Wednesday, July 17, 2019

‘A main course had to be eaten for penance. There was no need to be taking any pleasure in it because dessert will follow and then you would be in heaven’


So Jamie Oliver has a new cookbook out. My sister texted me first. Then my son, who was trying to perfect his veggie burger recipe said it was “very exciting.” What’s going on? Are we all foodies now?

I like to cook for my friends or when there’s something to celebrate in the family. We have to eat after all! But I don’t often work from recipes.

I’m more the kind who looks into the fridge and throws together something spontaneous from whatever is there. I even fancy that I’m a bit of a creative pot stirrer; a splash of this, a bowl of that. As a result I have far too many neglected cookbooks.

One of the exceptions is An Irish Adventure with Food by the one and only Paul Flynn of the Tannery. There’s a very messy food spattered page in mine, on the recipe for Mediterranean Couscous. Everyone loves it! I also have a very worn out page on pancakes in one of Delia Smith’s books from when the kids were small. And Darina Allen’s Christmas recipe book is just wrecked from cover to cover.

Probably my favourite food writer is Nigel Slater. His own autobiography, called Toast, rang a lot of bells. It tells the story of how food memories, especially for him, the taste of hot buttered toast, healed the grief he felt after his mother’s death. Childhood trauma and comfort food; I could identify.

I remember my own Mother making steak and kidney pie. Even though I loathed the taste of it, her method of making rough puff pastry is etched on my mind. It was made with dozens of butter pats and a series of folding movements that were always mesmerising to watch.

We were sent “down the country” quite a bit as kids. Usually, to my ‘Nannan’ in the midlands. She ran her own restaurant and every day we would be fed huge “country man’s dinners”. Steaming hot roast beef, mountains of spuds and watery cabbage; all drowning in thick brown gravy. If I could get away with it, I would fill my cheeks to the brim and rush down to the bathroom to spit it out.

Once your plate was clean, strawberry jelly, ripple ice-cream and tinned fruit salad was produced. A main course had to be eaten for penance. There was no need to be taking any pleasure in it because dessert will follow and then you would be in heaven.

I’ve struggled all my life with eating meat. I’m more of a natural vegetarian. Funny thing is, I was probably about nine before I ate anything green. My dedicated Grandaunt played clever eating games with us, eventually tricking me into eating one slice of cucumber and one pea.

The first restaurant vegetarian food I tasted was in New York. Walking up the winding staircase into a dark loft, the warmth of cooking and exotic spices filled the air. The coolest dudes of all ages sat there on huge cushions as barefoot waitresses brought in dishes of brown rice, vegetable stew and chutneys. I was sold!

Travelling in various parts of the world or visiting friends I will always eat what is put in front of me meat, fish or fowl. I can’t stand fussy eaters who wrinkle up their noses when presented with something they are not used to. Ireland has such choice and variety now compared to when we were growing up but it’s not the same everywhere.

The most difficult food I ever had to manage was in Taiwan. There meals were either sweet and sticky, or spicy and salty. There was no ordinary bread and butter and after a week that was all I craved!  Overly rich food and street stalls selling dog and cat meat made it all very hard to handle.

In Cuba the food was challenging too. Our hosts would often have to go out and forage for a few eggs or a fish. Every meal I had there was very much appreciated as a result. Their big vegetarian speciality is called Moros y Cristianos. It’s a concoction of black beans (the Moors) and rice (the Christians) and is a very filling meal loaded with a political message.

It used to be that summer in Ireland was reserved for salad leaves, the odd salmon, and a punnet of new strawberries. Winter was warming stew followed by apple crumble and custard. Now we can have anything, at any time of the year and we are know-it-all foodies as a result.

As my Father would have said: “tis far from it we were reared”. The foodie in me would probably have replied – OMG, look at this recipe for fragrant Indian fritters with cranberries and Bombay mix in Jamie’s new book! Must get it.


Catherine Drea blogs at

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By Catherine Drea
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