“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” (Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin) is a telling choice for the first of many well-chosen quotations in Margaret Hickey’s book, Ireland’s Green Larder (Unbound, Hardback £20; paperback £9.99; online sellers), summing up as it does the role that daily food choices play in the development of individuals – and the societies of which they are part.
Endorsed by Darina Allen, who describes it as “A work of considerable scholarship, enchantingly written in evocative prose” and Richard Corrigan, – “The only book on the social history of Ireland that you’ll ever need” – Ireland’s Green Larder illustrates perfectly why telling the story of Irish food and drink history is so much more revealing than ‘focusing on battles and rulers’ – although, thanks to the deft use of many more of those carefully selected quotations, these often difficult stories are also tellingly told by indirect means and with a refreshingly light touch.
Aside from the richly varied content – which, while food focused, is ‘a glorious ramble through the centuries, drawing on diaries, letters, legal texts, ballads, government records, folklore and more’ – this publication is a real book-lover’s joy of the old school. Through its choice of paper and font, and fine illustrations by Julian Roberts on the cover and dotted through the text (where not a shiny full colour image is to be seen), it’s a book that stimulates the imagination – and is all the better for that.
A must for anyone with a curiosity for traditional Irish foods and the often surprising highs and lows of history that have brought this plentiful land to its current exciting stage as an aspiring food tourism destination, it’s a colourful story featuring many great characters and it’s told with relish and finesse – which is no more than would be expected of an author who is the former Food and Drink Editor at Country Living magazine, among other prestigious publications, and also the author of another great social history read, Irish Days. And she’s a gallant one too, having masterminded the publication from her East Galway home through the services of an online writers’ patronage scheme Unbound (unbound.com) – you’ll find a list of supporters credited at the back of the book.
Ireland’s Green Larder is not primarily a cookery book, of course, but it does contain a generous sprinkling of good traditional Irish recipes including this tempting example for late spring / early summer.
Trout with Sorrel and Hazelnuts
For an intimate supper party for four, this dish is hard to beat. You can serve a greater number, but the essence of the dish is to serve it straight after cooking. Should sorrel not be available, you can substitute spinach, and if the trout came from the river to your kitchen, in flavour and texture it will eclipse farmed trout. The added virtue of this recipe is that you use only one cooking vessel.
4 brown trout, all of much the same 1 kg size, if possible
50 g plain flour
50 g unsalted butter
150 g sorrel, well washed and roughly chopped
4 tbsp sour cream
100 g hazelnuts, chopped
Freshly ground pepper (pink peppercorns for preference)
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley 1 lemon, quartered
Pre-heat your oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Clean and wash the trout, leaving them whole, then pat them dry. Season inside and out with salt and pepper and dust well with the flour. Put the butter into a shallow roasting tray and fry the fish in it for a minute on either side, just enough to set the flesh, then transfer the roasting dish to the oven. Baste the fish and cook for half an hour or less.
About 10 minutes before the time is up, cook your sorrel in salted water and drain it thoroughly before returning it to the pan and stirring in the sour cream. Heat through, then put a mound of the mixture on each person’s warmed plate.
Taking your trout from the oven, put one on each mound of sorrel. Quickly whizz the chopped hazelnuts around in the fish juices and butter for a few moments, then drizzle a little onto each trout, sprinkle the parsley over all and give each person a wedge of lemon.