The Four Seasons Cookery Book


A tome that is unanimously heralded as a timeless classic has been republished by Grub Street Publishers.  The first edition was my most treasured Christmas present in 1970 and by now it has lost its cover and is deliciously dog-eared.  

The latest edition has a brand new contemporary look and a foreword by Delia Smith, one of Margaret Costa’s fans.   There are a myriad of others including Myrtle Allen, Nigel Slater, Simon Hopkinson……..

This book has stood the test of time as we have come full circle in our attitude to food.  Its no longer a novelty to eat strawberries year round and its fast becoming naff and politically uncool to fill our shopping trolleys with exotic foods from across the globe, which rarely taste or nourish like fresh local food of our own country.

Margaret Costa was well ahead of her time when almost 40 years ago, she organized her book, not in the familiar starters, main courses and puds format, but according to the seasons. Good things to cook and eat in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.  Within each section there were, and still are also themed chapters such as Comforting Breakfasts, Rhubarb and Green Gooseberries, Olives, Proper Puddings, Pieces of Cake …

Margaret Costa broke away from the French influenced Cordon Bleu style and wrote recipes in simple English, everyone could understand what she was writing about and this in turn gave people confidence in the kitchen and encouraged them to try her beautifully crafted recipes.   She also gives the reader many inspiring variations, hints and suggestions.

The Four Seasons Cookery Book is one of my all-time favourites and a must for the growing number of people who care about eating well by using fresh foods in season and about feeding families with good food which is neither elaborate nor time consuming.  Here are some recipes from the book.

Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book published by Grub Street.
 Spiced Mackerel   – Four Seasons Cookbook by Margaret Costa
 6 mackerel1 teasp (5ml) black peppercorns

3 bay leaves

2 good teasp (10ml) salt

3 medium-sized onions

1oz (25g) butter

3 tablesp (45ml) cider

¾ pint (425ml) cider or tarragon vinegar

3 tablesp (45ml) sultanas (optional)

2 good teasp (10ml) sugar

Pinch of cayenne

Clean the mackerel and lay them in a pan with the peppercorns and bay leaves; pour over them enough salted water just to cover.   Simmer very gently for about 10 minutes; if you let them boil their skins will burst.   When cooked, drain well, reserving the cooking liquid, and lay in a shallow dish.

Cut the onions into thin slices, cook them until soft in the butter, drain them and spread them over the mackerel.   Boil up the cider with the vinegar and ½ pint (300ml) of the liquid in which the fish were poached and add the peppecorns and bay leaves, the sultanas, sugar and pinch of cayenne.

Pour over the mackerel.   Cover and keep for at least a day or two before serving; it will, of course, keep for much longer.  Serve it with a salad and hot or cold new potatoes.

On a cold summer day serve hot grilled mackerel with new potatoes.  Score the mackerel before grilling with deep diagonal slashes on each side and fill these cuts with strong yellow Dijon mustard.  Oil the fish well before grilling and ‘refresh’ the mustard before serving if you like.

Peaches with Sour Cream
 8oz (225g) vanilla sugar
½ pint (300ml) water

1 peach for each person

Caster sugar

Soured cream

Demerara sugar or toasted flaked almonds

Dissolve the sugar in the water and simmer for 5 minutes.  Poach the peaches very lightly in this syrup, then skin them and slice them into a bowl, sprinkling each layer with a very little caster sugar.  Cover thickly with soured cream and sprinkle thickly with Demerara sugar or toasted flaked almonds before serving.

Crab Omelette
 1½ oz (40g) crabmeat – mixed brown and white – per person1½ eggs per person

½ teasp (2.5ml) cold water per person

A little butter

Mix the white and brown meat of the crab thoroughly together and stir in the beaten eggs.   Season well and add the cold water.   Heat the butter in the frying pan; when it is really hot, pour in the egg and crab mixture, and make the omelette in the usual way.  It is delicious when served with a simple green salad

This makes a ravishing summer soup.  Make it when you’ve boiled a chicken.  You need really good stock for it, flavoured with onion and fresh herbs and well seasoned.
2 pints (1.2 litres) chicken stock

4 eggs

The juice of 1 large lemon

Thin slices of lemon and sprigs of dill to garnish

Bring the chicken stock to the boil.  Beat the eggs in a bowl with the lemon juice. Gradually add a little of the stock to the eggs, beating well.   Return to the pan and cook until it is the consistency of thin custard – but be careful not to let it get anywhere near boiling point.  You can serve it hot or chilled.  Hot it tastes more chickeny; cold, more lemony.  Either way, float a thin slice of lemon in the bowl, and top it, if you can, with a feathery sprig of dill.  Two ounces (55g) of rice can be simmered in the stock if you like, but if you use rice do remember to allow a little more stock as it will become reduced while the rice is cooking.

