Nigel Slater: English heritage

Jane Grigson wrote this newspaper's cookery column for more than 20 years. She brought with her an open mind, sound recipes and a scholarly wit. Jane was a great champion of English food, and of its producers, its retailers and its cooks. Part of her support for it came in the form of a book, English Food, which she wrote in 1974 and updated in 1979. It became a classic.

English Food not only catalogued the more well known recipes but also held forgotten gems - Jane's research was exhaustive. Indeed, many of the recipes are both rare and remarkable. Lamb's head and barley with brain sauce, turkey neck pudding, tongue and mushroom Crumble probably raised as many eyebrows then as they would now. Of course, I could be wrong - perhaps you eat this kind of thing all the time.

Jane was far more supportive of English cooking than I am. I believe it is the quality of our (best) produce rather than our national cooking that is worth celebrating. If so many of our recipes have disappeared I suspect it is simply that some of them weren't that nice in the first place. Brown Windsor soup and tapioca pudding, anyone? But Jane's research unearthed little-known treasures such as eel cooked with cream and cider from Somerset and a caraway-seed cake with almonds from Yorkshire. All are worth eating.

The recipes in English Food are rich in cream and sugar. I make no criticism, but simply point out that our cooking has changed. But much of her cooking still sounds new and fresh: a warm scallop salad with salad greens, wild duck with apricot stuffing, a purée of peas with green peppercorns.

I do believe she would be thrilled by the continuing success of the artisan food producers she so tirelessly encouraged, the resurgence of farmer's markets and most of all by the swell of interest in organic food. All of this she would have celebrated in this column. If Jane were alive today I like to think she might have shared my puzzlement at the appeal of East-meets-West and 'fusion' food and my disdain for 'Michelin' cooking with its frothy soups, foie gras and drizzles of truffle oil. But then Jane's mind was never closed.

What we will never know is whether she would have shared my enthusiasm for cheap noodle bars, supermarket sushi, street-corner cappuccinos and pastrami on rye. I suspect that she might. Not that it would have dampened her love for steak, kidney and oyster pie or any of the 200 or so recipes in her English Food . I feel certain Jane would have approved of the new edition, with its simple green cover and introduction by her daughter Sophie. Whether she would have shared my approval of the pizza bike is another matter.

The following recipes are taken from Jane Grigson's joyous collection of recipes in English Food.

Leg of lamb stuffed with crab

Do not be nervous of this strange-sounding combination: it is delicious, as the crab gives a buttery tasting piquancy to the meat, and it is not the least bit fishy. Remember that in the past meat was often stuffed with oysters or even cockles, and that anchovy essence still goes into our Melton Mowbray pork pies.

I will tell you how this recipe was invented. It's a habit of foreigners in a strange country to jeer at the food. An English traveller in Italy once complained of the lack of bubble and squeak. I suppose it is a sense of insecurity, of the closed mind. This being so, it is not surprising that when our friend Guy Mouilleron, then at the Cafe Royal, found himself one evening with a group of French chefs, the conversation turned to the odd habits of the English. Fancy, one of them said, they even eat lamb with crab! General laughter. Without further suggestions he produced this delicious combination. I did not have the heart to tell him that many English people would be as shocked as his French friends were at the idea, and that the combination was left behind in the early 19th century. [Serves about 6].

1 large leg of lamb (tunnel-boned by the butcher)

salt, pepper


carrots, diced


onions, chopped


1 large stick of celery, sliced


300ml dry white wine


300ml lamb stock


1 tsp curry powder


150ml double cream

Stuffing:

1 boiled crab, about 750g in weight

1/2 tsp curry powder


1 tbsp chopped fresh mint


3 egg yolks


salt, pepper

Use the bones from the lamb to make the lamb stock. Season the leg inside and out. To make the stuffing, remove the crabmeat from the crab - with patience and application you will get 250g-300g. This is a fiddly job, I know, but frozen crab will not be nearly so good. Mix with the remainder of stuffing ingredients, fill the lamb cavity and sew it up.

Chop enough carrots and onions, in roughly equal quantity, to make a good layer in the bottom of a self-basting roaster or similar dish. Add the celery and season everything well. Place the lamb on top. Cover with a lid or double foil, and leave in an oven, gas 180 C/gas mark 4, for 2 hours or until the lamb is cooked. Transfer it to a roasting tin and put it back in the oven to brown while you make the sauce. To do this, pour the wine and stock on to the bed of vegetables in the braising pan. Set it over a good heat, and bring to the boil, stirring well to scrape up all the meaty bits. Simmer for 5 minutes, then strain into a saucepan. Skip off any surplus fat, add the curry powder and finally the cream. Correct the seasoning, and heat through thoroughly before pouring into a hot sauceboat. Serve with hot buttered noodles.

Oldbury Gooseberry Pies

Every year a neighbour makes these little raised pies with her early gooseberries. She had the recipe from a farmer's wife at Sheperdine, near Oldbury on Severn, as she liked them so much when she was visiting. After the first edition of English Food , I had a letter from a reader, Miss MJ Squier, whose mother had come from Oldbury. Every summer she helped her make these pies. She always left them overnight so the pastry became quite hard before cooking. [Makes 6].

500g plain flour

125g butter


125g lard


5 tbsps water


250g gooseberries


250g demerara sugar

Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Chop in the butter and lard into small pieces. Bring the water to the boil and tip on to the fats, stirring briskly until they dissolve. Gradually stir in the flour to make malleable, not too stiff dough, which has a slightly waxy look.

Using the dough in batches, roll it out thinly and cut circles with the aid of a saucer. Bring up the sides almost 2.5cm, pressing and moulding the pastry to form cases. Fill with gooseberries and sugar. Cut smaller circles for the lids. Brush the pastry edges with water and fix the lids in place. Cut small central holes for steam to escape. Leave overnight in a cool place for the pastry to harden (this can be hurried up by putting them in the fridge until dry and very firm). Bake at 200 C/ gas mark 6 for 25-30 minutes.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.