The Harper Family Cookbook Launch

Food for the body and soul

The 5th of July marked The Harper Family Cookbook launch, and what a day out it was. We met at Sandsford’s court in Kilkenny, home of the oldest Harper, Uncle Sam (99) and his son, Dougie.

Had the weather been in our favour, we would have spread out on blankets in a field, but as it was windy enough to blow the sandwich right out of your hand, Dougie kindly prepared a farm shed for us.

A number of Harper's gathered in shed around the art display of Nigel and Kyria Smith.

Five years ago, this corrugated tin shed had a massive makeover to host the wedding of Dougie’s nephew Micheal and his bride Edith. Five years on however, the faded grandeur of that celebration still hangs limply from the ceiling. The wonder in a five year old’s eyes that a shed could have a chandelier, was a fitting setting for this family gathering. We were as comfortable in a storage shed as we would have been in a fancy hotel. It’s the people that matter after all. And so many people! Before 2020, having a gathering of 70 people would have been nothing to blink at. But as the families rolled in, all staying in their family groups, and spilling out of the shed, that sense of awe, of relief came rolling in too. It was so good to see family. To strengthen the bonds that connect us. 

And the question on everyone’s lips? “How are you?”, ”How was Lockdown?”, “Were you working or at home?” The relief of talking to people who have a shared experience and the quiet gratitude that we could be together again was a balm to the soul.

Dave and Audrey Shaw chat to a relative.

There were strains too, the quiet murmur of many people talking together is something none of us had experienced in half a year. The stepping up to someone but keeping your distance and remembering not to sweep your 80 year old aunt up into a hug. The desperate need to stifle that sneeze, not to cough or sniffle. The shock of being around so many people, the unfamiliarity and the tiredness that hit from social exhaustion (the antithesis of the Harper family experience).

The highlights were dizzyingly high though. Seeing the growth of once small children. The announcement of a new baby on the way. The display of art from Nigel and Kyria Smith. The belly laughs that echoed all around and warmed that place in your spirit that you hadn’t even realised was cold. Breaking bread together is not an unfamiliar act within the family, and while we didn’t share as we usually would, with everyone bringing their own and keeping to themselves, it was still the act of eating together that made things more normal. And because we Harpers love to eat, to come together over food, it was only fitting that we were eating at the launch of The Harper Family Cookbook. Officially launched by Jill Callanan, who was the brains behind the operation, thanks were given and congratulations passed around, to a background of laughter and clapping.

Jill Harper smiles at her son Hugh

The cookbook itself is beautiful. Its thick glossy pages and gorgeous photos pull you in, and the compilations of recipes and stories behind them (put together by Nigel Smith) are what keeps you reading, long after you’ve found yourself drooling. The book is 231 pages and chock full of family history, photos and fun with new traditions and recipes that have come from the family spreading around the world. To quote the book itself, the purpose of it is “to help our extended family preserve and enjoy the amazing food we have all come to love as a family”. These ”time-tested recipes… will serve as a family legacy”. The next time we meet as a family, I’m sure the tradition of everyone bringing a dish to share will be pulled from the cookbook itself. After all, there’s nothing like having a little bit of everything that’s good; food and family. 

The Harper Family Cookbook stacked proudly
The Harper Family Cookbook launch is featured in the KIlkenny People newspaper.

To see and buy some of Nigel and Kyria’s amazing art, visit their website

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