In A Trifle, a Coddle, a Fry (Moyer Bell, $18.95), O'Mara and O'Reilly have taken 13 Irish literary masters and cooked up an entertaining and informative look at how they ate and incorporated their food attitudes into their works.
We learn that James Joyce loved food but rarely had the money to indulge
himself. His works included vivid food descriptions that excite the senses. For example, this from Ulysses:
"Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod's roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys . . ."
George Bernard Shaw thought eating was as unimportant as dressing and undressing, but he wrote and spoke on the subject of his own diet of vegetarianism as an adult.
In one of his letters, Shaw offers some insight into why, perhaps, he had little time for food, as he wrote about "his devil of a childhood . . . rich only in dreams, frightful and loveless in realities." He described how, as a lonely and neglected child, he ate in the kitchen with the servants.
"Stewed beef, which I loathed, badly cooked potatoes, sound or diseased as the case may be and much too much tea out of a brown delft teapot left to 'draw' on the hob until it was pure tannin. Sugar I stole . . ."
The book, which is available in the States, was published today to coincide with St. Patrick's Day, another subject close to the authors' hearts. When contacted at the south Dublin home of O'Reilly, the pair spoke about their book, offered some insights into the proper celebration of the day and created a menu for the holiday based on recipes in their book.
"St. Patrick's Day is perfectly more exciting in America," said O'Mara. ''Of course, everybody here wears great clumps of shamrocks on their chests and drinks gallons of Guinness."
But for state-of-the-art fun and frolic, she said, you're best celebrating the day in the States. "In the old days in Dublin, when we were university students, all the pubs shut." If you wanted to imbibe, you had to attend the canine show at the Royal Dublin Society. "Characters like Brendan Behan would be found there rubbing shoulders with all the doggie lovers," she said.
"Everyone goes in for a great craic (fun) on St. Pat's Day, especially in the west of Ireland, so we were thinking of offering our suggestions for a St. Patrick's Day menu. There are particularly good ones in the cookbook.
"This is supposed to be a celebration in your own home, and we've covered all four provinces. The first course is a fish dish called Filet of Sole Baile Atha Cliath, which just means Sole Dublin.
"For a main course we suggest boiled ham. In our book that is under the chapter on Kate O'Brien, who was from Limerick, whose hams have a worldwide reputation for excellence - on a par with your Virginia ham.
"To go with that, there's a dish called Champ (a combination of mashed potatoes and onions or leeks), which was Patty Kavanagh's favorite."
At that point in the conversation O'Reilly enthusiastically interrupted to say that she lived on the same street as poet Patrick Kavanagh, and O'Mara, not to be outdone, interjected that she lived just around the corner from James Joyce's tavern.
For dessert, both women suggested the Tipsy Trifle, from Some Experiences of an Irish RM, by Edith Somerville and Martin Ross.
"We thought it would be fun to accompany this meal with large amounts of Black Velvet, which we make with two-thirds Guinness (Stout) and one-third champagne," O'Mara said.
Before the conversation concluded, both O'Mara and O'Reilly explained how the idea for the book came about.
It started when O'Reilly was having one of her famous dinner parties. Her husband invited a Japanese academic to the party and he literally fell through the door.
"We realized it was a matter of drink and that he had been on a literary pub crawl around Dublin," O'Mara said.
O'Reilly suggested that a literary food crawl would be less incapacitating, and O'Mara idly surmised that such a tour could form the basis for a book.
Here are the recipes for the St. Patrick's Day meal suggested by O'Mara and O'Reilly:
FILET OF SOLE BAILE ATHA CLIATH
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 ounces flour
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated
8 filets sole, or other white fish
8 potatoes, mashed
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
Melt butter in a saucepan and cook the mushrooms until softened. Stir in the flour and then add one third of the milk, stirring all the time to avoid lumps. Add the rest of the milk. Continue to stir, and add the mustard, salt and pepper and the grated cheese. Stir until smooth.
Poach the filets in a saucepan of simmering salted water for 5 minutes. Put the mashed potato around the edge of a gratin dish. Place the fish in the center and pour the sauce onto the fish. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and garnish the dish around the sides with butterflied orange and lemon slices. Makes four servings.
3 pounds smoked ham
1 lemon, cut in quarters
2 bay leaves
2 ounces brown sugar
Put the ham in a large saucepan and add water until it reaches the top of the ham. Bring to a boil, then drain off all the water and remove any scum that has formed. Fill the saucepan up with water again and add the lemon, bay leaves and parsley. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 1 hour and 20 minutes (20 minutes per pound, plus 20 minutes longer).
When ham is cooked, remove the skin and score the fat with a sharp knife, making a crisscross pattern; press brown sugar all over the fat, and stick in cloves at intervals. Makes six generous servings.
8 medium potatoes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
Peel and halve the potatoes. Chop the scallions. Boil potatoes and scallions together in water to cover until soft, about 30 minutes. Drain vegetables and mash with half of the butter, adding salt and pepper. Just before serving, make a hole in the top of the mound of mashed potatoes and add the remaining butter. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Makes four servings.
The recipe for this trifle is a Victorian one. O'Reilly's mother, Frances, said there was never a trifle quite like it.
1 sponge cake (about 1 pound), a day old
8 ounces jam of your choice
1/2 pint sweetish sherry
3 ounces brandy
3 ounces liqueur to match jam flavor
1/3 cup sugar
1 pear, peeled, cored and chopped
1 banana, peeled and chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and hopped
1 orange, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 pint whipping cream
1/4 cup toasted almonds
Cover sponge cake with jam and cut into square chunks. Take a large serving dish and place half of the sponge cake in one layer. Combine the sherry, brandy and liqueur and pour about one-sixth of it over the sponge-cake chunks. Then make another layer with the remaining sponge cake chunks, pouring the remaining liquor mixture over.
Next, make a custard. Dissolve the sugar in the milk. Beat the eggs. Heat the milk and sugar mixture in a saucepan - making sure it does not boil - and add the beaten eggs to the milk in a slow, steady stream, stirring rapidly all the time.
Return the saucepan to low heat for about 10 minutes, until it begins to thicken, stirring constantly. Take saucepan off the heat the second it begins to thicken or it will curdle. (Have an ice cube handy in case it does.)
Place the chopped fruit on top of the sponge. Add the vanilla to the custard and stir. Allow custard to cool completely, then spoon it on top of the fruit.
Whip the cream and spread it on top of the custard and decorate with toasted almonds. Makes eight servings.