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Book review: Let ‘Farmette’ take you to Ireland

Quick look: Imen McDonnell offers contemporary takes on classic Irish country fare in this new cookbook, inspired by her culinary blog.

What’s inside: There’s something quite magical about her story: An American city woman meets a rural Irishman, marries him and moves to his family’s centuries-old farm in County Limerick. It reads like a modern-day fairy tale. And the cookbook that’s come out of it is downright dreamy.

McDonnell sees the Irish countryside through the eyes of an outsider – with a sense of wonderment and appreciation. Still, the life-change she made for love took some adjustment. There were now cows in the front yard – which she hadn’t experienced in Los Angeles, New York or Minneapolis. The kitchen became her sanctuary. Gleaning traditional recipes from her mother-in-law and writing about her adventures in Irish country cooking helped her adapt to her new life and role as wife of a dairy farmer. “I soon found that if you prepare homemade clotted cream and baked a mean scone, you might make a friend or two in the neighborhood,” McDonnell writes in the introduction. “I closely studied the ritual of Sunday lunch, pudding and tea. I took to ‘wildcrafting,’ our version of foraging for wild edibles.”

One chapter in her new, 361-page hardback book is devoted entirely to foraged ingredients such as mushrooms, ramps, elderflowers, nettles and crab apples. Anecdotes are personal and pastoral, and her recipes focus on a few simple ingredients: dairy products, preserves, eggs, dried fruit, flour.

The dozen chapters are organized both by ingredients and where they’re found – potatoes, dairy, from the sea, in the bread box, orchard – as well as meal and dish type – Sunday lunch, country suppers, pies and tarts, puddings and cakes and other confections. The introduction provides tips for stocking the larder. A final chapter – “Country Kids” – shares recipes that have proven to be child-friendly. There’s even a nod to McDonnell’s American roots with recipes such as Oyster Pudding for American Thanksgiving and Our Magnificent Ode to ’Merica Meal with buttermilk fried chicken.

The first full chapter includes a primer on milk. It discusses DIY butter, buttermilk, basic farmer cheese, ricotta, crème fraiche, sour cream, mascarpone, cream cheese, clotted cream, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, farmhouse yogurt, Irish cream and something called moonshine syllabub, basically whipped cream sweetened with sugar and flavored with brandy or an Irish spirit.

After butter comes bread: traditional white soda bread, farmhouse milk bread, golden caraway rye bread, cream scones. After bread, there are potatoes: colcannon, champ, boxty, potato bread. Look also for bangers and mash, Irish wedding cake, Irish seafood chowder, Irish pancakes and an assortment of sweet and savory pies, including oxtail and ale. For dessert, there are apple fritters, tea cakes, gooseberry jam, Grandma’s Gooseberry Tart, Sweet Caraway Seed Cake, Smoky and Salty Buttermilk Vanilla Fudge and Smoky Dark Chocolate Porter Cake.

Matte images offer a light, bright and whimsical look at rural Ireland. Many feature bucolic backdrops with lots of shades of green. McDonnell even includes a couple of portraits of her husband and son in mud-covered rubber boots. The overall effect is charming.

What’s not: Most but not all recipes are accompanied by photographs.

Sweet Caraway Seed Cake

From “The Farmette Cookbook” by Imen McDonnell

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups superfine or granulated sugar

3 eggs

About 1 tablespoon milk or water

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon fresh caraway seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the base of a 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper; set aside.

Cream the butter in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs, milk or water, and vanilla together, and gradually add to the creamed butter and sugar. Fold in the flour in batches; mix the baking powder in with the last addition of the flour. Gently mix in the caraway seeds. Pour into the prepared cake pan.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean. Remove it from the oven, and let cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Cool completely before slicing.

Yield: about 6 servings

Moonshine Syllabub

From “The Farmette Cookbook” by Imen McDonnell

1/8 cup Irish poitin (moonshine) (wine or brandy works, too)

1/2 cup sugar

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 cup heavy cream

In a small bowl, combine the poitin, sugar, lemon zest and juice; stir to dissolve. In a large chilled bowl, start beating the cream with a hand whisk or an electric mixer. Gradually add in the poitin mixture, whisking constantly, until soft peaks form.

Serve immediately, or cover and chill until ready to serve.

Yield: about 4 servings

Note: Serve with sweet biscuits (or Sweet Caraway Seed Cake) on the side.

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