An Englishwoman adds fruit to her cookbook series
Lobster and peaches have little to say to each other, according to Jane Grigson, an English writer who has done considerable research about fruit and its affinities in her new cookbook.
Mrs. Grigson has found through experience that imaginative and unusual combinations of food need to make sense, to be reasonably practical, and most of all, to have good taste.
''I really hate trendy foods,'' she said, ''and peaches and lobsters don't go together well, even though they are both nice foods.''
But the recipes in her newest cookbook have something to say to each other and will speak well to many palates.
''Jane Grigson's Fruit Book,'' a companion to ''Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book'' (Atheneum, $19.95), is illustrated by Yvonne Skargon and has a glossary in the American edition by Judith Hill.
''I like fruit because there's something happy about it,'' Mrs. Grigson said in an interview in her New York publisher's office. This was her first visit to the United States but her seventh cookbook. She has written books on mushrooms, fish, charcuterie, English food, and other subjects.
''People joke more about fruit than any other kind of food,'' she said. ''Every country has its slightly ridiculous fruit, it seems - and it's such a handy food - you can eat it out of hand, sometimes just pick it off the tree or bush.
''It's available to everyone, whether it's wild fruit or berries or grown in the backyard. For many years it has been the hobby of elegant gardeners. It seems always to belong to a more graceful part of life,'' she said.
Writing cookbooks has not always been a way of life for Mrs. Grigson, who says her husband, Geoffrey, a poet, author, and anthologist, is the writer in the family.
''Geoffrey is not only a poet,'' she said. ''He dabbles in lots of things. He got me interested in hunting wild mushrooms.''
Jane Grigson was born and brought up in northeast England; she got a degree in English at Cambridge University and then worked in art galleries, in publishing, and as a translator.
When her work took her to France for three months each year she started to think seriously about food. ''But I came by food writing quite by accident,'' she said.
The first cookbook came from an idea she gave to a publisher that someone should explain all the interesting things found in the French charcuterie shops. It turned out to be her own first cookbook, ''The Art of Charcuterie.''
The Grigsons live in a 17th-century farmhouse in Wiltshire, in southern England, where they enjoy gardening and grow quince, pear, and medlar trees, and she does a lot of food testing.
They spend four months each year in northern France, in Troo, in a home of theirs that is in a cave - with an incredible view.
''Geoffrey wrote a book about painted caves and shortly after we received a letter about this cave with the view that could be bought for a small sum,'' she said. ''It was a long time ago.''
The cave has an added-on front ''house,'' and the original limestone dwelling is the master bedroom and cellar. Until a few years ago there was no electricity and the kitchen had a camp gas burner for a stove.
In New York on her first visit, Mrs. Grigson was introduced to the press by James Beard, the food writer, who gave a luncheon for her at his Greenwich Village town house.
Food writers of magazines, newspapers, and other media mingled up and down stairs from the glass-enclosed conservatory balcony to rooms lined with books, mostly on cooking; to rooms with food objects such as a handsome collection of faience and amusing pigs of all sizes; to the first floor kitchen, scene of the famous James Beard cooking classes.
Food served at Mr. Beard's buffet included fruit in every dish. There was prosciutto curled around melon, apple, and pear; shrimps with pink grapefruit; a chicken salad with fresh grapes; and wonderful tiny fruit tarts with just three fresh raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries in each.
Jane Grigson's cookbooks are a pleasure to read. There are well-chosen history and lore about each fruit, an occasional quotation from literature and poetry, some excellent recipes, and most of all a happy style of writing that is natural and often amusing.
In the fruit book she says she is intrigued by such things as where kiwi fruit comes from.
''We know New Zealand got the seeds from China,'' she said, ''but I can't find any reference to it in Chinese food history.
''I have never seen it in books about Chinese painting, or sliding round the edge of a decorated porcelain bowl.''
She tells of her search for the magnificent Montreuil peaches favored by Louis IV and Edward VII when he was in Paris.
And she reminds us that because we are so accustomed to the Golden Delicious apple, which never changes, it comes as a surprise that peaches from the same suppliers vary from year to year, since even from every tree the taste can range from tasteless to superb.
Sections in the new fruit book vary, with lists of the great cooking fruits, favorites when it comes to jams, pastries, drinks, and so on. Dried fruit is another matter, and makes another section of recipes.
There are the fruits that have been much liked for hundreds of years and new tropical fruits just now being added to our repertoire. ''How many people would have known what to do with a mango five years ago?'' she asks.
This author admits that raspberries and strawberries are rarely improved by cooking or complication, nor is the peach.
The new book includes recipes for 46 fruits from apples to watermelon, including all the familiar favorites such as oranges and bananas, and some less common varieties like carambala, lychee, passion fruit, medlar, and sapodilla.
There are chapters on mixed fruit recipes, pastry, preserves, breads, and fruit creams and sugars.
There is a Cauliflower Salad With Grapes and Walnuts and Baked Papaya With Ginger, Turbot With Orange, Quail With Slices of Quince, and Braised Veal With Grapefruit.
There are dozens of recipes for delicious desserts, including fruit tarts, pies, crumbles, and ice creams. All ingredients are given with the metric measurement first, followed by the American measurements in parentheses. British spoons are slightly larger than American ones, but with very small quantities the difference does not much matter. Here is one recipe from her book. Pineapple Upside-Down Pudding (Cake)
A splendid pudding when made with fresh pineapple, which lifts it right out of the second class. Resist the temptation to stick glace cherries into the holes of the pineapple slices; lightly toasted hazelnuts rubbed free of skin are more harmonious. I agree that you need something to bring the final appearance up to the taste.
For 6 to 8 people, I use an oval gratin dish of 2-liter (4 pints/10 cups) capacity, measuring 35 by 25 cm (14 by 10 inches). It takes a large pineapple, peeled and not too thickly cut, to cover it. Remove the central core from the slices and halve all except three slices to go in the center. Toast 60 g (2 ounces/1/2 cup) hazelnuts in the oven that you have switched on to heat up for the pudding. Rub off their skins.
Into the base of the gratin dish pour 60 g (2 ounces/1/4 cup) each of butter and sugar that you have melted together. Brush the mixture up the sides, then let it fall back. Put the pineapple slices on the base, with hazelnuts in the holes and gaps. Now mix with an electric beater or processor the following ingredients: 250 g (8 ounces/1 cup) soft butter 4 large eggs 250 g (8 ounces/1 cup) sugar 200 g (6 ounces/11/2 cups) self-raising flour 2 level teaspoons baking powder 50 g (2 ounces/1/2 cup) ground hazelnuts, or hazelnuts and almonds mixed Liquid left from cutting up pineapple
When smooth, spread over the pineapple evenly. Bake at gas 4, 180 degrees C. (350 degrees F.) for about 50 minutes, or until cooked - if you use a deeper dish than mine, it will take longer. The top should be a beautiful golden-brown. Run a knife blade round the edge of the pudding and turn it out on to a hot dish. If any nuts have moved out of place, put them back where you can and don't worry about the rest. Absolute precision is not always appetizing. Serve hot, warm, or cold.