THEODORA FITZGIBBON was a beautiful, elegant, erudite lady, well travelled.
Born in London in 1918 of Irish parents, Theodora was educated in England and France and travelled widely with her father and husband, the writer Constantine FitzGibbon, living in India, the United States and in many countries on the continent.
Her travels gave her the opportunity to investigate first-hand the food mores of many diverse cultures and she developed an extensive knowledge of both Irish and worldwide cuisine.
It was her ability to bring social and historical context to food for her readers for the first time that marked her out as a game-changer when she began writing for the Irish Times in the 1970s.
Theodora was also deeply interested in theatre and worked as an actress in London and Rome.
She wrote over 30 books, most of which were about food. However, the books she will be most remembered for are her “Taste of ” serves, particularly A Taste of Ireland and A Taste of Scotland.
Her autobiographies give us a glimpse into her eccentric family and upbringing and chronicle what life was like in wartime Paris and London and recalls her bohemian existence living in Bermuda, Capri and Rome where she moved in the literary and artistic circles with Salvador Dali, Picasso, Dylan Thomas, Graeme Greene, Greta Garbo and James Thurber.
Food is a constant thread in her memoirs. There are many mouth-watering recollections of how she managed to create meals from nothing during the ration years and how she got to grips with new ingredients for her many dinner parties as she moved from country to country.
More recently Donal Skehan, one of Ireland’s most exciting young food writers has linked up with Gill and MacMillan to publish a new collection in which he selects her very best dishes and photographs them beautifully.
Theodora’s fans will be delighted to be able to replace their dog-eared cookery books and collection of newspaper clippings with his beautiful new volume. Don’t miss the accompanying TV series — Rediscovering the Irish Kitchen (which started on June 24) at 8.30pm on Tuesday nights on RTE 1.
* All recipes are taken from The Pleasures of the Table by Donal Skehan; Published by Gill & MacMillan.
Theodora Fitzgibbon’s Café Liegeois
6 tablespoons vanilla or coffee
4 coffee cups strong,
sweetened black coffee
150 ml (¼ pint) whipped cream
4 teaspoons crushed ice
Put all ingredients, except the whipped cream, into a bowl and stir well, or liquidise until the mixture is thick and creamy. Pour into 4 tall glasses and top with whipped cream.
Chill so that it is semi-frozen and serve with sponge fingers.
Theodora Fitzgibbon’s Melting Moments
Makes about 30 ‘sandwiches’
These very light, little cakes of Scottish origin (but now firmly established in Ireland) live up to their name.
275 g (10 oz) butter
50 g (2 oz) icing sugar
225 g (8 oz) sifted flour
50 g (2 oz) cornflour
lemon curd or thick honey
Cream the butter and sugar until very light. Add both flours gradually, mixing well. Put small spoonfuls onto greased baking trays and bake for about 15 minutes in the oven at 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Cool on a rack, and when cool, sandwich together with a little lemon curd or thick honey in between.
Theodora Fitzgibbon’s Plaice Lahori
4 large plaice fillets
oil or melted butter
lemon wedges, to garnish
2 tablespoons onion, finely minced
juice of 1 lemon
¼ teaspoon ground coriander or 2 teaspoons fresh
pinch each powdered garlic and turmeric
stem chopped green ginger or ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
pulp of 2 ripe tomatoes, no skin
salt and pepper
A great favourite of mine, but you do need large plaice, not those wafer-thin, tasteless little things you see most often. Actually, I have also made it with dogfish and monkfish fillets, and it was delicious, but it was cooked longer.
Take the 4 large fish fillets and score with a sharp knife if very thick. Mix the marinade ingredients together, pounding well, then pour over the fish and leave for about 2 hours. Line a grilling pan with foil and brush over with oil or melted butter and turn on the grill. Let it get quite hot with the pan underneath so that the foil gets hot, but do not let the oil brown.
Lift the fish and marinade gently on and grill at medium level for about 7 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. The heat of the foil at the bottom will cook the underneath. Serve with brown rice and green beans.
Theodora Fitzgibbon’s Convent Eggs
This recipe, which I have adapted very slightly for modern use, comes from Soyer’s A Shilling Cookery for the People of 1859, a book that circulated in many parts of Ireland after Soyer came over to help provide edible food for the famine victims. My copy originally belonged to my aunt in Co Clare and was much used by her.
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium-sized onion, sliced
1 tablespoon flour
300 ml (½ pint) milk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
grated cheese or chopped herbs, optional
Put the eggs into cold water, bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes, then put the eggs into cold water again. When cool, peel and cut across into six pieces each. Heat the butter and lightly fry the onion in it until soft but not coloured. Add the flour and mix well, then add the milk, stirring until it forms a nice white sauce; add the salt and pepper. Add the eggs, toss, and when they are hot through, serve on toast. Grated cheese or chopped herbs can also be added.
Wild and Free
The Organic Centre Garden Party — Sunday July 13 from 11am -5pm.
Gardening and organic growing can be so much more than just producing food. Wild life, wild patches, hedgerows with wild plants and food and wild flower meadows all add enjoyment, health and natural wealth to our lives and families and help to protect our natural environment. This year’s event features activities for all the family:
* How to create a wildflower meadow and make wildflower seed balls.
* The top 10 edible weeds and the best flowers and shrubs for bees and butterflies.
* How to grow unusual vegetables and find wild mushrooms.
* There will be a masterclass in watering plants indoors and outdoors.
* The Pop-up Hedgerow bar will serve wild fermented drinks and The Grass Roof Café will be serving the most wonderful wild dishes. Pizza will be baked in an outdoor clay oven.
* Special guests are “Eagles Flying” and there will be local farm animals.
* Music, drumming and tai-chi and displays of local tourism providers will be ongoing throughout the day.
* Raffle and fundraising for The Organic Centre.
* For more information call 071-9854338 or visit www.theorganiccentre.ie
Achill Mountain Lamb
I’ve just tasted the first of the season’s new Achill Mountain lamb. The Calvey family have been rearing lambs on Achill for over 50 years, they feed on the bladder wrack on the coastline and the grass on the cliffs. The herbs and heather seem to give the meat a delicious sweetness and the salt deposits from the sea breeze enhance the flavour further. Chefs like JP McMahon, Aniar in Galway and Derry Clarke from Ecrivain have already discovered it but you can order over the phone and have it delivered. 098 43158, www.calveysofachill.com
Don’t miss the Achill Island Festival of the Sea, July 18 – 20 – www.feilenamara.com
Fab Food Trails
Eveleen Coyle and her niece Alice Coyle had a brilliant concept for food tasting trails in 2009.
They started in Dublin but have extended to Cork and more recently to Kilkenny. It’s a wonderful way to explore a city, learn about its history and food culture in a fun and light-hearted way. Visit and learn in markets, food halls, cheesemongers, butchers, fruit and flower stalls, fish mongers, bakers and have regular tastings. www.fabfoodtrails.ie
Ireland has gone wild about food. Two festivals, not to be missed this weekend are: Valentia Ireland King Scallop Festival July 12 – 13 – www.valentiaisland.ie
Kenmare Food Carnival — as well as food markets, cookery demos, food trails there will be Samba dancers and a jazz band to ensure a Mardi Gras-style atmosphere. I had lots of fun and loved the vibe last year. www.kenmarefoodcarnival.com
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