Thirty years ago I received a letter from Puglia in southern Italy. It was typed in red ink and it came from Patience Gray, whom at that point I had not met. In it she thanked me for reviewing her cookery book Honey from a Weed – for testing the recipes and for not calling her pretentious for including a long bibliography at the end. The letter pleased me because I knew the place from which it had come, so removed from London, where I was living. One of Gray’s achievements back then was to interest us in a place where slow food, seasonal eating and foraging were not lifestyle choices, but a necessary part of life. Before the likes of Peter Mayle started describing years in Provence, Andalusia and Tuscany, long before Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray (no relation) installed their wood-fired oven and started serving the best of Italian food at The River Café, here was a glimpse of a very good and very different life lived on the edge of Europe.
One thing that soon becomes clear in Fasting and Feasting, Adam Federman’s biography of Gray, is that nothing in her early life had suggested she might end up living somewhere so remote. Born in Surrey a hundred years ago to an artillery officer turned photographer and a well-to-do