The Lettercollum Cookbook is a labour of love for Karen Austin who set out to create a book that, while reflecting her passion for good food, would be a collection of recipes that people could and would make at home on any night of the week. “The dishes in the book are all ones that we serve around the table to our family at home,” Karen tells Mary O’Brien. “If a recipe seemed a bit complicated, I simply uncomplicated it, or left it out altogether.”
All of the recipes in The Lettercollum Cookbook are family favourites and many have been influenced by Karen’s travels around the world. “If I’m home alone, I tend to cook really simple but comforting dishes like Poor Man’s Potatoes or the Linguine with Tomato and Mozzarella,” says Karen. “The Thai Sweet and Sour Mackerel is a good dish in the summer.” Karen’s famous and much sought after Chocolate Cake recipe has also been shared in the dessert pages. “There are very little ingredients in this book that you couldn’t buy easily in West Cork,” says Karen “and if you don’t have something in the cupboard, once you stick to the basic method, you could probably substitute easily enough.”
Although mostly vegetarian (with some real ‘meaty’ veg recipes), there is a section in the book dedicated to fish and a ‘Chorizo Infiltration’. “Chorizo sneaked in because we add it a lot to bean or lentil dishes at home,” explains Karen. Another fantastic aspect of the book is that over two-thirds of The Lettercollum Cookbook is coeliac friendly.
Karen started in the industry by working her way up from the kitchen sink. “One day someone just didn’t turn up and I got promoted,” she explains. In the late 70s, she met Con McLoughlin, who was working in the same kitchen in Belgium.
They moved to Ireland and after travelling around the country for a while making and selling falafels from a takeaway van at festivals, decided to embrace a sustainable way of life. They bought an old Victorian house that came with 12 acres, near Timoleague village, with a group of family and friends. After trying to make a living from selling homegrown vegetables and home baked bread, the couple decided that they “couldn’t eat the view” and opened a hostel. Of course, food soon became a part of the business and once the locals heard and started coming for dinner too, the hostel became a guesthouse with a restaurant.
Although Karen and Con loved putting food on plates, it was difficult to make a living with such huge running costs and so the decision was made to sell the big house but keep the stables and gardens. Soon afterwards The Lettercollum Kitchen Project was born. The shop in Clonakilty has been a huge success since it opened and also affords Con and Karen the time to continue growing their vegetables, give cooking classes and to travel, collecting and sharing new recipes from around the world.
The Lettercollum Cookbook is the perfect gift this Christmas for anyone interested in good food and cooking. It is available to purchase nationwide and from The Lettercollum Kitchen Project in Clonakilty and retails at €21.