#44 | Good Taste
By Jane Green
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Jane Green: My name's Jane Green, and I'm here to talk about my cookbook Good Taste.
Suzy Chase: You have 18 novels. Every book is autobiographical in some way. How does Good Taste reflect you?
Jane Green: Well, it's not fiction, so even though my books do reflect my life, they always draw from my life and then spin off into their own stories. None of them are really my story. Actually, if anything, Good Taste, as a cookbook, is the most like me because, although I have stories in Good Taste, they are proper stories from my life. There's nothing that's thinly disguised as fiction. Every recipe is the kind of food that I cook, which is easy, delicious comfort food, because the truth is that I kind of feel that when you have people over to your house to serve them a meal, it's not really about the food. The food is largely irrelevant. It's about comfort, and warmth, and nurture, and feeding people the kinds of food that makes them feel safe, and nurtured, and loved. My cookbook is about that, and it's got stories from my life and also photographs of my home, and parties, and even sketches in the book are sketches that I drew myself. It's incredibly personal in a way that my novels never are.
Suzy Chase: Interestingly enough, this cookbook started out on the self-publishing track. What made you decide to launch it on Kickstarter?
Jane Green: My agent, actually, had worked with another author on Kickstarter, and she thought that it was a fascinating platform. I didn't think that any traditional publisher would be interested in a cookbook for me. Obviously, I'm a known quantity with novels, but not with cookbooks, so I thought, "Well, you know, if I do it myself, I can create something that's really beautiful and then, perhaps, the publishers will sit up and take interest if they can hold it in their hands." Kickstarter, it was really interesting as a platform to sell it through, so we sold it through Kickstarter. It also gave my readers an insight into the whole process, because you're very involved when you use something like Kickstarter. We asked people's opinion on all kinds of things in the book, including the cover. I think my readers had felt that they had, and in fact did have, a part in the process in a way they would never normally have with my books with Penguin Random House.
Suzy Chase: Yeah. You have such an enormous fan base. I bet they were all so excited to have a say in this.
Jane Green: Yes. I think they really were. It's one of the things that people still say to me when I'm on tour, that they really loved getting an insight into how books are published and what goes into it.
Suzy Chase: The holidays are upon us, and you're not a big fan of hors d'oeuvres, so when you have people over, what do you put out to snack on?
Jane Green: I think that so often over here we fill up on hors d'oeuvres. There are amazing hors d'oeuvres, but what that means is, by the time you sit down, you're not hungry and you don't appreciate the food in the same way. I have to just tell you, the very first wedding I ever went to in New York, it was a huge wedding in some very smart hotel. There must have been three or four hundred people. I'd never seen hors d'oeuvres like it. The hors d'oeuvres hour, the cocktail hour, went on for about an hour and a half. There were just trays, mountains of food, and stations, and sushi, and filet being carved. I ate until I was stuffed. Much to my horror, at the end of the hour and a half or couple of hours, one wall at the end of this room opened up to reveal a dining room, and we were then expected to go through and sit down and have a five-course meal.
Suzy Chase: Oh, my gosh.
Jane Green: Yes. It seemed like the most shocking waste of food. I decided then and there that hors d'oeuvres are sort of pointless. To answer your question, I tend to put out nuts. I have a recipe for spiced nuts in the book, which actually are delicious. People go crazy for them. I'll often put out some spiced nuts. Sometimes it's as simple as potato chips. Every now and then guilt gets to me, and I will succumb and I will put out a cheese platter, and people demolish it. Again, I would much rather they bring that appetite to the table.
Suzy Chase: Good Taste has a lot of one-pot dishes, a lot of casseroles, and every recipe has a story. How did you choose these particular recipes for the book?
Jane Green: I have to be really honest and say that they were, I think, my best ones. A lot of these recipes came from my mother, my grandmother. I created a number of them. There are recipes I've collected and adapted. I suppose the criteria was that they had to look and taste as if you have slaved over a hot stove for hours, but they have to be incredibly easy to make, because the truth is, we're all busy. We're all incredibly busy these days, and none of us has the time to cook. I went to culinary school. I went to the French Culinary Institute, and I learned to cook very fine French Food, but that isn't the kind of food that I'm interested in preparing for people when they come to my home, nor is it the kind of food that I have the time to prepare. I really wanted it to be easy, and I wanted people who don't cook to be able to cook from this book.
Suzy Chase: Dispel the English food myth for us.
Jane Green: It's interesting because whenever I hear people say these days, "Oh, English food is terrible, ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha," I always say, "Shh. Keep that quiet," because, actually, all that proves to anybody who knows is that you clearly haven't been, within the last 15 years, because the English food has changed incredibly. Some things I think we've always done really, really well. We've always done great stews, and casseroles, and steamed desserts, and sort of ... They're quite thick and stodgy, but sometimes in winter on cold nights, that's what you really want. The other thing is, we have incredibly talented chefs in England now. We have people like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver. The food, certainly in the cities in England is, I think, as good as anywhere else in the world, if not better.
Suzy Chase: Two of my favorite novels of yours are Jemima J and Mr. Maybe.
