Her lat­est cook­book be­gan as a walk down mem­ory lane with her Ice­landic mother, but it evolved into a gen­eral re­flec­tion on the fleet­ing na­ture of child­hood and a mother’s love. Rachel Allen tells Sarah Caden that her own ‘lion cub’ sons are sud­denly tall

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - BOOZE NATION -

‘Do I al­ways sound ha­rassed when you speak to me?” asks Rachel Allen. You can tell by the way she asks that she wants the an­swer to be no. Rachel doesn’t want to be that per­son. And she works hard at mak­ing sure it’s not the case, if that’s not a con­tra­dic­tion in terms.

Still, when I speak to her, it starts off on a slightly fraz­zled foot­ing. She’s multi-task­ing, to say the least. Well, there’s the job of talk­ing to me, there’s prep for her work­ing visit to the Plough­ing Cham­pi­onships the next day, and there’s a meet­ing in an hour and a child to be col­lected and brought to gym­nas­tics. Oh, and then, af­ter a few min­utes of chat, she re­mem­bers that there are bis­cuits in the oven ear­marked for the Plough­ing, and if they burn the whole af­ter­noon is up in smoke, so to speak.

Ha­rassed, no, be­cause Rachel is al­ways full of good cheer and nice com­pany and end­lessly pos­i­tive and grate­ful for the good luck of al­ways be­ing in de­mand. But busy, yes. And quite the juggler, def­i­nitely.

This is of­ten Rachel Allen’s busiest time of year. It’s the time that she most of­ten has a new book out, usu­ally with a TV show to film to ac­com­pany it, and all of the at­ten­dant pub­lic­ity to do. In the sum­mer, though, she says, things slow down. Rel­a­tively.

A year af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of which was in­spired by the wild­ness of the Ir­ish seas and seashore and the in­gre­di­ents they yield, Rachel has a new book,

If looked out and away be­yond the edges of this is­land,

is a cosy, fam­i­ly­fo­cused, home-cen­tric cook­book.

In part, it’s about Rachel’s own mother, Hall­friour, who moved to Ire­land from her na­tive Ice­land, when she was only 19, hav­ing met and fallen in love with Rachel’s fa­ther, Brian O’Neill. The book is abun­dant with recipes from Hall­friour’s na­tive coun­try, like thick yo­gurty rye bread and Ice­landic caramel pota­toes. It also con­tains sto­ries from her child­hood and fam­ily pho­to­graphs of Ice­landic kids in their elab­o­rate home-knit jumpers,

from my Mother. Coast Recipes from my Mother Coast, Recipes skyr,

ski­ing and sled­ding and liv­ing a life far from Rachel’s up­bring­ing in Dublin and adult life in east Cork.

“The book started out as just recipes with my mum,” Rachel says, “be­cause I feel very aware of my Ice­landic her­itage and I wanted to ex­plore Ice­land food-wise. But let’s be re­al­is­tic, the Scandi-food thing is gor­geous and amaz­ing but it’s a bit a cou­ple of years ago and I didn’t want peo­ple to think I was just jump­ing on that band­wagon. So then the book evolved into some­thing else.”

In a way, what this book evolved into is a re­flec­tion on the com­fort we take as adults from the food of our child­hood. The recipes aren’t only those eaten in Ice­land by Rachel’s mother as a girl, or recre­ated by her in Ire­land. In there too are recipes from friends who told Rachel about the food they cook to evoke mam­mies and gran­nies and loved ones. Also, it fea­tures the Al­lens, Rachel’s in-laws who are huge fig­ures in her adult life, both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally.

“It be­came about more than me and my mother,” Rachel says. “I re­alised that it was about all the lovely sto­ries I kept hear­ing from peo­ple once I told them what I was do­ing. It sparked off their mem­o­ries. So, for ex­am­ple, there’s a recipe for short­bread that was from Pa­tri­cia, my run­ning friend, whose grand­mother passed it down the fam­ily. I loved how ev­ery­one I told about it had a recipe and a mem­ory.”

So, the end re­sult is about Rachel and Hall­friour, but also about nos­tal­gia and a sense of be­long­ing, about at­tempt­ing to cre­ate con­ti­nu­ity, as we pass to our chil­dren the tastes and mem­o­ries of our own child­hoods.

“I loved how writ­ing the book led to all the proper chats with Mum about her home and the peo­ple in the pho­tos and what they did and how they lived,” Rachel says. “Mum’s not overly pri­vate,” Rachel says, “but she’s not in the spot­light, ei­ther, and I didn’t know, at first, if she’d agree to us­ing the pho­tos, but they bring so much to it. Be­cause she talked about her grand­par­ents and her par­ents and how, as chil­dren, they lived near the docks and they would go and get the fish from the fish­er­men and the bread from the baker nearby. It brought Ice­land alive to me.

