Patience Gray was a cook and author whose name, unlike Elizabeth David’s, is not often remembered outside of specific culinary circles; but decades before the ‘locovore’ movement became a movement, she was already living what others have since come to think of as the ultimate in ‘slow’ existence.
After a spell in London – where she penned her most well-known book Plats Du Jour, introducing English chefs to French everyday cookery (with friend Primrose Boyd) and subsequently worked for a spell at the Observer – she decided to leave English shores during the 1960′s to journey around the Mediterranean with her partner, the sculptor Norman Mormenns.
They eventually made it to Italy where they journeyed South to Puglia and came across a remote farmhouse on a rocky hilltop. Patience remarked that it felt like the end of the world – a perfect place to set up home. The farmhouse soon became known as “Spigolizzi”, a canvas for their new simple life – with a sparsely furnished interior and rough surrounding land which would soon display many of Norman’s sculptures. It was the ultimate escape from the fast modernisation which was taking place elsewhere and Patience eschewed what others saw as the latest in convenience, refusing to have a telephone, electric lights, or even a refrigerator – opting instead to source fresh ingredients every day.
Cultivating their three acre rocky outcrop wasn’t always easy but they persisted, clearing terraces and planting new fruit trees among the olives. Soon tomatoes, garlic, pulses and wine were being produced amongst the wild funghi, herbs and asparagus, allowing Patience to experiment with Mediterranean cookery at its very freshest. The effort of production must have increased the delight in the eating, and it is not surprising that her well-loved autobiography in cook book form, Honey from a Weed, was penned here. Reading it transports you to otherworldly Mediterranean landscapes, where “food is grown for its own sake and not for profit”. Fig jam with freshly baked bread; spinach with raisons and pine kernals; freshly caught fish drizzled with olive oil and her own tomatoes and garlic; broad beans popped straight from the pod; hills dotted with wild rosemary and thyme. Wonderful simplicity; a life well-lived. As Gray herself wrote “Home-made bread rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with olive oil, shared – with a flask of wine – between working people, can be more convivial than any feast.”