This week, Ciara McLaughlin, author of new cookbook Bread and Butter, tells us all about the inspiration behind her cookbook and selects her favourite recipes!
The first idea for this book came during my final year of art college, while I was thinking up a self-directed project to finish my training in graphic design and illustration. At home we had been saying for years that it was time to upgrade the little blue notebook that sat in the top cupboard and held all the family recipes. Over time the ingredients of all our favourite dishes had been jotted down, amended and perfected, but revamping this grubby but treasured little notebook seemed like a mammoth task, especially in final year when every mark was precious! However, I was drawn to the idea of exploring my family’s food heritage and diving into the stories behind all those recipes.
I finally set myself the project and knew instantly what the main focus of the book would be: Granny McLaughlin. It had to be all about her because the food I was baking at home was all about her. The recipes I was using had all been hers, passed down through the family in the little blue notebook and baked for every Christmas, birthday or Friday night tea. Granny had died before I was born but she was still present in these moments. She was very much a part of my upbringing and she had achieved that by baking her way into the hearts of those who knew her. Baking was Granny’s way of nourishing, caring and loving and that’s something that you will definitely find in my family. You’re hardly in the door until the kettle’s boiled and a scone is plated up with butter and homemade jam. It’s great! I think there’s an element of traditional Irish hospitality behind it but the same traditions are shared by cultures across the world. Food has the power to connect people –even those who are no longer around –and that’s why I knew I had to write this book.
The ’university project’ version of Bread and Butter was a small prototype of only sixteen recipes, but it caught the eye of Michael O’Brien at The O’Brien Press and that’s when the real journey began. I had met with Michael at the publishing house and email discussions took place throughout the pandemic, but when the official contract came in the post, I could not believe it. My first emotion was pure fear, accompanied by a chorus of ‘what ifs…?’ I knew from making the prototype version that it would be a lot of work as all the elements had to be considered: writing, photos, illustrations, design and printing. I was also teaching full-time, running a home-baking business and training for a marathon, so it was a daunting prospect to say the least! Thankfully my family dragged me out of the terror and into the realm of excitement by offering their support and talents. Mummy is a fantastic home baker and knows the kitchen inside out from her years spent teaching home economics. Daddy was a graphic designer so he knew everything about the design and production side of things. I also had the support of the team at O’Brien from the very start and they almost made me feel like I knew what I was doing.
My editor Emma Dunne had the pleasure of reading the shabby first drafts and was so supportive throughout the entire writing process. The eighty-odd recipes that made the final book were carefully arranged to reflect the feel and flavour of the four seasons, using local produce and fresh ingredients. Through my writing I wanted to weave in some of the stories that conjure the charm of Granny’s quaint farmhouse, along with tales of my own childhood to show how the recipes were almost this living and changing thing.
When it came to the photography stage, I didn’t even own a camera! Over the course of a few weeks I gathered together the necessary equipment and transformed our little barn into a makeshift photography studio. It was a really intense time of the publication journey, but my family helped out a lot and kept my spirits up. The joy I felt when every recipe was accompanied by a stunning photo was unimaginable and now I just had to make it look like a book!
Designing the book was a lovely part of the process. It was like tidying up all the bits and pieces and was the moment where everything started coming together. Ivan O’Brien and the rest of the team were always at hand for advice and when the pages began to take shape it was incredibly exciting. Finally, after a few busy months, I had a fully designed recipe book, complete with photographs and illustrations for every season! At the end I was a mixture of exhausted and elated but I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.
I have quite a lot of favourite recipes from the book, all for very different reasons! Some have a beautiful backstory, others stand out because of the laughs we had baking and photographing them, and some are just plain delicious!
My favourite recipe from the spring section has to be pancakes because I adore them and they are so tasty no matter what toppings you choose to put with them.
In summer, I love the ritual of berry-picking in the nearby forest and then using the fresh blaeberries for a tasty blaeberry pudding or a pot of jam.
For autumn I think the best recipe is definitely the chocolate cake because it is so easy to make and tastes incredible with the nutty buttercream.
My go-to in winter is the little woolly jumper biscuits because I love how playful they are, and the texture really does look cosy!
I love adding my own creative flair to Granny’s traditional recipes like this and it shows how other people can do the same. The recipes in Bread and Butter are there as a starting point to help you fall in love with simple, homemade food and bring the joy of baking to everyone’s table.
Ciara McLaughlin, February 2022
Bread and Butter is out 28th February and will be available from your local bookshop or here.