“I sup­pose I’ve been to Ice­land eight times in all,” she says, “but it has al­ways felt fa­mil­iar to me and I’ve al­ways felt very sure of my Ice­landic roots. But my mother spoke very lit­tle Ice­landic to me as a child. Maybe it was be­cause it was more un­usual to be for­eign in Ire­land then. But now, I re­ally re­gret that. I wish I spoke it flu­ently and I wish I could speak it to my chil­dren.”

It’s in­ter­est­ing as you read about Hall­friour and her life in this new book to see the par­al­lels with Rachel’s own path. Hall­friour came to Ire­land as a teenager, fell in love, mar­ried and set­tled here. And the de­gree to which she em­braced her new life is all over this book. The recipes at­trib­uted to her aren’t just Scan­di­na­vian; there’s also her St Patrick’s Day ba­con and cab­bage, her roast chicken, and her rice pud­ding.

Rachel also could be said to have adopted a new world when she trained at Bal­ly­maloe as a teenager and, to a great ex­tent, never left again. She has joked in in­ter­views in the past that her hus­band Isaac says she stayed for him, though she doesn’t agree. The fact is, though, that as a young woman, Rachel found her pas­sion for cook­ing. As re­sult, she found Bal­ly­maloe and Isaac and, ul­ti­mately, the life they have made to­gether there with their three chil­dren Josh (17), Lucca (15) and Scar­lett (8).

You have to won­der if the re­flec­tive mood and mind­set of this book is indica­tive of a mo­ment that a lot of peo­ple, moth­ers in par­tic­u­lar, have as their chil­dren teeter on the brink of adult­hood. Josh, she says, has started work­ing in Bal­ly­maloe. Lucca is in his Ju­nior Cert year in school, but his real pas­sion lies, out­side of the teenage norm for most boys, in youth mo­tor rac­ing.

“He has been look­ing se­ri­ously at For­mula 4 and he was just over in Eng­land,” Rachel says, “meet­ing the team peo­ple. It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary, re­ally, you know. He’d be driv­ing cars that look very like For­mula One cars, and it’s hard to watch the rac­ing for a mother, but it is amaz­ing to see your child de­velop a pas­sion for some­thing and to know what they want to do with their life.”

Scar­lett is still her baby, but Rachel has that sense of time sud­denly speed­ing up with the boys. Her ca­reer as what you might call a celebrity chef be­gan 12 years ago, when the boys were quite lit­tle and the time is bound to have passed at light­ning speed.

“When the boys were re­ally tiny they were like lit­tle lion cubs,” Rachel smiles as she re­mem­bers. “There’s only two years between them and they were a real lit­tle unit; but so phys­i­cal and hec­tic and al­ways pounc­ing on each other, like lit­tle boys do. I re­mem­ber my mum say­ing it all goes so fast and me think­ing that time would never pass.

“And now they’re taller than me,” she laughs.

“My mum re­minds me that when she was my age, my sis­ter and I had al­ready left home,” Rachel adds. “We had gone and she found that re­ally sud­den and shock­ing and I can see that now.”

Rachel knows her chil­dren aren’t go­ing any­where yet, but there is that sense of re­flec­tion in her and in her new book that prob­a­bly speaks to a lot of fans who feel like they’ve spent their youth and adult­hood with her.

Per­haps, Rachel wor­ries about be­ing per­ceived as busy be­cause, for moth­ers in par­tic­u­lar, busy is of­ten a pe­jo­ra­tive. It’s a way of say­ing you’re dis­tracted from your fam­ily and that’s some­thing Rachel never is. In fact, the proof of it is on the pages of her new book.

“I don’t panic when it gets quiet, as it of­ten does over the sum­mer,” she says. “I go back to teach­ing at the [Bal­ly­maloe Cook­ery] school and they are very un­der­stand­ing if I come and go and I have won­der­ful re­laxed time with the chil­dren when they’re off school.”

“It’s all about the fam­ily, re­ally,” Rachel says. “And I’m so emo­tional about my fam­ily and con­nected and proud, you know? And I think about how much I need my mum’s ad­vice and help still now, and you don’t re­ally let go completely. I’ ll al­ways need her and I hope my own chil­dren feel that way too.”

‘Recipes from my Mother’ by Rachel Allen is pub­lished by HarperCollins on Oc­to­ber 20. See ex­clu­sive recipes over­leaf

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