One of the big advantages of being settled back in Dublin, with book shelves once again, is having all my old cookbooks to pore over and rediscover. Although I did manage to build up a fair collection in New Zealand, it couldn’t really compare to my beloved stacks of books by Nigel Slater, Darina Allen, Tamasin Day-Lewis, Nigella Lawson and my ancient copies of Paula Daly’s McDonnell’s Good Food Cook Books. The first and second books in this series, bought from saving up the tokens on Stork Margarine packets, were two of the first cookbooks owned by my mother.
Every recipe, of course, used Stork Margarine – they were first printed in 1976, long before Darina Allen started turning the Irish nation back into butter lovers – and just leafing through them is an exercise in nostalgia. As a child I cooked my way through Drop Scones, Frangipane Flan, Steak Diane and Melba Toast, while a picture of The Runaway Train children’s birthday cake furnished many hours-worth of dreaming. I subsequently made this for a cousin who probably was too young to appreciate more than the Liquorice Allsorts used for wheels and the Smartie cargo – it’s not really a cake worth returning to. But many of the recipes, albeit with Stork swapped for butter, definitely are.
Every Christmas Cake in our house was, and still is, covered with Almond and Royal Icing according to the tables in the first book. I learned how to make choux pastry from the step-by-step photographs when I was about eleven and subsequently became famed for my Chocolate Éclairs. Family get-togethers were normally preceded by several days of Éclair-making when I took over the kitchen and most of the freezer (and probably my mother’s nerves!) to make what I considered a sufficient supply – normally 2-3 per person. While I haven’t made Éclairs in years, I have returned to several other of the recipes, with a few modern updates, to great success.
The Sausage Plait pictured on the cover was a particular favourite when I was younger. One day I cooked it on the shelf below one of my mum’s Apple Tarts and, although I initially thought it was ruined when the tart’s sweet, appley juices overflowed on top of it, the apple flavour actually complemented the pork so much that I now add apple to the recipe. It’s a great supper dish, especially with a good accompanying salad, and it also travels very well as part of a picnic spread.
Puff pastry – 1 x 400g packet, defrosted
Sausagemeat – 350g
Onion – 1, peeled and finely chopped
Garlic – 1 clove, peeled and finely chopped
Tomato ketchup – 2 tablespoons
Fresh thyme – 2 teaspoons of leaves or 1 teaspoon of dried leaves
Tinned chopped tomatoes – ½ x 400g tin
Tart eating apple – peeled, cored and grated or finely chopped
Beaten egg or milk to glaze
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Roll out pastry into a 30cm square on a floured worktop. Using the rolling pin, lift the pastry carefully on to a large flat baking sheet.
Put the sausagemeat, onion, garlic, ketchup, thyme, tinned tomatoes and grated apple into a bowl and mix well. Place the filling mixture down the centre of the pastry, leaving a margin of 10cm on each side. Cut diagonal 2.5cm strips each side of the filling. Take each strip and plait it across the filling, alternating sides.
Tuck in the ends neatly and brush with either beaten egg or milk. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until well risen and golden brown.
Serve hot or cold with plenty of green salad leaves. Serves 4.