Jane Green: A lot of these sort of ridiculous scenes that happen ... well, not a lot, but some of them are drawn from my own life, and that's when the autobiographical element comes in. It's never my life completely, but these little, random stories often make their way in. Years ago, in my 20s, I had a new boyfriend and I hadn't met his friends. I was meeting them, and they were all coming over for dinner, and I decided to impress them tremendously by making a Thai green curry. Now, this was back in the very early '80s. There was no Thai green curry. There was no Thai food in London. It was back in the days when English food was pretty awful. Somehow, I got hold of a recipe, and I decided I was going to make this.
When I went out to buy the groceries, the recipe called for four large green peppers. I got to the grocery store and they didn't have any large green peppers. They only had these teeny, tiny peppers. I remember thinking, "Well, maybe four to six of these tiny peppers would equal one large one," so I bought over 20 of these tiny green peppers. Of course, they were the hottest peppers in the world. You would think that I would have realized because, as I was slicing them, the oil from the peppers was making the skin on my hands slide off practically. It was burning. I remember putting everything in the blender, and I could hardly get close to the blender because the waves of heat coming off. Nobody could eat it, but they all were terribly English about it. Someone kept saying, "Jane, mm, this is delicious," when, in fact, they were only eating the rice on the side. I did, I used that scene in Mr. Maybe.
Suzy Chase: I love that. You have a recipe for wild mushroom polenta in this cookbook. How and where did you end up making this recipe for Hugh Grant?
Jane Green: Ah. That was a few years ago. Well, I had a phone call from Parade magazine. They phoned up one day and said, "Jane, we know you're very busy, and we're huge fans of your work," and flattery, flattery. "Do you think that you might possibly have time next week to interview Hugh Grant for us?" Of course, I said, "Let me think about it. Yes," because all of my romantic heroes in my very early novels, which were much younger novels, Jemima J., and Mr. Maybe, and Straight Talking, all of those romantic heroes were based on some version of Hugh Grant. I then discovered that Hugh Grant is a very difficult interview. He doesn't like being interviewed. I phoned them back and said, "Well, instead of interviewing him, why don't I do something fun with him and write about it?" They said, "Yes, great. Sounds wonderful." I kept throwing these ideas at Hugh Grant's team of things I thought he might like doing, and they included playing golf and going to a pool hall. They kept saying, "No." Eventually, they said, "He wants to do something quiet." I said, "Well, I could cook dinner for him." It was really a last resort, but they came back saying, "Yes. Hugh says yes, you can cook dinner for him."
It ended up changing to lunch, and it ended up changing from New York to London because he was filming in London. I had to hop on a plane a find a friend's kitchen to borrow to cook for Hugh Grant. In fact, purely by coincidence, my childhood best friend happens to live in Tina Turner's old house, so it's a [crosstalk 00:11:13]-
Suzy Chase: Oh, my gosh.
Jane Green: Yeah. Even better, it happens to be in Notting Hill.
Suzy Chase: Oh.
Jane Green: Yeah, so of course I borrowed her house for the day, and I cooked him this wonderful meal of ... I did a roasted tenderloin of pork with a thick prosciutto and sage stuffing, and wild mushroom polenta, and a plum tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream.
Suzy Chase: The other night, I made your recipe for curried pea soup on page 40. It was a simple, gorgeous soup. Now, was this your mother's recipe?
Jane Green: Yes, this was my mother's recipe. So many of these recipes are my mother's. She is a wonderful cook, and her criteria is much the same as mine. It has to be easy. The only thing is that when she gave me as a gift a few years ago her recipe file, which was the file that she had started when she first got married, so fifty years ago she started this recipe file ... I remember, there were all my little childhood doodles in it. I had a thing about drawing witches, so there were witches all over it. The problem is that my mother is as slapdash as I am with recipes, which is why I'm not really a baker, because it's too precise. All of her recipes had to be deciphered and tested because they would say things like ... For the curry pea soup, it would say things like peas, onion, stock. She never had quantities, and so I had to sort of work my way through and try and decipher how ... I knew how the recipe was supposed to taste, but how we actually got from her just general ingredients with no quantities to the finished product.
Suzy Chase: What do you have coming up for 2017, and where can we find you on the web?
Jane Green: Oh, so 2017, I have a novel coming out in June called The Sunshine Girls, which I think is one of my favorite books, if not my favorite. It's much more similar to the books I was writing a few years ago like The Beach House. The Beach House was set on Nantucket with a cast of characters and a very warm story about discovering your family of choice. That's very much what The Sunshine Girls is. What else do I have planned? I am trying my hand at a young adult novel. We will see how that goes. I do have some exciting movie news with The Beach House.
Suzy Chase: Oh.
Jane Green: Yes. Also, there may be another book with some exciting television news, but I can't say anything about that until the contracts are signed. It's busy, busy, as always, and really fun. There will be lots of writing, lots of cooking, lots of herding cats, chickens, and children in my house in 2017.
Suzy Chase: Oh, my gosh. I cannot thank you enough for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast. This has been fun.
Jane Green: Oh, it's been my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.