ArchiveJuly 2014

A tribute to Theodora Fitzgibbon – Donal Skehan

Theodora Fitzgibbon was a beautiful elegant erudite lady, well travelled. Born in London in 1918 of Irish parents, Theodora was educated in England and France and travelled widely with her father and husband, the writer Constantine FitzGibbon, living in India, the United States and in many countries on the Continent. Her travels gave her the opportunity to investigate first-hand the food mores of many diverse cultures and she developed an extensive knowledge of both Irish and worldwide cuisine. It was her ability to bring social and historical context to food for her readers for the first time that marked her out as a game-changer when she began writing for the Irish Times in the 1970’s.

Theodora was also deeply interested in theatre and worked as an actress both in London and Rome.

She wrote over 30 books most of which were about food.  However, the books she will be most remembered for are her “Taste of ” serves, particularly A Taste of Ireland and A Taste of Scotland.

Her autobiographies  give us a glimpse into her eccentric family and upbringing and chronicle what life was like in wartime Paris and London and recalls her bohemian existence living in Bermuda, Capri and Rome where she moved in the literary and artistic circles with Salvador Dali, Picasso, Dylan Thomas, Graeme Greene, Greta Garbo and James Thurber.

Food is a constant thread in her memoirs. There are many mouth-watering recollections of how she managed to create meals from nothing during the ration years and how she got to grips with new ingredients for her many dinner parties as she moved from country to country.

More recently Donal Skehan, one of Ireland’s most exciting young food writers has linked up with Gill and MacMillan to publish a new collection in which he selects her very best dishes and photographs them beautifully.

Theodora’s fans will be delighted to be able to replace their dog-eared cookery books and collection of newspaper clippings with his beautiful new volume. Don’t miss the accompanying TV series – Rediscovering the Irish Kitchen (which started on 24th June) at 8.30 pm on Tuesday nights on RTE 1.



Theodora Fitzgibbon’s Convent Eggs


This recipe, which I have adapted very slightly for modern use, comes from Soyer’s A Shilling Cookery for the People of 1859, a book that circulated in many parts of Ireland after Soyer came over to help provide edible food for the famine victims. My copy originally belonged to my aunt in Co. Clare and was much used by her.

Serves 4


4 eggs

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium-sized onion, sliced

1 tablespoon flour

300 ml (½ pint) milk

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

grated cheese or chopped

herbs, optional


Put the eggs into cold water, bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes, then put the eggs into cold water again. When cool, peel and cut across into six pieces each. Heat the butter and lightly fry the onion in it until soft but not coloured. Add the flour and mix well, then add the milk, stirring until it forms a nice white sauce; add the salt and pepper. Add the eggs, toss, and when they are hot through, serve on toast. Grated cheese or chopped herbs can also be added.



Theodora Fitzgibbon’s Plaice Lahori


Serves 4

4 large plaice fillets

oil or melted butter

lemon wedges, to garnish


2 tablespoons onion,

finely minced

juice of 1 lemon

¼ teaspoon ground coriander or 2 teaspoons fresh

pinch each powdered garlic and turmeric

stem chopped green ginger or ¼ teaspoon ground ginger

pulp of 2 ripe tomatoes, no skin

salt and pepper


A great favourite of mine, but you do need large plaice, not those wafer-thin, tasteless little things you see most often. Actually, I have also made it with dogfish and monkfish fillets, and it was delicious, but it was cooked longer.

Take the 4 large fish fillets and score with a sharp knife if very thick. Mix the marinade ingredients together, pounding well, then pour over the fish and leave for about 2 hours. Line a grilling pan with foil and brush over with oil or melted

butter and turn on the grill. Let it get quite hot with the pan underneath so that the foil gets hot, but do not let the oil brown.

Lift the fish and marinade gently on and grill at medium level for about 7 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. The heat of the foil at the bottom will cook the underneath. Serve with brown rice and green beans.


Theodora Fitzgibbon’s Café Liegeois


Serves 4


6 tablespoons vanilla or coffee


4 coffee cups strong,

sweetened black coffee

150 ml (¼ pint) whipped cream

4 teaspoons crushed ice


Put all ingredients, except the whipped cream, into a bowl and stir well, or liquidise until the mixture is thick and creamy. Pour into 4 tall glasses and top with whipped cream.

Chill so that it is semi-frozen and serve with sponge fingers.



Theodora Fitzgibbon’s  Melting Moments


These very light, little cakes of Scottish origin (but now firmly established in Ireland) live up to their name.


Makes about 30 ‘sandwiches ’


275 g (10 oz) butter

50 g (2 oz) icing sugar

225 g (8 oz) sifted flour

50 g (2 oz) cornflour

lemon curd or thick honey


Cream the butter and sugar until very light. Add both flours gradually, mixing well. Put small spoonfuls onto greased baking trays and bake for about 15 minutes in the oven at 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Cool on a rack, and when cool, sandwich together with a little lemon curd or thick honey in between.


All recipes are taken from The Pleasures of the Table – Donal Skehan

Published by Gill & MacMillan.

