Thursday, November 26, 2009

Colman Andrews' Irish Country Cooking

Colman Andrews is literate, he loves food and the people who grow and prepare it, and he is inquisitive and thorough. Is it any wonder that he is perhaps the most highly regarded food writer and editor by America's cooknescenti?

It's Thanksgiving morning, just after daybreak. Fog lays thick in the denuded woods outside my window, Lyle Lovett the cat is purring in my lap, and a Bloody Mary is at the ready beside the keyboard. Could there be a more-ideal setting to again leaf through Andrews The Country Cooking of Ireland (Chronicle Books, $50) which arrived at my door a couple of weeks ago?

Even before getting to the chapters and the recipes, it's fun to rummage through the front of the book. Andrews' "A Note on Ingredients" is like a mini-seminar on foodstuffs. Witness, "Sugar is standard granulated sugar, unless powdered, superfine (known in the United Kingdom as "castor sugar"), or brown sugar is specified. Brown sugar should be unrefined, like Demerara or turbinado." Makes you want to see what he says about bacon and butter.

But the meat and potatoes are in the chapters that are arranged basically by foodstuffs - soups, eggs and cheese, savory pies, potatoes ("the definitive food"), breads, puddings and confections; there are 17 in all. Most of the text is in the hundreds of recipes, although there are fascinating sidebars on topics such as "How to Serve Irish Smoked Salmon" and "Sir Walter Raleigh and the Spud." The recipes are mostly within the reach of those of us who like to dabble in the kitchen without worrying about speed or technique - the tin chefs - but they are not dashed off, instead each considered as carefully as an Irishman would a simple glass of whiskey.

Photography is by Christopher Hirsheimer, in her own way as well-regarded as Colman, and is a proper mixture of dishes, people, and scenery.

There are almost 400 pages in all, as thickly larded as Ulster Fry (page 149) with thoughts and information, yet I emphasize that it is not heavy slogging but instead a delightful meandering as across a stone-rimmed meadow. Buy this book, and, on a cold winter's morning, pull it down from the shelve and get settled in front of a hickory fire with a cup of percolated coffee. Find a recipe that will define your noontime dinner or an evening supper - it won't take long - and, as the sun rises and begins melting the rime, start laying out the ingredients on the wooden sideboard.

Until next time...

A personal note: I loved writing for Colman when he was founding editor at Saveur, and I always looked forward to his commentaries on restaurants in the late, lamented Gourmet (a subject for an Irish wake, that).

Roger Morris

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