This blog knows lots of good cooks. In fact with one very honourable
exception, most of my friends cook. The one who doesn’t cook, doesn’t
cook because he is spoilt. It isn’t that he can’t cook. In emergencies he
has been known to fry a steak or even as winter draws in he can put
together a moderately good Saturday night–Sunday pot of soup. He also used to pickle red cabbage. He is from East Belfast, which might explain that.
When I say this blog knows lots of good cooks I really mean brilliant
cooks. Most are men although one woman friend of continental origin is
exceptional. This blog could be a brilliant cook. Well a moderately
exceptionally good cook. Problem is I don’t have the time. I get the
theory ok but somewhere between larder and pot there is sometimes
something totally unconnected to cooking to do and I have to rush the
process or jump a stage or two to get whatever it is done.
When I am not distracted like this I must say my efforts, by my own
standards, are very appetising. Others including my brilliant cook friends
will smile at that but I can put up with their sly digs and sleekit
asides. Biting the hands that feed me would be a hungry pastime and we
Irish have had enough of hunger. So whatever you say, say nothing is my
maxim. Praise the cook and your plate will never be empty.
Having said that, or not said it, let me also say between you and me
their problem is that they have too much time on their hands. One even
gets up at six o clock in the morning to bake bread or to prepare a
special vegetarian dish for your man and then gets annoyed when your man
lets it go cold or reads or talks on the phone in the middle of the meal.
I would bar your man for any of these offences.
Let me explain. These particular meals are served in our little office on
Mondays and Tuesdays. We have a very select diners club – Cumann Chnoic
Na Anfa - up at Stormont and a large band of hangers on and sly dogs who
arrive at lunch time on the pretext of looking for a meeting or a phone
number or some other obviously shallow excuse to mine sweep at our table.
One particularly cholesterol troubled comrade times his entry to coincide
with the sweet course.
Yes we have a sweet course! And why not? An otherwise unrepentant and
occasionally cranky subversive makes pastries and fancy do-das like
Crème Caramel and Dutch Apple Struddle and Vanilla Custard Tartlets and
manages to get them in through security. Wee buns he says.
All the women love him. It’s sickening the way some of them ingratiate
themselves. Especially you know who. The Tír Éoghan woman who minds us
has a bit of backbone however. She was moved once to bake an Angel Cake
in retaliation but it was lopsided and slightly forenenst itself and
really quite pitiable. Though it tasted grand as your man conceded
graciously, it got no points for presentation.
And presentation is important all my brilliant cooking friends agree. Our
chief best brilliant cook is outstanding. A human encyclopaedia on food.
And a scholar and a fine judge of Irish whiskey to boot. Or rum. Or
brandy. Or fine wine. In moderately respectable quantities of course. Of
Good food simply cooked is his motto. He is also a compulsive shopper
and a great ferreter outer of food bargains. And shoes. He has a soup
season every year and some of us are unworthy but grateful recipients of
his fine fare to see us through the winter months. The humble spud is his
favourite vegetable. Very versatile he asserts. And this from a man who allows for French, Portuguese, Italian and Nordic influences in his kitchen.
Which brings me by circuitous route to the point behind this particular
blog. Many people may think that we Irish have no real ethnic cuisine or
culinary tradition apart from the potato. Not so! Not that this blog is
xenophobic on this matter. Or on any other matter for that matter but if
we don’t fly the flag who else will?
Darina Allen will. That’s who. A very thoughtful woman sent me a copy of
Ms Allen’s IRISH TRADITIONAL COOKING from London and it is a gem. Over
three hundred recipes from Ireland’s heritage. Lamb with wild garlic.
Boxty pancakes. Fish dishes to die for. Fine breads. Great broths. Cakes.
Puddings. Biscuits. And stories about it all. A great read.
And the reason why this blog is spending so much of this holiday in the kitchen. Apart from the rain that is. Ah well if you can’t stand the
IRISH TRADITIONAL COOKING by DARINA ALLEN is published by KYLE CATHIE LIMITED. www.kylecathie.com