‘No pistachios or pomegranates were harmed in the making of this book.” That, in a simple sentence, is the sentiment that binds 350 pages of recipes, stories and images with Trish Deseine’s intention to share her version of the story of Irish food. It is a good-humoured book that honours the plain cooking of her Co Antrim childhood on a beef farm, and the bounty of the Irish larder. It is cognisant, too, of the great steps our native cuisine has taken in recent years.
But Home: Recipes from Ireland is more than just a collection of ingredients and instructions; it's a love letter, written with the sour and sweet benefit of experience by a cook who has been seduced by the sophistication of Paris, where she spent more than half her life, yet returns like the homing pigeon, to where it all began.
Home, for now, is west Cork. After almost 30 years in Paris, the city she “escaped to” from troubled Northern Ireland in the early 1980s, via university in Edinburgh, Deseine is living in a house in Schull borrowed from friends whose business interests have taken them to Australia for the winter.
“I’m back, yes, and loving being here more permanently,” she says, having spent the summer at her house in a small village in the south of France. With her four children settled in school, college and career, she’s taking a moment to smell the clean fresh Cork air. “As anyone who has managed to bring up three boys and get them off to university in one piece will know, the toddler years are wee buns compared to teens. I’ve felt very isolated since leaving their father in 2006. France is not a tender place to live as a single, foreign woman supporting four children [Deseine also has a daughter, Victoire] on a writer’s dwindling pay, no matter how delicious the pastries might be.”
Her eldest son, Corentin, now 22, has just begun to train as a chef in Paris, having survived a very serious car crash two years ago. “I am delighted because he at last seems happy with himself and life, which is the only ambition I have for any of my children in this hard world we’ve made for them. I’m worried also because he still has a few pieces of metal in his leg. Kitchens are so physically demanding . . .
“I’m also immensely proud of Tim (19) and Tanguy (18) who are going into second year at Bath and Manchester Universities and of Victoire,who has just started at Lycée Fénelon in St Germain des Prés in Paris.”
Writing, promoting her book and working on her latest TV project, a series for BBC NI that airs in November, will keep Deseine busy in Ireland in the coming months, but she’s not sure her relocation will be a permanent move. “Long term, I’m not sure. Ireland is such a positive, dynamic and creative pace to be at the moment but France will always be a part of my life, and I’ll be in Paris often to spend time with my daughter over the next three years.”
Her latest book began to take shape in the spring of last year, when, accompanied by her cocker spaniel, Jack, Deseine set out on the first of many research trips, driving around Ireland – “meeting people, shopping, cooking and eating (Hello, the bread and butter kilos!)”.
There were many surprises along the way. “I was pleasantly surprised at how readily available good, local food has become in just a few years, with farm shops and markets increasingly a reality in rural Ireland, and I love how home-baking still reigns supreme.”
Deseine says her recipes are “extremely simple, requiring very few ingredients and minimal space or equipment”. They are very approachable, and that’s the intention – she wants people back in the kitchen.
The food photography in the book, by her long-time collaborator Deirdre Rooney, with Deseine doing her own styling, is pared back, almost brutally austere.
“We are allergic to twee and artifice or putting something in a shot which has no logical reason to be there. Of course we realise this is not the current trend of cookbook styling (which has turned into an industry of its own), but it is and always has been our way. I always hope that making the food look plain and familiar yet delicious might encourage readers to cook. The chefs’ dishes are included to vary the ultra-plain home cooking shots.”
The chefs she mentions are those she invited to contribute, and their portraits, as with the stunning location photography, are also by Rooney. As well as adding interest for those of us Deseine describes as “the hardcore gastro-curious”, these recipes and images are a perfect counterpoint to the family kitchen, easy-cook stance of the rest of the book.
But don’t be fooled, there’s a rigour and backbone to Deseine’s recipes that comes from many years of journalism and writing – she was approached to write her first book by Hachette France when they spotted her cooking at lifestyle shows as a means of promoting the mail order ingredient and equipment business she was then running.
Now she has just produced a book that's a landmark in publishing for Irish food, working with a French-speaking team publishing a book primarily for an Irish, UK and US audience. "I think, I hope, we've pulled off a very original, personal book." Home: Recipes from Ireland, by Trish Deseine, is published on October 8th by Hachette Cuisine, £19.99