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Gooseberries on the high seas

Yes indeed, the new book – wild garlic, gooseberries and me – is finally in transit and stocks should arrive some time towards the end of this month. October, that is. How did it get to be October? That summer just shot by. Those who spent it in Ireland might be forgiven for thinking it never happened at all, as they pack away their still shop-creased swimming togs, unopened tubes of sun lotion and rusty barbecues. Unless you count those few weeks of sunshine in September. You can divide the population into glass-half-fulls and half-empties by whether they feel that was a blessing to shorten the winter or a mockery from the weather gods. Personally, I’m on the fence, mostly because I sneaked out for a sizeable chunk of the summer.

But, in fact, it wasn’t the worst summer ever down on the farm. The warm days that followed the apocalyptic drowning of July and half of August gave us a fine crop of tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, tomatillos, chillies, borlotti beans and courgette flowers. That’s a lot to be grateful for. In Paradiso, the menus have been loaded with this sun harvest and what we can’t use immediately is being turned into chutneys, pickles and richly intense reductions of roasted purees for soups an sauces into the early reaches of winter. The only black spot is the small crop of winter squash and pumpkin, but I won’t go into that now – perhaps in a few weeks when they are finally harvested and stored.

Oh, yes, the book…I promised before that I would write a little about what it is all about. Hmm…now I’m not sure I want to get into it. Perhaps you should just get your hands on a copy and see what you think. Or let me know what you think, if you are that way inclined. It was an amazing experience for me, writing the thing, so maybe I’ve had my fun with it.
It is one of the joys of working on a book that it doesn’t turn out quite how you expect it to. If it did you could simply dictate it to a secretary from a beach in Mexico. But this one, more than the other two, developed a life of its own during the process, growing organically into a collection of pieces about the produce I was working with in the year and a bit of writing. Some of the things I learned surprised me, as did some of the things I remembered, especially while writing about wild food, a subject that is always full of memories and almost-lost rituals. Mostly, the book is centred on the working relationship I have with producers, especially with Ultan Walsh, vegetable farmer extraordinaire. The recipes, too, came from the writing and the experiences that it led me into or made me remember.

If there is a theme to it all, it is to do with a sense of place, and the importance of people, location and the relationships we make and remake to hold together the food cultures we find ourselves in. I think. Or it might be a bunch of funny stories by way of introduction to yet another collection – 111, would you believe? – of recipes featuring, yes, vegetables.

We are in the process of redesigning parts of the Cafe Paradiso website, and as a first move towards efficiency have set up a proper online shop where you can order books and gift vouchers. The new book – “gooseberries” for short – is up there now and orders are being processed even as I write. What are you waiting for?

Posted on: 2 October 2007

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