Gubbeen: The Story of a Working Farm and Its Foods

by Giana and Clovisse Ferguson

Kyle Books, 2014

Source: www.kylebooks.com

Source: www.kylebooks.com

Gubbeen is one of the famous names in Irish food, largely because Giana Ferguson started to make one of the country’s first and best farmhouse cheeses on the eponymous farm in West Cork way back when such things were truly pioneering, in 1975.

Since then, she and her husband Tom have raised their children who have extended the world of Gubbeen to embrace pig production, charcuterie, herb and vegetable gardening and, just as important in a sense, a kind of missionary work that they perform largely by example. 

It’s surprising that it has taken so long to see a book devoted to the Gubbeen project because, as we can see, the “squireen’s house” and 250 acre farm, located just about as far south as you can go in Ireland, is most photogenic. I suspect that Giana Ferguson, the principle author, was just too busy. Indeed, when you see what this remarkable family manage to cram into their working life (and we must assume that they have a family and a social life too), it can be exhausting merely to witness. 

This is a very beautiful book, weighty, tactile, filled with atmospheric photographs that dispense with Photoshop and give full rein to the reality of daily life on a very busy farm and dairy. It’s beautiful, but not always pretty.

The world, of course, is full of lovely books about the kind of lifestyles to which so many of us can only aspire; this is different: it may not be an entire manual of how to produce food from the land and add value to it, but it’s a pretty good starting point. If you want to know about keeping hens, pigs, making cheese and butter, growing things and cooking the kind of food that the Fergusons like to eat around their big kitchen table, this is a volume that does a fine job. 

It is manifestly not a recipe book but there are plenty of recipes, many of them for things that don’t grace the pages of more commercial publications. Like Cynthia’s Kefir Drop Scones (Kefir is described as “a lactic Dyno-Rod”), cauliflower and Gubbeen ravioli, “Gubbeen meltdown”, Eggs in Hell and Gubbeen Worcestershire Sauce.

I have yet to cook Platter of Grilled Gin-marinated Pork Tenderloin, Merguez Sausages, Courgettes and Blackened leeks, but I have feeling I am going to. Whereas the recipe for Tuscan Soppressata (pig’s head cheese) might be a little beyond me. Mind you, it sounds exceedingly good.

This is the only book I own which has between its covers advice on caring for knifes and for calves, along with thoughts on rearing geese. And a great deal more.

Not a cookbook (although there’s a cookery element), not just a memoir nor an apologia pro vita sua, more a manifesto and missionary manual. It’s lovely.