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Book of the Month: The Irish Pub Cookbook

Irish Pub Cookbook

In honor of our impending two-week trek in Ireland, I’ve been doing some essential research. I’m already aware of some of the basics, such as the Guinness Storehouse and the Tullamore Distillery, and they’re scheduled on the tour.

But what about Irish food? And how it’s prepared? Especially in the places where I intend to spend some time, like the public houses. After all, I’ll need something tasty to wash down with all that stout.

Well, never fear, Google is here! Oh, and Amazon, of course. A few quick searches, beginning with “pub cooking,” quickly finds a plethora of choices. Refining to “Irish” doesn’t seem to shorten the list much. It seems Irish cooking has an appeal all out of proportion to the country’s relative size.

What to do, what to do? I crossed my fingers, ordered a couple of volumes that looked interesting, and sat back to wait for delivery.

The book on the top of the box immediately demanded my attention: The Irish Pub Cookbook by Margaret M. Johnson (with food photography by Leigh Beisch). A rustic photo of an inviting bowl of Irish stew, ready to dive into, occupies most of the cover. I was immediately hooked.

A couple days later, when I finally surfaced from my study of the book, I knew this volume would occupy a place of honor on my cookbook shelf and kitchen workspace. The production values that Chronicle Books has lavished on this book are incredible. Leigh Beisch’s food photos are only the start; the landscapes and the pub pictures are intense too. A true feast for the eyes.

The book is laid out in the following sections. After a smooth Introduction, there are seven chapters: Starters; Soups; Salads; Hot Pots, Meat Pies, and Savory Tarts; Meat and Potatoes; Seafood; Sweets. The final sections include a glossary and conversion chart (Metric-English).

The recipes all look wonderful. I tried a few, from a couple soups to the Beef and Pepper Pot (pg. 108), and found the instructions clear and easy. Johnson has included plenty of descriptions of local Irish ingredients, including (in some cases) what to try if you aren’t in Ireland. There’s a nice section in the back detailing how to get Irish food products in the USA. The index is useful without being too detailed (and thus daunting).

One of the things Margaret Johnson points out about Pub Grub: It’s supposed to be fairly simple. That doesn’t lessen its visual impact, or its wonderful aromas. And certainly the flavors are clean and satisfying. This all means, though, that pub food is approachable by any cook or chef, and the recipes I tried all show that. So while this book is a wonderful “coffee table” style food guide and travelogue, it should also be used as a frequent reference. I don’t expect my first copy to last long, as I’m sure I’ll work hard to wear it out!

I heartily recommend you buy this book and try out some of the tasty recipes, as soon as you can. If you can’t travel to Ireland to taste the authentic pub food in its native setting, you can still enjoy the cuisine with your friends and family…

Enjoy the (Sláintúil is Séanmhar) Heat!

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