My apologies for turning this into three posts instead of just one, but I suffer from a kind of verbal addiction—I can never tell a story in a thousand words or less. And the thing about writing something like a cookbook review is that you can continuously find more material to include in the article.
The third book in the three quite unrelated cookbooks published over a period of seventy years is one I heard or read about and went to Amazon.com to find a copy, which I did – at some ridiculously low price. Isn’t that the greatest aspect of cookbook searching online? Finding something fantastic for a few dollars and even with a $3.99 shipping charge, you end up paying far less than you would if you bought the book new.
“Forgotten Skills of Cooking”, subtitled “The Time-Honored Ways are the Best – over 700 recipes show you why” published in 2009, by Darina Allen was originally published at $40.00. And come to think of it, I think I saw something about the author on the Food Network.
Darina Allen runs a world-known cooking school at Ballymaloe in County Cork, Ireland which she founded with her husband in 1983. On the back cover of the book we read, “She [Darina Allen] runs the highly regard three-month diploma course as well as various short courses, including the Forgotten Skills series which is the inspiration for this book.
Darina is the award-winning author of “Irish Traditional Cooking”, “Ballymaloe Cookery Course”, “A Year at Ballymaloe”, “Healthy Gluten-free Eating” (with Rosemary Kearney) and “Easy Entertaining”. She is Ireland’s most famous TV cook having presented nine series of her cooking program, “Simply Delicious” on television around the world…”
Also on the book, which has a well designed washable cover, is the comment “…this book reveals the lost art of making creamy butter and yogurt, keeping a few hens in the backyard, home-curing and smoking bacon and even foraging for food in the wild…” as well as “…Rediscover the flavors of all time favorites such as traditional stuffed chicken, figgy toffy pudding and freshly baked scones and strawberry jam..”
As you may know, if you have been reading “Sandychatter” for any length of time, I am a great proponent of being able to make things “from scratch”, of being able to mix your own taco or chili spice mixes, and I make a lot of different jellies, jams, preserves, relishes, chutneys and have even made my own sauerkraut. (The latter only needs to be made every few years as making one big batch will fill a lot of quart jars and keep you in sauerkraut for months to come.)
Years ago, when my sons were growing up, we “kept” chickens for a few years – until they all got killed by dogs that managed to get into the yard during the night. I loved being able to go into the back yard and find freshly laid eggs waiting to be brought into the house and have often thought I’d like to keep some chickens again.
In the introduction to “Forgotten Skills of Cooking”, Darina Allen writes “During the 25 years I’ve been running the Ballymaloe Cookery School, I’ve noticed an alarming loss of skills in many students. The art of thrifty housekeeping has gradually petered out and became strangely unfashionable.
Our mothers and grandmothers knew how to eke out a small budget to feed a family, and how to make a delicious meal from meager leftovers. Given a chicken or fish, they would have simply rolled up their sleeves and got on with eviscerating or filleting. It mightn’t have been perfect but they just did it in their pragmatic way. The loss of these and other such skills over subsequent generations is partly a consequence of the availability of convenience foods. Every time we go to the supermarket, an increasing number of items are oven-ready or ready to eat: cheese is grated, mushrooms sliced, fruit segmented—I swear if they sold toast we’d buy it…”
Allen says that the actual incident that prompted her to start the Forgotten Skills courses happened in the cookery school some years prior when she came across a student who was about to dump her over-whipped cream into the hens’ bucket. She was totally unaware that she had inadvertently made butter. Allen rescued it just in time and in a matter of minutes made it into butter pats to the delight of the class, most of whom didn’t realize that butter is made from cream. She says it reinforced her belief that even made country dwellers have lost the connection with how their food is produced. I say amen to all of this.
My actual incident that prompted me to start searching for recipes and writing articles about making things such as spice mixes from scratch started with my sister calling one day to say she was making tacos and was out of taco seasoning mix. Could I tell her how to make it from scratch? I could and did and later she told me she never bought packaged taco seasoning mix anymore. When I find myself out of something such as taco seasoning mix, generally I look through my own recipes and if I don’t find what I am looking for there, I do a Google search which is the most fantastic research tool. I find a recipe, print it and then go about doubling or tripling the ingredients before getting out the various spices to mix up a batch.
Foraging isn’t something we can do here in the high desert although I have no doubt that some of the many wildflowers and weeds that grow in this region could be edible, but I do believe in eating food in season – and I am hoping that, with my son Kelly’s help, we will have a big vegetable garden next spring. I have planted five fruit trees since moving to the desert and Kelly transplanted a pomegranate tree for me yesterday, a gift from my manicurist. He bought 4 fruit trees that same year and between us, I hope to eventually harvest enough fruit to can most of it and get back to making my own applesauce. We had 26 fruit trees where I used to live but many of them were citrus, which doesn’t grow well in the high desert. For one thing, we usually have a freeze in the winter. I still have hopes of putting up a greenhouse, eventually.
