I’m Judy Jackson – food writer, novelist and blogger.
My food background
I have been writing about food since my first cookbook was published by Faber in 1981. This collection of recipes was the result of several years working as a caterer and then giving cookery classes in my home. You can read about my different specialities here. I never had any formal training: I learned everything from watching my mother, a Cordon Bleu trained cook.
When I was young (during World War II) food was on ration so there was little choice about what we ate. To overcome the food shortages, one had to queue for hours to buy an onion, or by amazing luck, a banana. In spite of the difficulties there was always appetising, inventive food on the table.
My mother lived to the age of 95. When she was over 80 she was still giving parties. It was from her that I learned how to make chocolate eclairs, meringues, the lightest sponge cake and fresh asparagus rolls.
One of the eight books I published (and perhaps my favourite) is Lookit Cookit – kitchen games for curious children. It’s designed for youngsters who love to eat and those who hate to eat, avoiding the dreaded ‘five-a-day’ instructions and offering them food as fun and inspiration instead. The book was shortlisted for a World Gourmand Award. The cover photo shows a boy holding a bowl of uncooked meringue over his sister’s head, knowing it won’t fall out!
Here I am at the launch of another cookbook, A Feast in Fifteen Stories – a new start for hesitant cooks. The formal photo shows a carved melon basket and an ice bowl embedded with herbs.
My idea was to take inexperienced cooks through a number of stages to give them confidence and skill, showing them techniques of classic cuisine, as well as showing them how to make down to earth meals. In order to encourage the readers it even includes a chapter called ‘Disasters’.
I am a member of the Guild of Food Writers and have written for several major newspapers in the UK: The Times, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, Financial Times and Evening Standard. I have also contributed articles to Huffington Post. For four years I did restaurant reviews for Time Out.
The food blog is on Tumblr with 24,000 followers who are mainly in their twenties. When I discovered this I began to tailor the blog to their needs: how they can find out about great food and learn to cook it as simply as possible. Although my preference is for classic French cuisine I realize few people now have the time for complicated techniques, so although I put up pictures of pastries like mille feuilles, I don’t expect my readers to spend the time creating them. You can follow the blog here. Or just dip into it whenever you want some inspiration. You can scroll down to see the unexpected and the exciting.
I also write novels. The first one The Camel Trail won an award for best Food Literature Book in the UK when it came out in 2007. The novel evolved from research I was doing into the life of my great grandfather, who was orphaned after an earthquake in the Middle East in 1837. He was the only member of his family to survive.
My search took me to Gibraltar, then to Lisbon and Safed. He came out of the rubble with nothing – except a small silver teapot with a spout in the shape of a camel’s head. It was this object that inspired the book which, although fiction, is based on real lives and events.
It took a few months for the story to take shape, though it was a few years before I could call myself a novelist. Writing is a solitary activity, so for long periods I immersed myself in reading the works of other writers and trying to perfect the craft.
A few years after the first novel was published I was on a five hour flight and spent the time thinking up the plot of my next book. The result was the basis for Sextet: a story of two strangers who meet in a hospital, unaware that they are inextricably linked. When tragedy strikes, the lives of both young men unravel as six people are enmeshed in the fallout from their actions. You can see a one minute trailer for Sextet here. The story follows Joseph a concert pianist and Tom an art dealer, on a journey through grief and recovery. The book was a winner in the 2016 Book Excellence Awards in Toronto. The category is ‘music’ and it was mentioned for both the writing and the design.
My working day is divided into two parts: writing fiction and thinking about food. Four times a week I add photos and posts to my food blog. This is my way of keeping up with what is happening in the food world and simplifying the cooking by bringing it to a new generation of cooks who almost certainly don’t have the time that I have to create and prepare new and classic dishes.
Apart from writing and cooking, I like film, restaurants, art and travel. The last of these is necessary as well as pleasurable since three of our four sons live far away. I am married to Michael Jackson, an expert in computer software, also known as The Man in the Armchair Kitchen, as his other role is chief taster for the food I cook. We have the four sons, four American daughters in law and thirteen grandchildren, ranging in age from 25 to 2.
Welcome to The Armchair Kitchen. I am delighted to receive comments or questions.