Rediscovering the wonderful writings of Theodora Fitzgibbon

The cookery writer helped to put Irish produce and food culture on the map

Theodora Fitzgibbon in 1985. Fitzgibbon wrote a number of books about Irish food and food culture, including A Taste of Ireland in 1968. Photograph: Tom Lawlor/The Irish Times

Theodora Fitzgibbon in 1985. Fitzgibbon wrote a number of books about Irish food and food culture, including A Taste of Ireland in 1968. Photograph: Tom Lawlor/The Irish Times

 

In the course of writing my Irish Food Cook Book (due to be published by Phaidon next spring), I rediscovered my love for the wonderful writings of Theodora Fitzgibbon.

Fitzgibbon, who also wrote for The Irish Times, produced a great many cookbooks and an encyclopedia, The Food of the Western World (1976). One of my favourites of her books is A Taste of Ireland (1968). I have two copies, one from the original publication date and a second paperback reissued in 1994. Between these two dates, 200,000 copies were sold. Whoever said there was no Irish food culture? Too many.

You could try her trout baked in wine by stuffing one whole river trout (per person) with lemon, parsley and butter and then pour a glass of white wine over the fish. Season with salt and pepper and bake in a medium oven (180 degrees Celsius). She suggests 30 minutes, but I like my trout cooked less so I would go for 15-20 minutes. 

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As well as including the likes of Irish stew and Limerick ham, Fitzgibbon also includes some great shellfish recipes, such as cockle soup. In the preface to her recipe, she laments the rate that we export our cockles. It’s sad to say that we still export most of our shellfish. Of course, we produce a lot but we also fall down on its consumption. For the cockle soup, Fitzgibbon writes that clams, mussels or scallops can be used (or a “mixture of all four”). 

To make the soup, place 48 cockles in a pot and cover with sea water (or salted water). Bring to the boil until they open. Strain and reserve the water. Pick the cockles from their shells. In a separate pot, place 30g butter and 30g flour and cook to make a roux. Add 500ml milk and 1 litre of cockle stock. Stir until smooth. Add 100g chopped celery and a handful of chopped parsley. When the celery is soft, return the clams to the pot and season with salt and pepper. 

Fitzgibbon’s book includes great 19th-century photographs and historical anecdotes. For one, I never knew how Dublin Bay prawns (which are not a prawn) got their names. Do you?

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