Top critical review
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Lovely book, don't like the Penguin edition, folks
on 7 February 2011
"English Food" is one of the classics, and anyone interested in regional and historic recipes will want a copy. Packed with ideas, rich in detail both ancient and modern, a treasure-house of good things, reading this book is like having a fascinating, amusing friend come and stay with you for a weekend. Not all the recipes are traditional; some are modern, coming from restauranteurs well known at the time Grigson was writing. The background notes are chatty and anecdotal rather than coherent and thorough; the recipes vary in quality, some making ones eyebrows shoot rapidly upwards in surprise. The reason why, dear lady, parsnips and courgettes have not previously been used together in English cooking is that the first are in season from October to March, and the second from May to September. Yes, we can buy them flown in from abroad, but is this what we want to do?
HOWEVER, delightful as Grigson's text is, the Penguin edition is infuriating. Not only is the print tiny and hard to read on very poor-quality paper, but there are other irritations; a pointless mixture of fonts, capital letters printed in white on black squares, useful footnotes condemned to EVEN SMALLER PRINT, production values that mean any attempt to get the book to lie flat results in pages detaching themselves - this I can do without. After owning the book for several years, I found I hadn't actually used it once, and realised it was because of these problems. I'll be trading it in for a vintage hardback.
To pay a relatively large sum for a book so poorly produced is galling. It didn't use to be the case. I still use another Penguin cookbook, Elizabeth Ayrton's The Cookery of England, which I bought in 1977; the pages are now shaded tan with age and there are plenty of gravy stains, but it remains easily readable and lies flat. I can strongly recommend it as a companion volume.