The Menu: serving up the latest food news

The Menu: serving up the latest food news

JESS MURPHY COOKS THE BOOKS

Galway’s ever-splendid Kai restaurant and cafe returns with its Cookbook Club (February 25), this time focussing on London restaurant Dishoom’s From Bombay With Love and a cuisine inspired by legendary Irani cafes in late 19th century India, with chef/proprietor Jess Murphy serving up family-style sharing platters of dishes created from recipes in the book. Booking essential.

MIXING IT UP

British TV mixologist Scott Gemmell fetches up at Rosscarbery’s Celtic Ross Hotel for a foraged cocktail masterclass (March 7) with Gemmell joined on his foraging by former Mews chef Ahmet Dede and Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery, before heading back to base camp to create a cocktail menu. (Weekend accommodation package also available.)

Chicco Foods, of Kinsale, producers of some fine condiments and preserves, are offering an afternoon hands-on Kombucha and Sourdough Workshop (February 22), all for just €45 pp. To book, email ruth@chiccofoodskinsale.com or telephone 087 6878768.

BRINGING LAVERTY BACK TO LIFE

Maura Laverty - This Was Your Life (February 28) is a play based on the former and often controversial Irish household name, for decades renowned as a cookery guru, author, broadcaster, and agony aunt. Staged in Ballymaloe Grainstore, attendees can also avail of a package that includes dining and accommodation, as Ballymaloe House head chef Dervilla O’Flynn creates a three course menu inspired by Laverty’s classic retro recipes. (booking essential)

British TV mixologist Scott Gemmell fetches up at Rosscarbery’s Celtic Ross Hotel on March 7th
British TV mixologist Scott Gemmell fetches up at Rosscarbery’s Celtic Ross Hotel on March 7th

A CLASSIC FROM THE CULINARY VAULTS

In light of the above mentioned play, The Menu harks back to an Irish classic cookbook, Maura Laverty’s Full and Plenty, once the preeminent culinary tome in Irish homes, a barnstorming assemblage of recipes interspersed with fictional stories.

Sponsored by the Irish Flour Millers, breads, cakes, and pastry are given pride of place, flour never far from the ingredients list, evoking an era when fish was boiled, cheese was solely cheddar, and sauces were emulsified with margarine.

Soups are hearty affairs of mouse-trotting consistency while fish dishes are heavy on cream and butter and, yes, flour; a salmon trout dish uses 1/4 pint of red wine for braising. Vegetables are, for the most part, boiled, firmly pre-dating modern preference for al dente crunch though salted green beans sound intriguing.

The meat section is infinitely more contemporary after the recent revival of cheaper cuts and offal; certain advice is timeless, Laverty believing beef should be hung as long as possible, lean meat spurned, and proper hamburgers made only from minced round steak and seasoning. Steaks feature cooking times that would see tender filet rendered as toughest brogue; again flour is added to most sauces.

Ham baked in a jacket of paste, flour and water sounds genuinely intriguing while Spanish tripe, garlic and all, is exciting treatment for an often “challenging” ingredient and an authentic, vibrant paella recipe reminds that Laverty’s first exposure to serious cooking came as a 17-year-old who ran away to Spain for kicks.

Cracking pudding/dessert recipes are maximise returns —apples turn up in Bettys, Charlottes, crisps, pies, and dumplings — and flour or breadcrumbs are as ever ubiquitous — even an apple ‘custard’ features the latter. Ice cream is egg and condensed milk, whipped and frozen.

One fictional tale, of newly-weds Sheila and Dan Foley, sees Maura echoing the times, though perhaps not her own personal ethos, to decree a “wife’s first duty to her husband is to cook him the kind of meals he likes, and no marriage is really happy otherwise”, Sheila’s initial culinary efforts fail to satisfy Dan who craves hearty, wholesome fare.

Eventually advised by a customer in his pub that, “a woman won’t ever be happy until you let her see who’s boss,” he demands she cook him a pig’s cheek. Sheila comes good in the end, learning to “combine substance with savour” although sauces of margarine and flour would suggest alingering proto-feminist subversion on her part.

The book concludes bizarrely with a cordon bleu-trained writer providing a chapter entitled ‘French Cooking Made Easy’, which, with its stuffed artichoke hearts and green beans cooked a la Francaise, utterly alien fare in contrast to most that has preceded.

Though thoroughly entertaining, intentionally or otherwise, it would be all too easy to dismiss Full and Plenty with patronising condescension though there are still plenty of perfectly sound, even thought-provoking recipes. Best of all, time’s passage has rendered it a truly fascinating social document of a bygone era, as riveting and revealing as any of Laverty’s fiction.

Maura Laverty - This Was Your Life is a play based on the former and often controversial Irish household name.
Maura Laverty - This Was Your Life is a play based on the former and often controversial Irish household name.

TODAY’S SPECIAL

A pre-Christmas splurge on Claire Trihy’s range of Claire’s Cordials, Syrups, Chutneys and Preserves left ‘The Menu’ with a host of goodies that included her son Conor’s raw Irish Whitfield Honey, a potent, characterful mouthful with soft floral and fruit notes that has been a mainstay of the morning bowl of porridge. In addition, he has been enjoying Claire’s Beetroot and Ginger Chutney, a sweet, earthy condiment with gentle spicy elevation, very sound with mature hard cheeses but it was Worcesterberry Jam which had him most intrigued. From the US, the Worcesterberry presents much like a gooseberry but is in fact a species of currant and a hardy thriver, well able to establish itself on these shores (available from the wonderful Future Forests, in West Cork).

The jam is a runny affair, soft whole berries, ever so slightly punctured, swimming in syrup —in other words, a challenge with toast— and ‘The Menu’s’ progeny swore blind the sharp tart berries were blackcurrants or at least, blood relatives. Either way, they were exquisite with creamy natural Glenillen yoghurt and added a whole new dimension to baked apple crumble.

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