Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Jane Grigson's English Food, part one

It took months of searching, but I finally got English Food from Powell's Books.

I am 59 pages into a 373 page book, not including the index. It's fascinating reading. Like Elizabeth David, Grigson is a meticulous historian. If, like me, you were always stumped by Welsh Rarebit, Welsh Rabbit, and pease porridge, this is the book for you. Now good luck finding it. Should you, like me, finally score a copy, feeling like you managed to smuggle Tropic of Cancer through US customs, you'll long for Grigson's full, equally elusive ouevre.

Grigson's discussion of eating habits in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries brought home what kiddies we stateside folk are. The Colonists arrived at a relatively recent hour in history, and did their best to replicate foods from home. Later immigrants followed suit. Hence our continuing difficulty defining "American" food. Yes, there are the Native American foods: corn, squash, beans, the turkey. Here is an interesting site with numerous Native recipes, divided by region. Few have entered the national cooking repetory. How many of us cook with raccoon, acorns, praire dogs, or woodchucks? And while you're busy cringing, stop and wonder why chickens and cows are considered desirable foods while the foregoing are not. Further, game, once a staple food for Natives and Colonizers alike, has become the expensive province of adventurous foodies or fortunate home hunters.

After a spate of colonialist guilt, I began considering my own cooking style. I grew up eating traditional Jewish foods, along with the limited vegetables available during the seventies in a place with long winters. So: briskit, chicken, chicken livers, cow liver, hamburgers, the occasional steak. Canned green beans, frozen peas and carrots, iceberg lettuce. Ethnic foods like gefilte fish and matzoh ball soup. We cooked in butter or chicken fat.

On leaving home and learning to cook, I acquired Jennie Grossinger's The Art of Jewish Cooking, Mildred Bellin's The Jewish Cook book, and various editions of The Joy of Cooking. I limped along with these for years, using the Jewish books more as touchstones for familiar dishes. Joy guided me in unfamiliar waters.

Then I met somebody who was a wonderful cook. She subscribed to Gourmet, used garlic and lemons, and had one of the most exotic cookbooks I'd ever seen: Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I borrowed her copy, then went out and bought myself one at Arcata's Tin Can Mailman. My cooking journey, peculiarly American in its global scope, had begun.

I bought my first Laurie Colwin books in the same bookstore, but did not find Home Cooking and More Home Cooking until later. My copies, in constant use, are falling apart. It was Colwin, with her professed love of English foods, that turned me on to both Barbara Pym and Jane Grigson. A quick check of More Home Cooking shows Jane cited six times. Thus, in the grand tradition of reading your favorite writer's favorite writers, I have found Jane Grigson.

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There is lots and lots to talk about, and if I continue here, Hockeyman will yell about needing to divide up the post. Thus isinglass eggs, the argument for unpasteurized dairy, the concept of savory (savoury, that is) puddings will have to wait, and stylistic revelations will have to wait.

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