The online magazine
dedicated to the
discussion & revival
of British foodways.


Our Reluctant Correspondent likes Jane Grigson, visits farmers’ markets & cooks sorrel soup.

English-cottage.jpgI am not a confident cook. For that matter I am a reluctant writer. Cooking does not come easily to me and it is very far from Joy. Adding to the intimidation factor, I have a family full of talented cooks (one of them is my husband). Because of the way things have turned out, however, or thanks to some perverse cosmic notion of fun, it is I who have had to do the cooking most of the time.

Fishes.jpgI have twin daughters who are fairly grown up now. I have to say it is thanks to them that I have managed to learn to make a few things really quite well (I can’t believe I’m saying that). When they were eleven years old they both decided to become pescatarians and have remained true to their decision.

At a very young age the girls would eat practically nothing but pasta. We used to tell people that, no, they were not picky eaters, they ate all sorts of different foods (that is, spaghetti, ravioli, rigatoni… you get the picture).

When they became near vegetarians their restricted diet created a bit of a paradox; their horizons expanded. They have become the diametric opposites of their former culinary selves. Nowadays they will try almost anything (not meat) and I find it fun, if not cosmically, to experiment on them.

To my delight, my daughters have become my great cooking cheerleaders. They have so appreciated their food when I manage to come through with something decent that I couldn’t help but try even harder each next time.

Jane-Grigson-Vegetable-Book.jpgThey motivated me to look around for new ingredients (perhaps enough now of parental oozing). I discovered farmers’ markets and beautiful new vegetables that they offered. Among those unfamiliar things; sorrel, kohlrabi and fiddlehead ferns. Well, that is a bit of a fib. I learned about fiddleheads from The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and my education about most of the other ancient and exotic vegetables (at least in my mind) came courtesy of an author other than Stephen King. I found them in a wonderful book that I had received as a gift from the Editor: Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book.

At this point, I just have to say that Mrs. Grigson’s writing has done more than guide me through these experimental years in the kitchen. She has helped me survive what I might call some rather intense intervals. A few pages of her serene prose would put me back on the mellow (almost) every time.

It seemed to me that whenever I came across a vegetable that I had no idea how to cook or a vegetable whose name I never even knew, it was Mrs. Grigson who gave me the story. Hers is more than a mere cookbook. She delves into the history of each vegetable and describes its varied uses by different cultures.

Mrs. Grigson cured me of my ignorance and boosted my confidence (maybe a little; the bar was pretty low) as a cook.

Sorrel.jpgAnd so to sorrel. On an April day at the farmers’ market everyone was in a tizzy about the sorrel. Local chefs were looking at sorrel with ravenous eyes and the word was out that the season’s supply was limited. (According to Ms. Grigson it is available from March to November)  So of course I greedily grabbed handfuls of the stuff. And when I got home I had no idea what to do with all the wonderful greens.

You know the rest. I turned to Mrs. Grigson. She wrote that she

“learnt the advantages of sorrel in France, where every garden however small--or at least every garden in Touraine and Anjou –has a patch of it as close to the kitchen door as possible. We often visit one friend in the early evening, after she has finished working away at her ‘ruin’, an old farm cottage, or rather two cottages, barn and wine cave, that she has hauled back into life from a rapacity of brambles and nettles. We talk round the kitchen table, door open, or under the lime tree if it is hot. We smile at each other across pots of wild flowers, a scatter of crayons, pebbles, shells, matchstick models. Suddenly reviving, she remembers food and rushes to the nearest corner of the vegetable patch to grab a couple of handfuls of sorrel. In a quarter of an hour we are eating a lively soup, fresh and agreeably sharp, that she has made with the minimum of trouble.”

Speaking of having to revive oneself, I had to pry myself away from this lovely scene, my newfound friend and her lovely “ruin” to think about making dinner. Ah well (sounds of sighing). I then decided to take Mrs. Grigson’s advice and make soup. She got her recipe from Margaret Costa and unlike so many food writers is courteous enough always to confer credit where it is due. The soup a la Grigson via Costa delighted my girls. It emerged a beautiful green and had the lovely look and texture of velvet.  I will admit (in confidence) that I might have actually enjoyed making it thanks to Mrs. Grigson and my amazing emulsion device.

The device is a Braun Multiquick Deluxe Hand Blender and Chopper. I bought it on Amazon and I don’t think they are available for purchase anymore, but I’ve had quite a few different brands like Cuisinart and Farberware and they all performed well. I have always spent under $50.  I do not own a large food processor or a blender; for my needs these little hand blenders do a superb job.

I must say that I pretty much followed the recipe in Ms. Grigson’s book except for the nutmeg--sorry we do not favor nutmeg. I substituted vegetable for her chicken broth (pescatarian twins) and half-and-half for her double, or heavy, cream to lighten things up. In addition, I used my hand blender instead of a conventional countertop blender. I found that with the hand blender I could puree all the soup in one pot instead of breaking it up into small batches.

My own version of Jane Grigson’s recipe for ‘Margaret Costa’s Green Soup’ appears in the practical.