Irish Cookbooks You'll Want to Add to Your Collection
These tomes take you beyond the obvious dishes and explore traditional and new Irish cooking.
The internet is a great source for recipes from around the world, but what's lost in the search is the immersive experience of curling up in a chair and paging through a cookbook full of recipes and stories from a particular region. If you're looking for authentic Irish recipes, you would do well to start with the work of the so-called "mammy of Irish cookery," Maura Laverty. In her relatively short life (she died at 59), Laverty wrote nearly everything—novels, poems, plays, scripts, newspaper pieces, advice columns, and cookbooks. In 1960, Laverty wrote Full & Plenty: Classic Irish Cooking. In addition to loads of stories, some homemaking advice, and even a few fictional pieces, the book's 500 pages contain more than 100 recipes for traditional Irish favorites—breads, jams, custards, stews, roasts, potato dishes galore, and so much more.
While Laverty's book is now hard to find (and pricey when you do locate it!), there are plenty of other spectacular Irish cookbooks worth considering. You'll find variations on many of Ireland's beloved dishes in Theodora FitzGibbon's A Taste of Ireland ($7.31, amazon.com). Originally published in 1968, the book was reissued in paperback in the mid-1990s. Fitzgibbon (or, "the original domestic goddess," according to The Independent) wrote a column for the Irish Times for 20 years, as well as nearly 30 cookbooks, including several other regional ("A Taste of…") collections, and one comprehensive volume called The Food of the Western World ($39.95, amazon.com), that covered 34 countries. In 2014, Irish food writer Donal Skehan released a love letter to FitzGibbon's work in cookbook form. Pleasures of the Table: Rediscovering Theodora FitzGibbon ($37.30, amazon.com) includes more than 150 of her most beloved recipes, with all-new photography.
The best source of authentic Irish recipes today is Ballymaloe House, in County Cork. Myrtle Allen opened a country house restaurant 1964, with a focus on fresh, local, famously "farm to table" ingredients. The first Irish woman to earn a Michelin star, Allen published The Ballymaloe Cookbook ($10.76, amazon.com) in 1977, and Myrtle Allen's Cooking at Ballymaloe House ($4.69, thriftbooks.com) in 1990. Both celebrate the wealth of ingredients from the countryside as well as the plentiful fish and shellfish along the coast. Darina Allen, Myrtle's daughter-in-law, came to work at Ballymaloe in the late 1960s, and founded a celebrated cooking school in 1983. She is now Ireland's best-known chef, and the author of 20 or so books, including Irish Traditional Cooking ($45.79, amazon.com) and The Complete Book of Irish Country Cooking ($52.00, abebooks.com). Darina's brother, Rory O'Connell, is a chef and the author of award-winning cookbooks such as Cook Well Eat Well ($59.79, amazon.com) and The Joy of Food ($41.95, barnesandnoble.com), published in 2021.
It's hard to believe, but there's even more to the Allen family when it comes to books on Irish food! Rachel Allen, granddaughter-in-law of Myrtle, has been called "the Emerald Isle's answer to Nigella." She's written several cookbooks, including Coast ($29.99, amazon.com), a travelogue with recipes that traces a road trip along the "wild Atlantic Way," from Cork to Donegal, with stops at pubs, cafés, restaurants, distilleries, bakeries, farms, and fish markets.
A more recent Michelin starred chef, J.P. McMahon, of the EATGalway restaurant, is the author of The Irish Cookbook ($47.99, amazon.com), published in 2020. With close to 500 recipes, it's been hailed as the "definitive book" on Irish cuisine by The Irish Times. Despite his chef credentials, McMahon includes recipes that any reasonably competent cook could replicate at home. He highlights the great diversity of native ingredients and includes an index of wild and sustainable foods.
American writer, editor, and culinary expert Colman Andrews's The Country Cooking of Ireland ($55.64, amazon.com), published in 2009, captures the food of Ireland as only an outsider could. It's clear that Andrews greatly enjoyed his time researching the subject in nearly every corner of Ireland, picking up countless tales from the folks who grow, raise, catch, cook, and serve its food. Among the 250 charming recipes: a type of corned beef hash known as Pink Lunch Pancake, handheld Dingle Pies filled with lamb and fresh herbs, and Pint-glass bread, so named for the vessel used to measure the ingredients—an empty pint glass nicked from the pub.
If you like a good transatlantic love story along with your recipes, check out The Farmette Cookbook ($35, barnesandnoble.com) by Imen McDonnell, an American who moved to Ireland to marry a farmer from Limerick. McDonnell rounds out more than 150 recipes for classic and creatively updated Irish recipes with her impressions of life in the rural Irish countryside, after years spent living in a big American city. The photos are stunning, and every recipe's a keeper.