Hot Tips


Wild and Free

The Organic Centre Garden Party

Sunday 13th July from 11am -5pm

Entrance free!

Gardening and organic growing can be so much more than just producing food. Wild life, wild patches, hedgerows with wild plants and food and wild flower meadows all add enjoyment, health and natural wealth to our lives and families and help to protect our natural environment. This year’s event features activities for all the family:

How to create a wildflower meadow and make wildflower seed balls.

The top 10 edible weeds and the best flowers and shrubs for bees and butterflies.

How to grow unusual vegetables and find wild mushrooms.

There will be a masterclass in watering plants indoors and outdoors.

The Pop-up Hedgerow bar will serve wild fermented drinks and The Grass Roof Café will be serving the most wonderful wild dishes. We will bake pizza in our outdoor clay oven.

Special guest are “Eagles Flying” and we have local farm animals.

Music, drumming and tai-chi and displays of local tourism providers will be ongoing throughout the day.

Raffle and fundraising for The Organic Centre.

For more information call 071-9854338 or visit




Achill Mountain Lamb

I’ve just tasted the first of the seasons new Achill Mountain lamb, opens on July 5th – The Calvey family have been rearing lambs on Achill for over 50 years,they feed on the bladder wrack on the coastline and the grass on the cliffs. The herbs and heather seem to give the meat a delicious sweetness and the salt deposits from the sea breeze enhance the flavour further, chefs like J.P. Mc Mahon,  Aniar in Galway and  Derry Clarke from Ecrivain have already discovered it but you can order over the phone and have it delivered.

Grainne Calvey -  phone: 098 43158  -

Don’t miss the Achill Island Festival of the Sea, 18th – 20th July – for more information


Fab Food Trails

Do you know about these food tasting trails, Eveleen Coyle and her niece Alice Coyle had this brilliant concept in 2009.

They started in Dublin but have extended to Cork and more recently to Kilkenny. A wonderful way to explore a city, learn about its history and food culture in a fun and light hearted way. Visit and learn in markets, food halls, cheesemongers, butchers, fruit and flower stalls, fish mongers, bakers and have regular tastings.



Ireland has gone wild about food .Two festivals, not to be missed this weekend

Valentia Ireland King Scallop Festival 12th – 13th July –

Kenmare Food Carnival – as well as food markets, cookery demos, food trails there will be Samba dancers and a jazz band to ensure a Mardi Gras-style atmosphere – I had lots of fun and loved the vibe last year –



Butter is Best

The recent cover story on Time magazine was that butter is better so surprise surprise its official after all. Only two vitamins are water soluble, all the rest are fat soluble, so what does that mean? Well the reality is that unless you eat a little fat with the rest of your food the body can’t absorb all the nutrients from the food – that’s why, many people on a strictly low fat diet find themselves under nourished and often overweight.

Lovely Julia Child, the goddess of butter, cream and a good pinch of salt must be smiling wryly in his heavenly home. Butter is high in a compound CLA that protects us from tumour growth and cancer and provides omega 3 fatty acids. Recently a team of international scientists have completed an exhaustive new analysis of the research to date, drawing on 80 studies involving more than half a million people. They found NO evidence to support the theory that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. They did however find a link between trans fats and coronary problems
This meta analysis (basically a study of other studies) was published in the Journal Analysis of International Medicine.

More studies are underway but it does sound as though the days of – “I can’t believe its not butter” and the myriad of low fat products are numbered.
Its seems utterly incredible that the dietary advice that was stated with absolute certainly by the governments, Departments of Health, doctors and dieticians for over four decades was erroneous. Not only was it not based on fact but it now appears that a lack of saturated fat may in fact be damaging to our health. Why was it so easy to persuade not only the medical profession but the greater general public that butter, a totally natural product was less good than margarine and other highly processed low fat products.

Entire industries are now based on whipping up paranoia and demonizing fat. The war on fat is far from over, after years of conditioning, consumer habits are deeply formed and some people are actually nauseated by fat.

Interesting to be a fly on the wall in the marketing departments in some of those multi national company boardrooms these days. Flora have already launched a new “irresistible blend of butter and Flora” called GOLD. There is no doubt the real problem in our diet is an excess of sugar and ultra processed food – we can no longer say we don’t know.
We need to ditch fake food for real food and not just embrace any old fat, it needs to come from a pure and natural source.
Everyone agrees that people would be healthier if more of their diet was made up of what Michael Pollen aptly calls “Real Food”.

Pan grilled Mackerel with Parsley and Lemon Butter

The new seasons mackerel are in – such joy – fresh mackerel are my absolute favourite sea fish. This is a master recipe for pan grilling fish.
The simplest and possibly the most delicious way to cook really fresh mackerel.

Serves 1 or 2

2-4 fillets of very fresh mackerel (allow 6 ozs (170g) fish form main course, 3 ozs (85g) for a starter)
seasoned flour
small knob of butter

Parsley Butter
2 ozs (50g/1/2 stick) butter
4 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice

segment of lemon

First make the Parsley Butter.
Cream the butter, stir in the parsley and a few drops of lemon juice at a time. Roll into butter pats or form into a roll and wrap in greaseproof paper or tin foil, screwing each end so that it looks like a cracker. Refrigerate to harden.
Heat the grill pan.

