chinese Gooseberry/Kiwi fruit for example - then it will be cross-referenced and to tie it all together there's a very comprehensive index. Each fruit is considered in real depth. Let's take apples as an example.
We start with some interesting facts about the history of the apple and even some speculation that the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was actually a banana rather than an apple. The discussion about the best apple variety is knowledgeable and comes down in favour of Cox's Orange Pippin, Blenheim Orange or Orleans Reinette, but only if the Cox's is of the standard that it was many years ago. She doubts that Mr Cox would recognise his apple these days. "Our growers have turned the richness of the Cox into a boring crunch ... all the smart packaging in the world will not disguise its descent." She laments the fact that supermarkets want every food to be as "cheap and inoffensive" as every other similar food. There's a woman after my own heart!
She separates apples into eight different groups according to their individual characteristics and gives advice on choosing and preparing them. Then we get to the recipes. Like me you probably thought that a book on fruit would be about pudding/dessert recipes. I was certainly wrong. There are recipes for every course of the meal, ranging through a Waldorf-type salad, apples stuffed with a spicy beef filling, Normandy pork, apple and horseradish sauce and more desert recipes than you can shake a stick at. When I read a book of this type I leave slips of paper in as markers for recipes that I want to try - I gave up with this book because I had a marker in just about every page!
In amongst all this you'll find quotes from books, sometimes going back for centuries, frequently translated from a foreign language and topped off with some rather lovely - and relevant - poetry.
Now, think of this being done for every fruit you can imagine. I tried dreaming up exotic fruits to see if they were there. I tried cherimoya, medlar, mangosteen and physalis. They're all there. Mrs Grigson admits that she hasn't included the durian, mainly because it couldn't be brought out of Pakistan at the time. (It's more widely available now.) The variety of fruits is breathtaking. The depth of research which backs up what she has to say is amazing.
At the end of the book is an appendix and this is an absolute gold mine. There are one or two miscellaneous items such as which wines go with which fruit, along with excellent sections on fruit preserves, pastry, biscuits, bread, creams and sugars. On the front cover there's a recommendation from Loyd Grossman: "If you were marooned on a desert island ... this would be the book to have". Personally, I think it would be frustrating to have this book and no means of producing the food, but if it was the only recipe book in my kitchen we wouldn't go hungry. In fact, we'd eat very well indeed.
When I read books this well-researched I usually find that they're hard going - learned books written for learned people. Well this book isn't like that at all. The writing can only be described as seductive. She's the master of the telling phrase: "a strawberry that becomes acquainted with water loses its virtue". You're drawn in, wanting to know what's next. When the book was published her views were ahead of her time: even today she'd be a forward thinker, wanting quality rather than quantity and diversity rather than being "reduced to a steady bottom of horticultural plonk" as provided by the supermarkets. Her writing isn't as easy on the brain as Nigel Slater's, but she's more accessible than Elizabeth David.
As a writer Mrs Grigson was never frightened of pointing out the truth. She maintained that the most flavoursome bananas were those from the Canary Islands and was taken to task by a major banana-importing company because only 5% of its imports came from the Canaries. Sadly it's probably much less than that these days - the last time I tasted them was when I was in Madeira.
One of the things that I love about this book is that there are no glossy pictures of food that's been artfully arranged and carefully lit. The only illustrations are exquisite line drawings in black and white of the individual fruits done by Yvonne Scargon. They're only about two or three inches square and they complement the text perfectly without intruding. I often feel that large colour photographs in cookery books are there to pad out a flimsy text. There's definitely no need for that in this book.
I didn't find any recipes which I thought complicated or which required a lengthy shopping list before you could start. Just occasionally she uses a cookery term which might not be in common usage - she talks for instance of "larding the pheasant" - but what she means is obvious from the context - in this case covering the pheasant's breast with lard to stop it drying out. This isn't necessarily a book that I would recommend to a complete beginner, but if you've reached the stage of wanting to put quality fresh food on the table then I think you'd get a lot out of it. All quantities are given in metric, imperial and American cups. You can use any version, but don't mix them. Temperatures are for gas, centigrade and Fahrenheit.
Some cookery books live in the kitchen. This isn't one of them. It's the book that sits at the side of my bed and I'll dip into it if I can't sleep. In the early hours of this morning I was reading about oranges and we'll be having an Andalusian Tart for pudding this weekend. That's a pastry base covered with cooked apples and topped with slices of orange and cooked in the oven. I shall serve it with ice cream, I think!
I've only one quibble with the book and that's that most of the recipes cater for six people and sometimes more. This is fine if we're entertaining but the majority of the food in the book is glorious everyday food rather than dinner party fare. Recipes can be reduced, but you do need to have some knowledge before you do it and this effectively limits the number of people who will get value from the book.
If this book appeals to you, then you might also enjoy From Anna's Kitchen by Anna Thomas.
You can read more book reviews or buy Jane Grigson's Fruit Book by Jane Grigson at Amazon.com.
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I would still give this 5 stars; but what I have actually discovered is that she is bit poor on British 'wild food' - eg. rosehips, rowan, elder etc. - maybe because there is only few preserves in there?
My favourite bit is actually the end, with all the biscuits and pastry!
I mainly collect blackberries wild and I thought they were well covered, but I take your point about the other fruits. I do agree about the baking section at the back - it's a gold mine!