A look behind the scenes at artisanal cheese making, at least five recipes for soda bread, chapters on ways to prepare salmon, oatmeal, and offal, as well as ones on beef, potatoes, eggs, vegetables, and sweets, an essay on what Saint Patrick’s favorite food was, and some of the most intriguing photography of Irish food and Irish landscape you’re likely to come across: all these are part of The Country Cooking of Ireland.
The heart of the book is the recipes, some sourced from older cookbooks, some from cooks, chefs and food writers in Ireland, some created by author Colman Andrews, who is, among other things, a founding editor of the magazine Saveur. The heart of Irish cooking is, as Andrews points out, high quality natural ingredients prepared so that their distinctive flavors stand out. That’s an idea he follows through his selections, resulting in recipes that may or may not be familiar but certainly are accessible, with preparations described in straightforward yet interesting style. The Very Best Shepherd’s Pie, Panhaggerty, several approaches to Colcannon, Wok Smoked Salmon, Roasted Chicken with Herbs, Boxty, Brown Bread Ice Cream, and Convent Eggs are but a few of the recipes Andrews presents.
Country cooking, as Andrews defines it for this book, is any sort of recipe or cuisine that is not from or heavily identified with the island of Ireland’s two large cities, Dublin and Belfast. Quite a few of the recipes and stories are from the most southern part of the island, from Cork and the area around it, a region which is considered to be a hot culinary capital. There’s even a short essay commenting on why that area is sometimes known as the California of Ireland. There are recipes which have their origins in many other parts of the island as well. The section on savory pies, for example, begins with recipes native to and named after Donegal, Fermanagh, and Dingle.
Short essays such as that one on southwest Ireland as California, along with the head notes going along with each recipe, give a narrative structure to the book that makes it well worth reading even if cooking is not your main interest. Through those parts of the book you’ll hear the voices of chefs and cooks in Ireland today, learn something about Irish legends including the one about the salmon of knowledge and also a bit about the classic narrative of the Ulster Cycle, the Táin Bó Cúailnge, and read about the lives of fisher folk in the past and today, among other things.
You’ll also learn a good deal from the photographs, which are by Christopher Hirsheimer. Spot on shots of many of the dishes, of course, but also a number of quite evocative and also spot shots of the landscape, and several fine portraits of cheese makers, bakers, and others at work and at rest, form an integral part of the story of the book on their own, as strongly as do the words.