Susie Rushton: Ms Grigson's recipe for female liberation

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

Life is too short to stuff a mushroom. But did Shirley Conran ever try sieving a potato? Probably not; she wrote that famous line back in 1975 when, as everybody knows, there were endless fun things for a busy superwoman to get up to on a Saturday night, like swallowing drugs at a David Bowie gig or protesting Vietnam in a loud flowery-printed smock, or watching Al Pacino's latest movie. Well, things have changed, Shirl. The feminist war mightn't yet be won, but the remaining battles are in public life and the workplace, not the kitchen. There's no shame in stuffing a mushroom any more – only in doing it badly.

I know this because every time I switch on the TV a pair of smug presenters is ironically growing their own cabbages or unironically pickling a pumpkin whole. When they're not on the allotment, telly gourmands are in the studio-kitchen swooning over the difficulty of making a perfectly oblong-shaped potato fondant.

Why couldn't I too become a vegetable-cooking genius? Then I came across a copy of the late Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book in a cookshop. An encyclopaedia of roots and legumes, dense in text and unaccompanied by glossy pictures, it is a brilliant treasure of history, recipes, and practical advice, arranged alphabetically from artichokes to yams, via the obscure delights of hop shoots and orache. For each veg, the well-travelled Grigson delivers a fascinating scrap of detail about its use in the medieval age or a snippet of advice from some French housewife or Israeli greengrocer she has met. First published in 1978, (the same era as Conran, you'll note, but I guess Jane, then the food writer for the Observer magazine, probably thought merely stuffing a mushroom a little gauche), the book is still frequently pillaged for ideas by contemporary food writers and chefs.

My attitude to cooking vegetables had been: take out of bag, put in pan, simmer until floppy. Grigson's book has been a revelation. The recipes aren't hard, it's just that she encourages you to cook things you'd never bother with, and take more care in preparation. For instance, she writes that you shouldn't peel potatoes before cooking them, but rather slide the hot skins off once they're done – retaining more flavour. (Highly painful to execute, but true.) And what sort of mad gadget is a mouli-legume? Also on the matter of archaic equipment, for fine slicing she advises me to invest in a mandolin (not a stringed instrument, I discover, but a giant razor blade that is guaranteed to one day slice off my fingertips).

So in the spirit of Julie & Julia, the movie in which a hapless amateur cook sets out to make everything in Julia Childs' book on French cookery, I am spending this winter working through Grigson's exhaustive 600-page study. Not all efforts so far have produced tasty results. Satuday's soupe à la citrouille (pumpkin soup) was bland beyond my wildest imaginings. Picture a liquid made from orange-coloured wool, slightly milky at the edges, with no scent; I ate it out of politeness to myself. The weekend before, potato cakes, Orléans-style, had promised so much. For 40 minutes I patiently pushed soft, cooked spuds through a sieve with the back of a spoon, making a bowl of potato fluff which I then kneaded into a dough with butter, as per Jane's instructions. The cakes looked lovely and golden, and tasted foul. Really, who knew that mixing potato and butter – two resplendent flavours, foolproof in combination, you'd think – could pass for fried, congealed wallpaper paste?

But the triumphs – beetroot gratin, made with parmesan and cream; celeriac remoulade, which puts coleslaw in the shade for ever; the grandly-titled Goethe's turnips with chestnuts – have made up for the missteps. I wouldn't make them after a day at work, the first-wave feminist objection to fiddly, time-consuming food preparation. But if you think vegetables are boring or don't know what to do with the greens and squashes piled up in the supermarkets right now, I urge you to look up Grigson's book. Life is too short not to.

Happy 50th, Doctor Marten

Boot of choice for punks and goths in the 1970s, by the time I got my first pair of Doctor Martens in the early 1990s (cherry red, just the eight holes, obviously, I wasn't a psychopath) the brand had already sold out. Fourteen-year-old girls wore DMs not to be independent but because they wanted to belong to a gang, and maybe snog an indie-kid boy with floppy hair who wore matching boots.

We threaded coloured beads on the laces and stencilled hideous hippyish flowers on them, but they remained stubbornly ugly. Sometimes we wore them with school uniform, which wasn't strictly against the rules, because the rule book had been written 20 years before and banned "white shoes and slingbacks", which none of us would be seen dead in. Fifty years old this week, you'll hear and read a lot of rubbish about the DM boots' uninterrupted association with subculture and rebellion. I think my parents even paid for mine.





At home in Belo Horizonte

Best known to England football fans as the scene of a monumental humiliation at the hands of an inferior American side at the 1950 World Cup, the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte is moving out of the shadow of its bigger, ritzier rivals. The nation's sixth biggest city, of 2.5 million citizens, its name means, rather wonderfully, "beautiful horizon"; in the 1940s, its wide avenues and pleasant layout were designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

Far inland, it doesn't have beaches, though, and no legendary Carnival, meaning international tourists pass by on their way to explore Rio de Janeiro or the inland capital. But BH, as it is known to inhabitants, must be getting something right. It already produced Juscelino Kubitschek, president back in the 1950s, who constructed the capital Brasilia and oversaw a period of accelerated growth; now another citizen of Belo Horizonte, Dilma Rousseff, has been elected the country's first female President. The New York Times noted that "off-the-radar hotspot" Belo Horizonte is the bar capital of Brazil, where "every night of the year seems to have something of a party feel". Expect England fans to feel right at home in 2014, despite bad memories.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'