Cookbook sections in secondhand bookshops can be a little hit or miss. There’s always a pile of microwave cookbooks – no one, for some reason wants to hang onto these dodgy and dated texts – a scattering of horrible diet books and often lots of ancient Family Circle publications, with their “triple-tested in the test kitchens” claim, but, rarely something that you actually want to cook from, let alone buy. Still, I live in hope, so a recent trip to Athlone had to include a browse in the local secondhand bookshop (I still haven’t discovered its name) which turned out to be a most amazing example of its kind.
Just a couple of shelves were devoted to cookbooks but what was on offer was enough to have me standing there, leafing through the pages, for quite a while. My eye was taken by a red hardbacked book from the 1960s, the gold letters on its spine saying “Monica’s Kitchen”. Opening it, I was so entertained by Monica Sheridan’s humorous prose that I had to read it out loud to the Boyfriend – something that I continued to do through the weekend‘s café interludes, car journeys and meals in the tent.
Apart from her unfortunate love of unsweetened condensed milk in soups and the like, Monica’s Kitchen is actually a breath of fresh air. Well travelled, she carelessly mentions dishes from France and the continent (she once spent months learning the foie gras business, “with the intention of setting myself up as a Goose Girl in the West of Ireland”) alongside the plain, simple Irish recipes. Her roast chicken, unstuffed and dressed with the pan juices, would be appreciated by Nigel Slater and there are definite French influences to many of her vegetable recipes which are, fortunately, a long way from the traditional Irish boil-it-until-it-turns-grey method.
Some of her opinions are laugh-out-loud hilarious. I particularly liked her take the things necessary to make a cook:
“Another essential to good cooking is a husband or son with an adventurous palate. Women do not cook for other women, or for themselves. If they are cooking for other women, it is to annoy them or dazzle them…”
A few of her recipe asides veer towards the demented – ideas on dye in pea soup (“Any fool can make pea soup, but here are the refinements that give it an air. You should add a good spoon of green vegetable dye to the soup just before you serve it. That will take the anaemic look off it.”), boned chicken (“Frankly, I wouldn’t recommend it, but, if you want to see green in the eyes of the women and hear the praise of gluttonous men ringing in your ears, well, here goes.”), brown bread (“The longevity of the men and women of rural Ireland may be directly attributed to their simple diet of porridge, wholemeal bread and stews – together with their uncompromising refusal to fraternise with Income Tax Collectors.”) – but Monica’s Kitchen is chock-full of useful suggestions and recipes as well as being a complete treat to read. Well worth looking out for.
Monica’s Kitchen by Monica Sheridan is published by Castle Publications Ltd.