Guests arrived at Books Upstairs on a rainy Monday to join TV chef and food writer Lilly Higgins for a ‘Coffee and Crafting’ morning; part of a series of events hosted by the Irish Times to celebrate 10 years of Food Month.
The crowd bustled into 17 D’Olier Street with dripping umbrellas, full of gentle excitement at the prospect of a cosy morning of crafting and sipping Tassimo coffee.
The room at the top of the bookshop was festooned with bunting, pumpkins, and candles. Lilly took centre stage in her apron, joking that she felt like a home economics teacher.
Armed with steaming cups of Tassimo coffee and flaky pastry, the group was encouraged to use the raw potatoes, carving knives and acrylic paints set on the trestle tables to create their own bespoke tote bag.
A demonstration followed this up on preserving vegetables. Cutting into a turnip Lilly shared an anecdote about the first time she tasted pickled turnip in a bar in Berlin, in retrospect she now thinks there was additional salt added to the recipe to encourage beer sales by thirsty customers.
“My granddad is a farmer so we would forage in his fields. The south-facing blackberries were always the juiciest”
Mixing a turnip with some beetroot, organic vinegar, brown sugar and a plethora of spices, she managed to make the demo seem like a lesson in sustainability as well as a beautiful science experiment.
‘’I think I’ve been involved for the whole ten years of Food Month; it’s been fantastic and has brought a burst of life to the newspaper. As a writer, I’ve found the interactive nature of it so beneficial- getting to meet the readers and connect with them.
Doing it in November is lovely too- there tends to be a lull before Christmas and it’s an opportunity for people to try out recipes before Christmas’' Lilly said.
Her newest book The Homemade Year has just been published in time for the Christmas market. It’s a delicious treat of a book, separated into chapters by the Irish seasons of the year, and detailing an inspirational collection of ideas to make, do and enjoy in the home. Lilly photographed and styled this book herself- laughing when she admits she’s not sure the publishers realise she used her camera phone for most of the imagery.
When talking about her inspiration in the food world, it’s no great surprise that she mentions the Grand Dame of the Irish culinary world, Darina Allen, name-checking her impressive tome ‘Forgotten Skills’. Lilly herself completed the 12-week Ballymaloe Cookery programme in 2007 and said she was deeply influenced by the school’s use of locally produced vegetables and a vast array of homegrown herbs on the land in East Cork.
Having grown up one of eight children in Cobh, County Cork, Lilly has many fond food memories of growing up. ‘’I think my mother would be looking for some quiet time at home with eight kids on her hands, so she would send us out with my dad to go blackberry picking. My granddad is a farmer so we would forage in his fields. The south-facing blackberries were always the juiciest. Crab apples were another thing we would pick. My mother would transform whatever we brought home.’’
Perhaps Lilly didn’t pick her preserving and sustainable skills off the streets; her mother used to produce jams and chutneys and sell them to a small local butcher in Cobh and she remembers the sounds of jars jostling around in a crate in the back of the family car.
Speaking about the labour of love, which is The Homemade Year, Lilly says unlike the production of her previous two books; Make, Bake, Love and Dream Deli, she didn’t have small babies to mind and in fact, her children, who are now older were able to inspire her and contribute ideas. The book took over a year to write as she collated it in real-time with the seasons as they passed. Describing her working day, she starts off with two glasses of water before her coffee. She loves an Americano which she makes in a Tassimo coffee machine, who have also made the coffees for the event. She enjoys picking a preferred cup or mug, loving some East Cork pottery pieces to hold her brew. This time of year, however, she says a mocha is her coffee of choice. The sweet blend of hot chocolate with caffeine is particularly comforting in the winter months. Mocha capsules are also available for the Tassimo coffee machine, so every whim is catered for. As someone who works from home, Lilly says she delighted with the barista quality the Tassimo machine can provide to her in her home office. We both raise a mug to that!