It’s been my privilege to review many hundreds of cookbooks over these past years. They all have merits and strengths. The quality of writing is the biggest consideration, with general presentation a close second. I often think a particular book might be a prize-winner or a best-seller, and then there are books like The Country Cooking of Ireland, which offers an opportunity to sprinkle other superlatives.
Gift quality is a phrase with which I have oft regaled my dear reader. That indicates a book which will be well received for its visual style by those who might be content only to leaf through its pages and dream themselves to a far-off destination. They might not ever cook from the volume but they will enjoy its picturesque charms.
The Country Cooking of Ireland is indeed gift quality but a gift for any serious cook, and a veritable must for any cookbook collector. This is a definitive work on the subject and it is only waiting for the passage of time to be recognised as such. It’s a striking book in every regard.
The author Colman Andrews isn’t a native-born Irishman. The name Colman might be traditionally Irish but the lad is named after Ronald Colman of classic movie fame. Our Colman can, though, trace family connections back to the Emerald Isle, but it’s his skill as a food writer, rather than his genetic makeup, which gives him the credentials to pen this tome.
Colman Andrews was the co-founder of Saveur Magazine and has had six James Beard Foundation awards bestowed upon him. He is the author or co-author of numerous cookbooks. His partnership with Christopher Hirsheimer has produced this stunning masterwork on the unexplored cuisine of the land at the edge of Europe. A foreword by Darina Allen indicates that this man has the seal of approval from the highest authority.
Any book which has the Irish as its topic is bound to be liberally laced with humour and warmth. No, I am not convinced of the verity of that concept just because I am myself half Irish; but we all know that the Irish have a particular philosophy that has seen them through the hardest of times. It’s a country that has been coloured by famine and fights, by poverty and poetry and by Guinness and good times. The Country Cooking of Ireland gives a taste, both literal and metaphorical, of what Ireland has to offer. A dash of culture, a soupçon of smiles, a glaze of history and a raft of some of the best and most accessible food around.
It’s about fresh ingredients: we discover food producers with a passion for cheeses, for their livestock and their vegetable gardens. It’s true to say that the Irish have not been famed for fine food and restaurants but that is changing. London has successfully changed its image and Ireland is doing the same. The celebrated promoters of its food ( Darina Allen, Richard Corrigan and Clodagh McKenna) have encouraged us to take a second look and we have liked what we have found.
The Country Cooking of Ireland is a showcase for some of the best recipes. They include those that one would expect such as the Ulster Fry (the equivalent of the English Full Monty or fried breakfast), corned beef, soda bread and colcannon, but there is much more which is just as traditional but less known.
Rabbit was a popular meat in the past and it deserves a revival. Colman has a couple of recipes which are both simple and flavourful and show this underrated meat to best advantage. Braised rabbit has fresh vegetables and a sprig of thyme as supporting cast. It’s a dish that typifies the style of food here: seasonal ingredients, no exotic techniques, and uncomplicated flavours.
Spiced Beef is a dish I am drawn to. This would make a stunning Sunday lunch and would be somewhat different from the regular roast. It takes a good few hours to cook but it’s not labour-intensive. A great idea for a hectic weekend as you’ll cook the beef the day before.
A pie can never be a bad thing. Donegal Pie is a cheap and versatile article which is portable and tasty. OK, so it’s potato and bacon in a pastry case but there is nothing wrong with that as long as your bacon is the best and the potatoes are flecked with fresh herbs. If it was French it would be called Pate de l’Ile de France or some such name and you would think yourself very chic for ordering it.
The Country Cooking of Ireland is a stunner of a book. It is well researched and Colman Andrews shows real passion for the subject. His writing is engaging and informative and the photography is outstanding. One doesn’t need to be an expert home cook and one doesn’t need to have Guinness coursing through one’s veins to be enchanted by this volume. This must surely be the Irish food book to which others are compared. A grand addition to any collection.
The Country Cooking of Ireland
Author: Colman Andrews
Published by: Chronicle Books
Price: $50.00US, £30.00
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018