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Food for saints and scholars

Messenger Publications have produced Saintly Feasts: Food for Saints and Scholars, a novel cookery book with a difference. It showcases the work of Irish women Martina Maher and Colette Scully who have for 22 years prepared delicious feasts on Sundays and big occasions at the North-West European novitiate in Birmingham, UK. The book, with the assistance of Dutch Jesuit Fr Dries van der Akker, links every recipe with a saint, from St Wilgefortis ‘St Cucumber’ to St John, who was plunged into a pot of boiling oil but emerged unscathed.

Martina and Colette’s guests have been the Jesuits themselves, Jesuit novices, and many other visitors. Both women emigrated from Ireland when they were young and were greatly helped by the Jesuits on their arrival in the UK. When they retired from their respective careers they wanted to give something back to the Jesuits and decided to cook a Sunday lunch.

One among them their guests, Dries van der Akker SJ, with a special interest in saints and their stories often matched some element of the meal with a canonised figure from history. When the ladies (now aged 91 and 72 respectively) decided to hang up their aprons, the concept of a complete book of recipes and associated saints came about.

Attaching a saint to each recipe allows readers, of any creed or none, to engage with the often remarkable lives of holy women and men. Fr Dries has taken care to capture the essence of each saint beautifully in few words, so that they may teach and inspire – but not distract from the recipes. Roast Leg of Lamb, for example, is accompanied by St Colette, who is often depicted with a lamb in her arms. St Colette founded 17 convents, including one branch of the Poor Clares known as the ‘Colettines’.

The recipes in Saintly Feasts nod towards the traditional, yet always with an added twist from the years that the authors spent perfecting and customising their recipes. The result is a cookbook of well-developed and much-savoured familiar dishes for all occasions – lunches, suppers, more formal dinners and even a chapter devoted to Christmas.

Martina and Colette say they hope people can relish, as they did, the warmth and comfort to be had from enjoying, and perhaps sharing, good food lovingly prepared. Saintly Feasts takes the adventure and craft of cooking and imbues it with a Jesuit ethos of care. All profits from the book will go to the Jesuit Refugee Service.

Saintly Feasts: Food for Saints and Scholars by Martina Maher and Colette Scully, with Dries van der Akker SJ, is published in Ireland and the UK by Messenger Publications.