By Darina Allen
Photographs by Peter Cassidy
Kyle Books -- 2010
Buy it on Amazon
Forgotten Skills of Cooking is a genie in a book instead of a bottle. Crack it open and the wisdom of a googleplex of grannies is at your fingertips. Darina Allen is lovingly referred to as the Julia Child of Ireland -- that's high praise, and praise that's rightfully bestowed. Allen is the very best combination of cook and teacher.
Culturally, something has shifted in an unpleasant way: we spend hard-earned money on inferior "quickie" foods, eat poorly in a nutritional sense, and have come to consider meal preparation a chore. It's all about slapping food on the table. Ouch and yuck.
See what we tested and whether it's worth buying after the jump.
This book, the product of Allen's Forgotten Skills courses at Ballymaloe Cookery School, is packed with insights, recipes, and techniques that embrace time-honored traditions and skills. It's a reconnection with a love of cooking and a love of doing.
Takeaway tips: The whole book is a takeaway tip. Six hundred pages of tips, from trying your hand at cheesemaking to getting a crick out of your neck. And it's not all crazy complicated. Much of it is crazy simple, and the results astounding. And Allen doesn't have her head in the sand, not by a long shot. With a deft hand, she has gently modernized, incorporating new gadgets or ingredients.
Quality of pictures: Sometimes instructional, sometimes just eye candy; the photos truly bring home the spirit of this book. They entice and inform, all the while sending blissed-out messages to the brain.
What we tested: You could spend years cooking from this book. (Hint hint, for someone out there who's looking to be the next Julie Powell .... ) It's hard to know where to start. It's impossible to know when to stop.
I have a memory of making butter when I was in elementary school, arduously taking turns and being rewarded with a smear on a slice of Wonder Bread. Then there was the butter-churn sighting on a family trip to historic Jamestown, Virginia; the memory entirely eclipsed by the acquisition of a Pocahontas doll. I don't think I ever gave making butter another thought. Yet reading Forgotten Skills flicked the primal switch in my brain. I was too impatient to seek out the optional butter bats, which lo and behold, are readily available. (A mixer stands in for the churn.) The process was so simple and satisfying and made me feel like an urban butter maid ... an East Village Thomas Hardy heroine. I had butter enough to lovingly slather on everything, some to gift, and some to make Allen's delicate and divine butter cookies. After making my butter, I found myself with homemade buttermilk ... something I always thought grew in cartons. And then the grannies whispered: pancakes. Heaven.
Worth the investment: Forgotten Skills is not just a cookbook, it's also a cook's book. Although there are over 700 recipes, you also want to take it out of the kitchen into a quiet, cozy corner to read and treasure. Who would this book be for? Anyone who loves to cook and hasn't lost their sense of wonder, because it is, in every sense, wonderful.