Forgotten Skills of Cooking

I have a new cookbook. I ordered it online from Better World Books (Thank you, Katie; and everyone else should check out the free (even international!) shipping) and it came in the mail this week, thus assuring that my weekend was fully occupied (even before an incident that necessitated a refrigerator repairman). The book in question is the following:

Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen, who runs the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland

My dad’s family is solid Irish (Did I mention that my parents, my sister, and her boyfriend were at a Chieftains concert on Friday night?) and I confess I feel a certain inarticulable* link to that heritage. This book contains not just recipes, but also thoughtful reflections on food; and it beams with pride in recipes and techniques passed down through generations of Irish cooks using simple, local ingredients. After turning through many of the pages on Saturday morning, I was ready to dive in and start making things from scratch.

Three recipes came out of Saturday’s cooking fest:

1. “Mummy’s Brown Soda Bread” (p.199) I made this loaf in part because I already had everything except the buttermilk. Buttermilk (or, karnemelk) is hugely popular here and easily, cheaply available. Additionally, the author goes on about how her mother made a fresh loaf every day, etc., so it seemed a good staple to try. Note: there are no caraway seeds and no raisins in this recipe, which works out well if you’re not a fan of the caraway.


And so it begins.

Before you bake the bread, you cut a cross in the top (“bless it”) and then poke four holes (traditionally, the text says, these are to let out the fairies: love!).

2. “Ballymaloe Irish Stew” (p.348) It was cold here yesterday. I ran 5 miles and Tim ran 6 and it just seemed to demand some sort of warm stew involving disintegrating potatoes. Mmmmm. The recipe calls for lamb chops, bone in, and to my amazement I found them easily at the market in Delft: lamskoteletten. Well, it’s not to my amazement that they had it, but that I knew the word.

And so it continues.

3. While at the Saturday outdoor market looking for the lamb, I stopped for potatoes and saw at the produce stand bright red fresh rhubarb. Pale rhubarb depresses me. But vibrant rhubarb, I cannot resist. (They do a lot of greenhouse growing in Holland, and springy fruits and veggies are starting to look pretty tasty.) So I came home with a bunch of rhubarb and no real plan on what to do with it. I looked in the cookbook index and figured we had about enough for “Mummy’s Country Rhubarb Cake” (p.499). It was basically a pie, though the crust was a bit cakey.


Pouring some sugar over the rhubarb

Other than that I like the philosophy, and that it is a lovely specimen of book, the main reason I am already recommending this book to you is because of the success I had with all three of these recipes. The stew was delicious and not hard at all to make. Nothing exotic involved, but really flavorful in the end. But the bread, the pie? Both of those involve dough. And dough is my nemesis. Any dough I make seems to be too sticky to use, and winds up adhered to every surface in the kitchen without ever assuming the form intended.

Yet the soda bread dough requires hardly any manual labor; just a light stir, a 35-ish minute bake, and voila:

Look at that consistency! I kept repeating, “I made fresh bread!” It was so good, and so easy.

And the pastry crust for the pie? It was stiff, and not sticky. It rolled out easily (Tim does the rolling, mainly because my dough usually requires superhuman rolling strength). It was attractive. I honestly couldn’t believe how well it came out, and felt like I should have thrown an impromptu gathering so that more than two people could eat the pie.

In additional to clear, manageable recipes, Forgotten Skills includes tutorials on filleting a fish (I want to do this), making your own cheese, butter, other dairy products (also this), making your own sausage (definitely this), finding edible greens in the wild (perhaps?), and the more hair-raising techniques like skinning a rabbit (no).

It’s an expensive book new ($40), but I got a discounted copy and I’m sure others are available. Check it out. Eat good food.

*No, this word does not appear to be in the dictionary.



Filed under Cooking

4 responses to “Forgotten Skills of Cooking

  1. Katrina

    This weekend I made Red Velvet Cheesecake (it is waiting to be used for a friend’s birthday tonight so I have no earthly idea if it’s any good or not! We shall see. 🙂

    Your food looks FABULOUS! I wanna come over and eat with you guys!

    I definitely am going to try to make my own sausage.
    Miss you!

    • unquiettime

      Isn’t that the problem with bringing something like a cake to a party? You can’t just try a piece to make sure it’s good! I always find that nerve-wracking. I hope you will be blogging your red velvet cheesecake!

  2. Linda

    No, that word does not exist. But it should. 🙂 I would like tastes of everything you made, please.

  3. I love this book – it’s fantastic

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