Dip the fish fillets in flour which has been seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Shake off the excess flour and then spread a little butter with a knife on the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is quite hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Turn down the heat slightly and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes on that side before you turn them over. Continue to cook on the other side until crisp and golden. Serve on a hot plate with some slices of Parsley Butter and a segment of lemon.

Parsley Butter may be served directly on the fish, or if you have a pretty shell, place it at the side of the plate as a container for the butter. Garnish with parsley and a segment of lemon.

Madhur Jaffreys Chicken in a Butter Sauce

From Indian Cookery

The Indians too love butter – The sauce in this dish should be folded into butter at the very last minute as it tends to separate otherwise. However, you can combine all the ingredients except the butter up to a day ahead of time and refrigerate them until they are needed.
This is a wonderfully simple but spectacular dish in which the Tandoori chicken is transformed with a sauce.

Serves 4-6

4 tablespoons tomato puree
Water to mix
A 1 inch (2.5cm) cube of fresh ginger, peeled and grated very finely to a pulp
½ pint (275ml) single cream
1 teaspoon garam masala
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 fresh, hot green chilli, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon very finely chopped fresh green coriander
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
4 oz (110g) unsalted butter
Tandoori-style chicken

Put the tomato paste in a clear measuring jug. Add water slowly, mixing as you go, to make up 8 fl oz (225ml) of tomato sauce. Add the ginger, cream, garam masala, salt, sugar, green chilli, cayenne, green coriander, lemon juice, and ground roasted cumin seeds. Mix well.
Heat the butter in a wide sauté pan or a large frying pan, When the butter has melted, add all the ingredients in the measuring jug. Bring to a simmer and cook on medium heat for a minute, mixing in the butter as you do so. Add the chicken pieces (but not their accumulated juices). Stir once and put chicken pieces on a warm serving platter. Extra sauce should be spooned over the top.

Ballymaloe Green Gooseberry Tartlets

Use the last of the green gooseberries for these delectable tartlets, the butter pastry is rich, flakey and delicious.

Makes 36 tartlets approximately

1 quantity cold cream pastry
450g (1lb) green gooseberries (topped and tailed)
caster sugar

Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.

Using plenty of flour roll the cold pastry to a thickness of 2mm (1/8 inch). Cut the pastry with a 7.5cm (3 inch) round cutter and use the disks of pastry to line a standard flat based bun tray.

Cut the gooseberries in half and arrange 6-7 halves on each disk of pastry. Place a rounded teaspoon of caster sugar on top of the fruit in each tartlet. Bake the tartlets for 15-20 minutes or until the sugar begins to caramelise and the pastry is a golden brown colour. Remove the tartlets from the bun tray while still hot – use a palette knife for this – and place on parchment paper which has been sprinkled with caster sugar.

These tartlets are best served warm.

Open Apple Tartlets: Replace the gooseberries with thinly sliced eating apple.
Open Rhubarb Tartlets: Replace the gooseberries with thinly sliced pink rhubarb.

Cream Pastry

This superb pastry keeps in the fridge for up to 6 days.

110g (4oz/1 stick) cold salted butter
110g (4oz/1 cup) plain flour
150ml (5fl oz/generous 1/2 cup) cold cream

Sieve the flour into the bowl of an electric food mixer. Cut the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour using the paddle attachment until the mixture forms a coarse texture (slow speed and then a little faster). (DO NOT over mix, if you do the mixture will form a shortbread like ball! Pour the cold cream into the coarse mixture and mix on a low speed until a smooth pastry forms. Wrap the pastry in parchment paper and chill overnight.
Always roll cream pastry straight from the fridge. If the pastry comes to room temperature it will be too soft to handle!

Hot Tips

New Seasons Marsh Samphire has just arrived. This is also called Glasswort and is quite different to rock samphire but equally easy to cook in boiling water (not salted) for about 3 or 4 minutes. Toss in melted butter and serve with fish and salad. Available from the Ballymaloe Cookery School stall in Midleton.

My latest find was at the in Skibbereen Farmers Market in West Cork a vibrant melange of stalls selling not just beautiful local and artisan produce fresh fish and shellfish, it also has bric a brac, organic seeds, hand-woven rugs and fancy poultry…. Look out for one the newest stands Bantry Bay chocolates was selling little cellophane bags of crunchy toffees with a hint of sea salt – so good we fought over the last one.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Gardens are open to the public at present, the finest vegetable and herb gardens are bursting with produce as is the greenhouse. We even have peaches, apricots and a pomegranate. Don’t miss the shellhouse and maize and check out the fancy fowl and fat pigs. Gardens open daily from 11am – 5.30pm.

The OOBY Food Market which caused such a stir in East Cork reopens and will be operating from the wall outside Shanagarry Church from 10am – 12 noon every Sunday for the Summer – not to be missed….. Telephone: Olivia Connolly 021 4646041


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