Monica’s Kitchen

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.


On soups: Add a ham bone, or a bit of salt pork, to the vegetables all diced up, and you have the minestrone that everybody comes back from Italy and raves about, as if the bones of Michelangelo himself were boiled in it.
On fish: The first essential in buying good fish is to get to know a sociable fishmonger.
On Meat: Passing through a fair in, say, Mullingar, you will see four year old Irish bullocks in the very pink of condition. They have the roving eyes and the debonair looks of first-year medical students…Give them a few more years and they could become a danger to the parish; but now is the time to kill them and eat them, when they are in their youthful prime.
There are few examples of what we might call proper recipes in the book. Some things she dismisses out of hand as not worth bothering about:


  • 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.

10 thoughts

    • Our scotch egg provider (Paul the West Cork Pie Man) agrees with you. He is planning some unique approaches to the scotch egg. Besides pub food – it is the perfect hiking lunch.


  1. Great fun …. reading posts from both of you. It sounds like you’re making the most of every day and you’re keeping us chuckling and looking forward to your next posts. Hugs,

    Sandy and Den


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