“Full and Plenty” by Maura Laverty

Maura Laverty’s book “Full and Plenty”  is the lastest antique cook book to sit on my kitchen bookshelf. This book was given to me as a gift by my grandmother. Maura Laverty was something of a grand dame of the kitchen in 1960’sIreland, and “Full andPlenty”was fondly known as a doorstopper due to its hefty size and weight. This book was first published in1960and was the first real Irish cookbook. Before that the only cookbook Irish people owned was the one you got free when you bought your cooker.

Maura was quite the character and her cook book is filled with funny little anecdotes.Shewas also responsible for creating Ireland’s first television soap opera, so there are plenty of characters and dramatic events in her cookbook to keep one entertained.

She was something of a Renaissance lady, with a talent for writing and broadcasting as well as cookery. Maura was a woman before her time and if she was still around today she would most likely be a millionaire. She initially started writing articles for the paper, and then progressed to writing novels (some of which were banned) and plays. Her cookbook came about from her love of food which was shaped by the time she spent in Spain working as a governess. Her first cookbook was commissioned by the government and its intention was to show Irish housewives how to make do with what little food they had at their disposal.

What Maura strove to achieve with this book was to show all Irish housewives that cookery was enjoyable and more than just a mindless chore.  In her introductory chapter she says ‘ Cookery is the poetry of housework’, and this sentence really sets the tone for the rest of the book. Maura associates recipes with people, flavours with coutries and food with love. Food is almost a part of human pyschology for Laverty and she talks of the meditative effects of peeling apples and rubbing butter into velvety flour to relax and sooth the nerves.  She cooks from the heart and you can’t help but be inspired by her passion.

Each chapter in “Full and Plenty” is prefaced with a little tale and it almost reads like a series of short stories with recipes thrown in. That said there are definitely plenty of recipes in this book. About three times the amount you would find in a normal book. Of course, there are very few pictures, as this book was really only written for people who can actually cook. There is none of the long descriptive methods and step by step guides that you get in modern day cook books. The methods are so brief that you almost have to imagine for yourself what your cake is supposed to look like at each stage. I certainly struggled with some of her brief explanations and must confess I did use a few modern tricks (which weren’t mentioned in the book) to make my éclairslight and crisp.

I very ambitiously tried to recreate two of her recipes, Genoese sponge fancies and éclairs. I wanted to produce the perfect assortment of small fancy cakes, which seemed so de rigueur in the nineteen sixties.I don’t think I quite anticipated how time consumingall this old-fashioned bakingwould turn out to be. I worked late into the night sifting, beating, folding, melting, icing and decorating. I lost all sense of time and was focused solely on my task. When all the cakes and éclairs were complete, I went to bed satisfied, calm and content. I was naturally tired and had a wonderful deep sleep. When I woke the next morning, I was like an excited child when I saw all my pretty cakes standing in line. I shared my sweet treatswith my work colleagues and would like to think that I brought a small ounce of joy to their working day. Maybe Lavery has a point:cooking really does soothe the soul, brings joy and provides homely comfort.

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Vicky McDonald

Vicky McDonald stumbled into the food blogging world in early 2011. She loves to cook and talk about food, so the blog is a way and means to do what she loves. She lives in Dublin, in her compact apartment overlooking the park. She is aided and abetted by her other half, who is an I.T guru, tantrum-trouble-shooter, editor, commis and chief-taster. Vicky’s website is at: www.stasty.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @stastycook

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