I was much braver as a child.
At least I thought nothing of picking – and, more to the point, eating – field mushrooms when, at around this time of year, they would poke their heads above the soily parapet in the field across the way. My adult self, I’m afraid, wouldn’t dream of plucking so freely now – at least not without spending more time in the company of someone who knew what they were about, mushroom-wise, where a very fine line can exist between deliciousness and death.
Mary Bulfin, longtime forager and wild foods expert
Mary Bulfin, luckily, can navigate her way around the mushroom kingdom with more confidence than most, and when an invitation came my way to spend a weekend at Farnham Estate in Co. Cavan, which would include a foraging walk, as guided by Mary, through the estate’s extensive woodlands, I packed my wellies and headed north.
So why, exactly, do we buy cookbooks?
The simplistic answer, of course, is that we buy them for the recipes, but in reality, it’s almost never that simple.
We may buy a cookbook because we’ve seen the corresponding series on TV. We may have come to like or, even better, to trust the chef-author based on past cookbooks, through a blog or by way of an associated food business. We may want to try our hand at a particular cuisine or we may want to learn the basics. We may be dedicated followers of foodie fashion or we may just like the pictures, and there’s no doubt but that good photography and styling helps to sell.
Increasingly, photography in cookbooks is used, not only to show what the food should, in theory, look like but also to convey a representation of the lifestyle associated with eating that food. Whether we are subsequently disappointed when our dishes (or our lifestyle) do not turn out “like in the pictures” is another matter entirely. And while it can be helpful to see what a dish may look like at the end of our endeavours, some of my most trusted and well-used cookbooks (take a bow, Madhur Jaffrey) have little in the way of glossy pictures and are no less loved by me for that.
In the end, while the pictures are nice, it is the words that count. My favourite cookbooks are the ones that are worth reading not just for the recipes. Give me Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery and an armchair and I will curl up happily. Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater I like as much for their writing as for the style of their recipes. It’s important too, though, that the recipes work.
The Pieminister Cookbook
“I’ve never had a good mushroom soup,” said Kev.
Bejaysus but it was quite the statement with which to launch into a lunchtime conversation at work.
It turns out that most of the people around the table had rather definite opinions on mushroom soup. While I would not, myself, have gone as far as to say that I had never had a good mushroom soup, I’ve certainly had my fair share of bad ones. Brian volunteered that he had once had a good mushroom soup from a packet, Dave that he once had a good mushroom soup experience, but it was somewhere exotic like Thailand. From the point of view of those seeking mushroom soup nirvana, it all sounded pretty grim, frankly. Except for the bit about being in Thailand. It also had the distinct whiff of a challenge, one that would more than likely find me whipping mushrooms and spuds into some kind of soupy frenzy.
Cue the return of Gorta’s Soup For Life campaign – where, for one week starting this coming Friday, April 8th, a range of restaurateurs in Dublin and Cork will be donating €1 per bowl of soup sold to fund Gorta’s work in Africa. The making of some decent mushroom soup seemed an appropriate way to follow on from my last year’s soupy contribution to their campaign.