Saturday, March 10, 2007

An irresistible book, even at £18

On 15 June last year, Adrian Weston wrote this comment – "Can I urge you to read Honey From A Weed by the late great Patience Gray? I think you would like it as a piece of prose and it would sit well with its companions on your shelf."

Maybe my public library's copy was out on loan at that time. Anyway I didn't borrow the book until last month.

Subtitled Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia, illustrated with drawings by Corinna Sargood, and published by Prospect Books in 2002 [first published in 1986] at £17.99, it's the most delightful book I've read in ages. Although I am of the generation who regard £18 as serious money, I have ordered it from a St Peter Port bookshop.

I could buy it for less from Amazon but I want to see Guernsey's four independent bookshops survive. At Amazon UK there is the following review by Adrian Weston – "Patience Grey was a wonderful writer who devoted most of her life (it seems) to feeding 'the sculptor' rather than writing. Always in pursuit of the perfect stone for his work they ended up in various far-flung corners of the Midi and Patience crafted exquisite and simple food from weeds with no utensils. And then she crafted the food-writing equivalent of Manna from the experience. Honey from A Weed is a beautiful, beautiful piece of prose, a document of now-vanished mediterranean rusticity and tantalising to the taste buds. A book everyone should find a space for on their shelves - I love it unreservedly."

And another reviewer wrote - "Honey from a weed is no ordinary book. It's not a cookery book, a history book, or a travel book, but something of all three. Gray has lived around the Mediterranean for 40-odd years, and knows several of its cultures - particularly Greece, Catalonia and Italy - deeply. She writes mostly about peasant food, and how it is shaped by the economy and geography of the regions where it develops - religious fasting in the Greek islands, for instance, takes place at a time when historically food was scarce, for instance. She has also gathered extremely useful information on wild plants and herbs and their names in many different languages and dialects. She is a hugely knowledgeable, scholarly but entertaining writer."

There is also praise from Theodora Fitzgibbon - "It is not like any other book written in the past 50 years and its memory will stay forever" and Jane Grigson [Times Literary Supplement December 26 1986] wrote – "Beyond the many unusual and simple recipes, this book is a summary of the best kinds of Mediterranean experience. Gray's perceptions are of a depth that is beyond the most ardent traveller."

How I missed it in 1986 is a mystery, but perhaps that was the year we spent a good deal of time exploring the Caribbean with a view to moving to one of the islands.

The sculptor with whom Patience Gray shared her life was Norman Mommens. Earlier she had had a career in Fleet Street after beating, in 1958, 1,000 applicants for the job of putting together the women's page on the Observer.

I am now in pursuit of three other books she wrote. Plats du Jour, Ringdoves and Snakes, and Work Adventures, Childhood Dreams.

Do make time to read Patience Gray's obituaries in The Telegraph and
The Guardian.

When my copy of Honey From A Weed arrives, I intend to print them out and paste them to the flyleaves. Thank you for your recommendation, Adrian.

I'll be taking tomorrow off. Back on Monday.


At 18 March, 2007, Blogger Adrian Weston said...

Plats du jour is more of a period piece - a 50s cookbook with utterly fantastic illustrations by David Gentleman. I am very fond of my exceedingly faded penguin paperback copy - but I do recall someone issuing a posh facsimile edition in hardback recently (ie in the last decade). It's well worth getting and is very readable.

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