Nourishing Body and Soul: a Jesuit Cookbook

 Dries van den Akker SJ, Colette Scully and Martina Maher
Dries van den Akker SJ, Colette Scully and Martina Maher

They say if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen  - well they didn’t consider saints! A new cookbook with a difference, Saintly Feasts: Food for Saints and Scholars 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.

The authors, Martina Maher and Colette Scully are two Irish ladies living in Birmingham who have been cooking Sunday lunch for the Jesuits for 22 years. One among them, Fr Dries van den 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.

"On a Sunday after lunch, just before we were about to go back home, one of the Jesuits, Fr Dries, asked us to write a cookery book," explained Martina to Llewela Bailey in the interview they had with BBC radio West Midlands. "But we told him we were not in that kind of business! He said, though, that if anything happens, it would be a shame to lose all our recipes." Persuaded by Fr Dries, that's how in the end they started working together on the book.

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’.

"In my former life I taught religion at Stanislas College in Delft, a Jesuit College," explains Fr Dries van den Akker SJ. "I liked to open my lessons by telling stories, especially saints’ stories, certainly the stories of the saints after whom my pupils were named. I liked it, for the stories reflect particularly the faithful life of the storyteller. I found spiritual food in them."

The recipes in Saintly Feasts nod towards the traditional, yet always with an added twist from years the authors spent perfecting and customising their recipes. The result is a cookbook of well-developed and much-savoured familiar dishes for all occasions – starters, lunches, scones, 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 UK.

Saintly Feasts: Food for Saints and Scholars by Martina Maher and Colette Scully, with Dries van den Akker SJ, is published in Ireland and the UK by Messenger Publications. Priced at €19.95/£17.50

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