Jane Grigson’s British Cookery

To compile this cookbook, Jane Grigson toured England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, collecting recipes that rely on local products. She takes her reader with her on her travels, introducing him or her to chefs and writers, restaurants and castles, farms and groceries, many of which are beautifully pictured here in color photographs, as are some of the foods she enjoyed. An armchair cook can learn much about the topography and history--as well as the cuisine--of Great Britain, and the book can also serve as a guide for the prospective tourist.

The recipes are presented clearly, with all the needed ingredients listed at the beginning and the steps explained well. As one might expect from island cookery, fish plays a large role. The book also includes many recipes based on dairy products--Welsh rarebit, Gloucestershire cheese and ale, clotted cream. Though the cooking is distinctly from the British Isles, it is not insular; recipes for creme brulee and tarragon beef suggest the Continental influence.

Because the book was written for a British audience, American cooks must pay close attention to the front matter, especially the glossary and table of equivalents. Otherwise, one may waste time hunting for fish fingers or vegetable paper. Also, measurements that look deceptively familiar may not be. A British tablespoon of butter equals two American tablespoons, though a British tablespoon of water translates directly to a single American tablespoon. British pints are four ounces larger than their American cousins. Grigson advises, “To convert a British pint to American, multiply by five and divide by six.” So keep a calculator next to the pudding basin. Aside from the language and the measures, the ingredients may occasionally be hard to find. The book offers suggestions for substitutions, but where is one to find ackee or green ginger wine?

Despite these problems, this book shows that British cookery does not deserve its reputation for mediocrity. It also shows that a cookbook can be as enjoyable in the living room as in the kitchen.