Liver with Dubonnet and Orange
 1 tablespoon (15ml) olive oil
1½ oz (40g) butter

2 small onions

1 clove garlic

1lb (450g) calf’s or lamb’s liver

Seasoned flour

1 tablespoon (15ml) orange juice

8 tablespoons (120ml) Dubonnet (red)

2 good tablespoons (50ml) finely chopped parsley

Coarsely grated rind of 1 large orange

1 teaspoon (5ml) finely grated lemon rind

As many rashers of back bacon as you wish

Heat the olive oil and butter together very gently in a large, deep frying pan and cook the very finely chopped onions and crushed garlic in it over a very low heat, covered, until the onions are soft and just beginning to colour.   Cut the slices of liver very evenly about ½ inch (10mm) thick, and coat with seasoned flour – flour to which you have added a good saltspoon (1.25ml) of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. When the onions are cooked, add the slices of liver to the pan in one layer and continue to cook over a very moderate heat.  As soon as you see ‘the blood rise in it’ – a vivid chef’s phrase – turn the liver over and cook for a slightly shorter time at an even lower heat.  (The cooking time will obviously depend on the thickness of the liver as well as on personal taste – but don’t overcook it.)  Remove the slices to a warmed plate and cover them with as much of the chopped onion as you can remove with a perforated spoon.

Now add the orange juice and the Dubonnet to the juices left in the pan, scraping the bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon.  Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for a couple of minutes until the ‘sauce’ has reduced by almost half.   Turn off the heat, add the parsley, orange rind and lemon rind (keeping some of the parsley and orange rind to use as a garnish) and give it a final stir.   Pour over the liver and serve with – or without, it is delicious either way – the grilled bacon rashers and with mashed potato, grilled tomatoes and, if you like, mushrooms.  Scatter the rest of the parsley and the rest of the orange rind over the liver just before serving.

Treacle Sponge
 This is really a Winter pudding but one of the classics from the book.
2 tablespoons (30ml) golden syrup

The juice of ½ lemon

1 tablespoon (15ml) fine breadcrumbs


Grated rind of 1 lemon

4oz (115g) caster sugar

2 eggs

5oz (140g) self-raising flour

Pinch of salt


Mix together the syrup, lemon juice and breadcrumbs, and put them at the bottom of a buttered pudding basin.  Cream 4oz (115g) butter with the finely grated lemon rind and the sugar until fluffy, and add the beaten eggs.  Stir in the flour, sifted with a pinch of salt, and add just enough milk for the batter to drop from a spoon.    Turn into the pudding basin, cover and steam for 2 hours.  Serve with more syrup, warmed and sharpened with lemon juice.

Foolproof Food
Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Sugar Snaps and Peas
This is one of our favourite summer recipes when we have our own freshly picked zucchini and sugar peas –
Serves 10 approx.

450g (1lb) Penne
450g (1lb) green and golden zucchini, 5-6 inches in length
110g (4oz) peas, cooked
450g (1 lb) sugar snaps
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon chilli flakes, optional
50g (2oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
50g (2oz) fresh basil leaves or marjoram, chopped

A few zucchini blossoms, if available

Top and tail the zucchini and cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices at an angle.  String the sugar snaps if necessary.  Bring  8 litres (12 pints) of water to the boil in a large deep saucepan, add 2 tablespoons salt, add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Meanwhile shoot the sugar snaps into 1.2 litres (2 pints) of boiling water with 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and cook uncovered for 3-4 minutes or until crisp and al dente.  Drain and refresh under cold water.  Save the water and bring to the boil again.  Add the peas and cook for a few minutes. If you’re adept at juggling and have enough stove space you can also cook the zucchini while the pasta and sugar snaps are cooking.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a sauté pan.  Add the chilli flakes, if using, toss in the zucchini, increase the heat and continue to toss for 3 or 4 minutes, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and reduce heat to medium for another few minutes by which time the zucchini should be tender but still al dente; Draw off the heat and allow to cool. By now if you’re timing is good the pasta should be al dente so drain it quickly. Add the sugar snaps, peas, zucchini, chopped parsley and the torn basil or chopped marjoram to the pasta.  Toss well with a little extra virgin olive oil.  Taste, correct seasoning if necessary. Turn into a pasta bowl, sprinkle a few zucchini blossoms and basil leaves over the top

Hot tips
 Congratulations to the Tesco Young Chefs of the Year
Senior winner was Laura Clifford from Co Louth – following in the footsteps of her brother who won the competition two years ago and is now training to be a professional chef at Dundalk IT – children of the highly regarded chef the late Michael Clifford of Cliffords in Cork.  Laura presented a Nettle Soup with Brown Bread, Baked cod, courgettes and Parmesan cheese with potato cakes.   Junior winner was Donncha MacBride also from Co Louth.   Donncha served Annagassen crab salad with a spicy tomato and red pepper coulis and avocado guacamole, Irish Pork Wellington with sage and onion stuffing, finely shredded spring cabbage and bacon and a Bramley apple, honey and vanilla sauce
Festival Time
Check out for list of the many festivals taking place around the country this summer.
Xpresso Café at Arcade, Midleton, Co Cork
Touring East Cork, having an outing to Midleton, coffee after the Farmers Market,  or just popping in for some shopping –   the Arcade is the perfect one stop shop for morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea – all coffee and chocolate is organic and fair-trade, smoothies made with probiotic yogurt, homemade scones, cakes, soup, bagels, toasted sandwiches, paninis… alongside a wide range of fashions for all ages, also interiors and gifts –   021-4631077

Lullaby Milk from Ardrahan
High in Melatonin from cows milked before daybreak – Ardrahan Lullaby Milk is suitable for both young and old with sleeping problems, even helps some people with jet lag. From the Friesian herd of Mary and Gerald Burns who also make the wonderful Ardrahan Cheese – Lullaby Milk, pasteurised and non-homogenised – can be drank as it is or add crushed summer fruits. Available at Dunnes Stores, Super-Valu, and Spar on McCurtain St., Cork –  Tel 029-78099

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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