Africa, November 2019, Vol. 84 No. 8

From My Bookshelf: Frank Conlisk reviews

Saintly Feasts, Food for Saints and Scholars

by Martina Maher & Colette Scully with Dries van den Akker SJ

On these chilly, grey November evenings, what could be better than a wholesome, home-cooked meal based on a recipe from a cookbook designed to nourish both body and soul? Very little I’d say. And so this month, I’m taking a look at Saintly Feasts – Food for Saints and Scholars, a recipe book by Martina Maher and Colette Scully with Dries van den Akker SJ who has linked each recipe with a saint. So… eat, pray, relish… you might say!


Colette Scully (76) hails from the North Circular Road in Dublin and her friend Martina Maher (91) is from Roscrea in County Tipperary. They have been living in Birmingham, England, for about 50 years. For 22 of these, they have been serving up three-course dinners every Sunday to a group of Jesuit priests and hungry novices at Manresa House, Harborne. For the girls, this might be termed “a late vocation” as it was something they volunteered to do in order to give meaning to their retirement. By the looks of it, the arrangement proved to be the perfect recipe for all concerned. 


“Well, one day I was in the kitchen at Manresa with Paddy [Fr Patrick Purnell SJ] and he was saying they needed someone to cook Sunday dinner”, explains Martina. “I said we’d do it but he said no…but could I ask around if anyone [in the parish] would be able to take it on. I said ‘No, I won’t. People should be at home with their families on a Sunday.’ So in the end he agreed we’d do it for four Sundays…Well, we never talked about it again!” 


Thus began this happy association. Members of the Jesuit community encouraged their new chefs not to let their recipes disappear. So when the ladies finally decided to hang up their aprons, the idea of gathering the recipes together in book form was proposed. “A priest from the Netherlands [Dries van den Akker SJ], who knows every saint in heaven,” says Colette, “paired each recipe with a saint.” It seemed like the perfect format for the project. 

The recipes are divided into eight groups covering soups and starters, fish, meat and poultry, vegetables, breads, cakes and desserts. The special section on Christmas fare will have you drooling – as indeed will the photography throughout! There is an interview with the cooks, a blessing for the kitchen and prayers for before and after meals. Despite the fact that the connection between some of the saints and the recipes is tenuous to say the least –  maybe even to be taken with a pinch of salt! – nevertheless the little write-ups allow the reader, of any creed and none, to engage with the often remarkable lives of holy women and men from our Christian past.


A sense of playfulness and fun pervades the book and while St Patrick, St Bridget of Sweden and St David may well have salivated at the thought of Irish Stew, Mashed Swede with Onions and Welsh Bread respectively, linking Steamed Ginger and Cinnamon Syrup Pudding with the 6th century Irish St Ruadán – because he “probably had red hair” – may be pushing it a little. 


But of course, to be nitpicky about such detail is to miss the point. This project is a labour of love; a celebration of “love…shown more in deeds than in words”, to quote St Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus. It is an acknowledgement and a celebration of the 22 years of loving service of Martina and Colette. It is an expression of gratitude to them by the Jesuit community and it captures something of the spirit of St Ignatius himself who, in the Jesuit constitutions writes: “While the meal is being eaten, food should be given also to the soul…” 


This book would make a colourful and very useful Christmas gift. All profits from the sales will go to the UK Jesuit Refugee Service…two reasons why its purchase would be money well spent.

Published by Messenger Publications, 37 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2, Tel +353 01 676 7491 

Price: €19.95/£17.50. 

Please contact Messenger Publications for further information.

Please note: Africa Magazine and St Patrick's Missionary Society do not stock books that are reviewed. Details of publishers and suppliers are given in each review. 

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