Allen also writes about thrifty cooking—how people are lured into throwing out perfectly good food if they haven’t used it by the “best before” date (I’ve been trying to get this across to my grandchildren who live in a household where anything with an expired date is thrown out. Over the weekend I tried to impress upon my grandson that “expired” milk may not be BAD – if it seems to be slightly off, you can make a chocolate pudding or tapioca and have a perfectly good dessert). Sour milk, of course, can be used in any number of bread or cake recipes.
“Forgotten Skills of Cooking” is quite obviously a labor of love replete with tantalizing photographs to tempt any would-be cook.
The book begins with a chapter on “Foraging” which focuses on wild greens that grow in Ireland where, when the author was a child foraging was a way of life a part of every year (Although I have never been to Ireland and know nothing about foraging for fruit and greens, oddly enough I have written several poems on the subject in a series I wrote a couple of years ago about “An American Childhood” – I must have drawn on some universal consciousness to do that). The only green I know anything about foraging is dandelions. Comfrey is listed in Allen’s book—I always thought of it as an herb. When we first moved into the Arleta house in 1974 (when my sons were little boys) there was a comfrey patch in the front yard and my friend Connie identified it and said it was good for healing. Sure enough, Allen comments that comfrey was known was “knitbone” in the past as it draws out infections and multiplies healing cells when bones are broken. I think I would love to visit Ireland just to go foraging. Recipes for blackberries and crabapples make my mouth water- and I do remember collecting wild crabapples in the woods just a short distance from my parents’ home on Sutter Street. What did we do with them? I don’t remember. I would be a teenager before I began experimenting with making jellies or jams.
Allen provides a recipe for making pickling mushrooms*; her recipe is made with wild mushrooms but those of us on this side of the pond without access to wild mushrooms might want to try this recipe when the small button mushrooms are in the supermarket and fresh – you only need a little over 2 lbs of mushrooms and that’s quite a few mushrooms to a pound when they are small.
Allen’s book is huge – more like an encyclopedia of forgotten skills of cooking with chapters on chickens, turkey, duck, pigs, and photographs to whet your appetite. I am inspired by a chapter on sausages, something Bob & I always planned to do. My grandparents made sausages – when we were very young children, they killed a pig and participation of all the family – my father, uncle, aunt and their respective spouses, was a requirement if they all expected to get some of the sausages to eat after they had smoked in my grandfather’s garage/smokehouse. Allen’s paprika sausages make me think of Hungarian Kolbasz—and who doesn’t love Bratwurst?
I am also charmed by a chapter on Chutneys – I have been making chutneys and collecting chutney recipes for about 20 years. There I found a recipe for Green Tomato Chutney that I will have to share with a girlfriend with whom I share green tomato recipes. So, to finish this off, let me share Allen’s recipe for Ballymaloe Green Tomato Chutney. I will also provide you with the recipe for pickling mushrooms—which, you know, is one of those great things you can keep in the frig and have on hand when needed.
To make Ballymaloe Green Tomato Chutney you will need
2¼ lb cooking apples, peeled and diced (i.e., Granny Smith)
1 lb onions, chopped
2¼ lb green tomatoes, chopped (no need to peel)
1½ cups white sugar
1 ¾ cups turbinado* sugar (*Turbinado sugar is a natural brown sugar. Use any brown sugar if you can’t obtain Turbinado)
1 lb golden raisins
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp allspice
2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
2 garlic cloves, coarsely crushed
1 TBSP salt
3 cups white wine vinegar
Put the onions and apples into a wide stainless steel saucepan and add the remaining ingredients. Stir well, bring to a boil and simmer gently, for about 45 minutes or until reduced by more than half. Stir regularly, particularly towards the end of cooking. Pot into sterilized jars and cover immediately with non-reactive lids. Store in a dark airy place and leave to mellow for at least 2 weeks before using.
And here is Allen’s Pickled Mushroom recipe. To make pickled mushrooms you will need
2¼ lb wild mushrooms (or small fresh button mushrooms from the supermarket)
4 cups best white vinegar OR 2½ cups best white vinegar and 1 cup verjuice*
4 fresh bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 sprigs thyme
3 tsp salt
Extra virgin olive oil
Trim the mushrooms carefully and only if really necessary; rinse quickly under cold water. Dry on paper towels or a kitchen towel. Put the vinegar and verjuice, if using, into a stainless steel sauce pan with the bay leaves and garlic. Bring to a boil, add the mushrooms and continue to simmer for 4-5 minutes—lay a clean saucer or butter plate on top of the mushrooms to keep them immersed in the liquid. Drain the pickling liquid—this can be saved for another batch. Put a little olive oil into sterilized jars, divide the mushrooms, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and salt between them, press down well to remove air bubbles. Cover with extra virgin olive oil to a depth of 3/4 inch. Cover and seal; store in a cool dry place. (for me the only cool dry place is my second refrigerator. Serve as part of an antipasto or crostini.
*Verjuice is a very acidic grape juice. You may be able to substitute lemon juice. Personally, I would stick with all good white vinegar. And I have to admit, I hesitate to pack the mushrooms in olive oil. Personally – whenever I have made pickled mushrooms – I’ve left them in the brine with the herbs.
Happy Cooking and Happy cookbook collecting!