Ireland’s first celebrity cook was Monica Sheridan, who had a lively cooking show on RTE in the early 60’s that everyone watched. The show didn’t last long – it was rumoured that the Irish Home Economics Teachers’ Association wrote to RTE to protest the way she licked her fingers. But she brought out several books and when I emigrated to Canada in 1974 I had one of them, ‘My Irish Cook Book’ in my suitcase. I was delighted to be able to purchase her classic ‘Monica’s Kitchen’ (1963) recently, and have been chuckling through it. It’s not so much a recipe book as an extended essay on food, delivered with her trademark humour and trenchant opinions. This is pre-feminist sensibility: women are assumed to be the cooks – their objective is to please their husbands and make other women jealous. She knows everyone cannot be that fortunate, however:
If you are a young bride and have married a man who is finicky about his food, and won’t eat this or that because his mother didn’t do it so…six months of married life will have blunted all your enthusiasm for the kitchen stove. You will have learned to make soup without onions, salad without garlic, dressing without oil – no curry, no out-of-the-way vegetables, no sauce except something out of a bottle. Life will stretch before you as a series of bacon and eggs, cabbage and turnips, and endless varieties of sweet cake.
- I can’t stand sage so I never put it in anything.
- You are all familiar with the acrid smell of boiled cabbage that rises from the basement of Georgian lodging houses, and permeates the entire establishment, right to the top landing. Terrible, terrible, terrible.
- There is an absolute horror of a dish known as scotch eggs.
There are directions for using every part of an animal – the lamb section is replete with exhortations not to neglect the liver, the brains, the tongue and the sweetbreads and suggestions for cooking them. There’s a famous Christmas cake section that is still followed faithfully by many Irish cooks. And I was delighted to find one of her funniest pieces, ‘A Surfeit of Snails’, reproduced as a whole in the Irish Times [Edit – no longer online, alas].
Finally, no small part of the enjoyment of this book comes from the photographs, and the drawings by Wm. G. Spencer.