This book is an amazing tome of culinary secrets that I've been in love with ever since it arrived. First of all, the quality of the book itself is top notch. It's a rough textured hardback sans paper flap cover. Darina Allen is drawing comparisons to Julia Child, and that marketing pitch seems to have translated into the layout of the pages. They are glossy and in the exact style of every cookbook of Julia's that I own. It reminds me in particular of The Way to Cook, Julia's master class, which was uncustomarily accompanied with ample photos.
Admittedly, there are things in Forgotten Skills that I'll never venture to try, such as the tripe on page 184, or the brawn on page 320. I'm not exactly tempted by the recipe for beef dripping on toast on page 177. But there are plenty of examples of recipes that are staples in many of our kitchens, reimagined from a fresh, farmy (to invent an adjective) perspective, such as beef stew (pp. 163), quiche Lorraine (pp. 250), and a delicious bacon and cheddar cheese strata that you absolutely must try (pp. 579). It seems like we've skipped spring altogether this year and headed straight into summer. In this current heat, I can't wait to try the recipe for Ballymaloe vanilla ice cream (no ice cream maker required!) on page 207. The simplicity reminds me of how my grandmother used to wait for a second snow, and then set out a large metal bowl to collect enough flakes to add in condensed milk, and, voila!, delicious ice cream.
Don't be discouraged by the opening chapter, which addresses various edible flowers, herbs, and weeds that you can scavenge and prepare in various dishes. Those recipes set the tone for the rest of the book, but in no way define it. In fact, if I had to try to sum up the essence of this book, I'd go back to the comparison to Julia Child's The Way to Cook. Julia's book was meant as a step-by-step class for the uninitiated to the steps of traditional French cooking. Ms. Allen's book is rather a guide to the traditional country cooking of Ireland, often with hints of the global culinary influence of France, Italy, and even the United States (she has a delectable recipe for American-style short ribs on page 165). And then there are the traditional recipes like calves' liver with caramelized onions on page 183 that put me in mind of my grandmother's kitchen.
A great deal of these recipes and skills are indeed forgotten legacies of the Old World, but the majority are at least relatively current and adapted for modern kitchens. Scattered throughout are notes on farming, slaughtering livestock (a note from Ms. Allen: don't bend the chicken's neck back too far, lest you pull off the head!), instructions for making everything from homemade butter to sausage, and natural cleaning agents for around the house. Ms. Allen's book will no doubt be an indispensable source of inspiration and reference for my culinary adventures. Also, the Amazon price is a steal. Highly recommended!