Monica’s Kitchen by Monica Sheridan
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.
A great find, she was way ahead of her time and at one stage had a huge reputation in Ireland and her own television programme.She is well due re-discovering.She fell from grace because she fronted a campaign to advertise pig meat-Bring home the Bacon-which was reckoned to be too partisan in the early, innocent days of RTE.Ignore the eccentricities, she talked continental food in days when a whiff of garlic was thought to kill.
I was amazed to read the book and discover her talking about the kind of ingredients and dishes that we take for granted in the oh-so-enlightened-2000s – jerusalem and globe artichokes, spaghetti, garlic, risotto, tomatoes fresh off the vine. Where and when I grew up (the countryside of counties Limerick and Cork during the 1970s and 1980s) there was precious little pilaf and paté de foie gras knocking about and I still remember clearly the first time I ever tasted garlic – an Easter lunch at my aunt’s house in Naas (big city life!) when I was about 11. I absolutly love the book. I’m still giggling when I think of her green dye in the pea soup!
Oh she sounds very funny. What really makes me treasure a cookbook is not simply the recipes but the wit and personality of the writer shining through. Don’t fancy the odds of finding a copy here though!
The book made me laugh so much in the shop that I just had to buy it and – demented take on pea soup aside – it is brilliant. Alongside Ms Sheridan’s hilarious comments, there are plenty of usable recipes and she definitely has oodles of character. I’m not sure if she made it as far as Melbourne…
I well remember Monica – she was famous for licking her fingers and tasting from the wooden spoon. When brought to task over it, she sniffed “my hands are clean”.
I did come across a comment somewhere about “finger licking Monica” – I’m sure that didn’t go down too well!
Caroline: I’m just reading this post in 2017. Great job. I am also a beer writer in the USA. My 2d beer book was published last year. What’s Brewing in New England, by Kate Cone. I just ordered your Slainte. I have loved Monica Sheridan for years, after I came across her book, The Art of Irish Cooking, at a used book sale. She is very funny! I’m using it as background in a novel (set in Ireland) I am writing. Would love to be in touch. My email is email@example.com
Lovely to hear from you! Monica Sheridan is a tonic. So much to laugh at on every page.
I’ll send you an email now.
PS as a fellow Monica fan, you might enjoy this: 1987 – Monica Sheridan Stuffs the Lousiest Turkey Ever