Book Review of "Apron Strings", by John McKenna

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Apron Strings: Recipes from a Family Kitchen (Nessa Robins)

Most people who write for a living rarely reveal much of themselves in print.

Writing means inventing both an authorial “voice” and an authorial “personality”, two devices that keep your innermost self away from the reader.

But one of the pleasant outcomes of the blogging revolution has been a new crop of writers who don't wear the carapace of “writer”.

Blogging, by its direct and largely unmediated nature, is highly personal – people do talk about themselves (and sometimes talk too much, of course), and describe what they do and how they feel about what they do. The link between blogger/writer and reader is short – as short as an apron string, perhaps.

Which is where Nessa Robin's book, which has grown out of her blog, comes in. The distance between Ms Robin's voice and you, the reader, is very short indeed. To read and cook from the book is to get up close and personal to the blogger/writer and her family, her house, her chickens, her challenges, her food, her photography, and how she prepares and uses food.

“Apron Strings” pretty much plonks you right down at the table – hello Tiarnan, hi Fionn, hi Millie, hi Jack – and has you out gathering the eggs and checking that the hens are doing fine, and sharing stories about family challenges and whether the gooseberries are ready. Ms Robins writes about her life, and her family, in a totally unmediated way, without pretention, with an element of that ever-present concern that every parent knows all-too-well.

Her recipes have one focus: to nurture the people who eat them and, in nurturing, to bring pleasure and happiness. There is an optimism about life in this book that is terrifically winning. Take this sentence, for instance, from the chapter “Home Nurse:
“Taking care of a loved one, whether they are only sick for the day or if they have a more serious illness, can be extremely fulfilling”.

Now, it's that final “fulfilling” that opens your eyes. Most people would conclude the sentence with something downbeat – “challenging”; “exhausting”; “time-consuming” – but not Ms Robins. She plucks the good from the challenge, collects the egg from the nest, she has the jelly boats ready for the children's party, and here they come now...

“Apron Strings” is published by New Island, €22.99.