The idea for The United Nations of Cookies came on lockdown. You were calling your friends and all of our businesses were closed or thriving – and it was a weird time.
I would call my mate Eoin Cluskey at Bread 41 in Dublin and tell him how I managed to kill all my sourdough in Galway, and he would tell me what he was doing.
He had bought all these milk floats from the 1950s. We had this idea that it would be cool to fill one with raw milk and make a load of biscuits and drive it to the Big Grill Festival in Dublin or wherever. Who doesn’t love a glass of iced milk with a really good cookie?
Then I also received a call from Kristin Jensen at Blasta Books, who said, “What happened to that book about refugees and food you wanted to make? I told him that it seemed like it wasn’t a book that everyone really wanted in the dark, dark world, before and during the pandemic.
I told her about the idea of cookies and how you don’t have to speak the same language to sit down with a cup of tea and a good cookie. Cookies – Eoin calls them cookies because he’s fancy – are an international language. Kristin said, “That’s the book. Let’s do it.” I phoned Eoin and said, “We’re doing a book together.
We decided to do it for the craic and for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I support them anyway, and I’m always keen to support and highlight the incredible work they do. If you ever find your home blown up, your town gone, and your life destroyed, then these are the people you would want on your side.
Eoin and I had enough pals between us from around the world to contribute early recipes and launch the book, and things snowballed from there. One recipe is for Iranian rice crackers. We got this from Susan Golroo, who moved to Sligo in the 1980s – imagine the culture shock.
Eoin tested all of the Bread 41 recipes. So many recipes had no measurements, they were just based on handfuls of this and that, learned over years and years of making. People don’t bring cookbooks with them when they flee.
Then there is Marlon Jimenez-Compton, who is from Venezuela and who came here in 2003 with just a suitcase and now has Marlon’s show on Dublin South FM. He contributed a recipe for egg cookies his mother gave him with a glass of milk when he was a child.
I first met Sami al Jamous and his family in Beirut, after fleeing the war in Syria in 2013. I saw them again a year later when they arrived in Ireland. They gave us a Syrian recipe Barazeka cookie sprinkled with pistachios and sesame seeds.
We want the book to be a way of talking to children and teenagers about how we are all different but have so much in common.
There are a lot of things about cookie making that drive home how cool it is to be different; how we are not all the same size but have different colors and shapes; how some of us have pistachios and some don’t, but we’re all tasty.
I would like the book to be in every primary school in Ireland and I would like on World Refugee Day [June 20]for someone to go to schools and bake a cookie from their country.
What’s missing in the book is the Irish cookie, and I think we need to create that. I would love to go to Áras an Uachtaráin and cook with President Michael D Higgins. The national cookie might be Miggle D. I think it would be fluffy spelled shortbread – it would have to be smart flour.
The book is primarily about cookies as conversation starters. Every cookie in the book has a story, and they’re mostly stories about early memories and being home with your mom or grandma.
For me, of course, it’s the Anzacs. I bite into an Anzac, and I’m back in the Tardis in New Zealand in 1984.
“The United Nations of Cookies” by Jess Murphy and Eoin Cluskey contains 28 recipes for cookies, biscuits and crackers from around the world, along with a short article on each cook and cultural background. Suitable for all abilities, but especially children, all proceeds go to UNHCR. Published by Blasta Books
Interview with Sarah Caden