Baker by Trade and Food Writer by Coincidence

Baker by trade and food writer by coincidence, Northern Irish storyteller Viola Dono is thrilled to be shortlisted in the finals of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in June 2015.

‘I was born and bred in a family whose politics was food and whose business was bakeries. The success of my Aunt’s fairy cake bakery, a Cousin’s potato bread factory and Great Aunt’s wedding cake business inspired me to start my own bakery too.

I perfected my craft at the feet of two of Northern Ireland’s greatest old school professional bakers, who took me under their wing in their retirement. They taught me how to make the best Paris buns, snowballs, barm bracks and pasties you could dream of, just like the ones Belfast’s Van Morrison reminisces about in his song ‘A Sense of Wonder’.

But it was my Dungannon born Mum’s boiled fruit cake recipe which really did it for me, and it was for these that we soon became known as one of Northern Ireland’s leading export bakeries. Demand soared for our Ulster boiled fruit cakes, until both day and evening shifts each week soon were dominated by baking for boiled cake orders, and we enlisted 5 other local bakeries to bake many of our other product lines for us.

Whilst compiling a bakery recipe book from almost 30 years of baking, I stumbled on some old family books which I had previously passed over in the headlong rush of a busy baker’s life. These books listed recipes from local people such as Florence Nightingale’s good friend Lady Whitla, Miss Porter from The Royal Arms Hotel in Omagh, Maria Bretland, wife of St. George’s Market architect Josiah Bretland, and Mary Anne Ewart of Ulster’s great linen merchant family. The extraordinary thing was that along with my own old family letters, poetry and recipe books, the books were all dated between the years 1904 and 1914. Their story took a life of its own, and I wrote it down in a series of letters between two young girls, based on events of the time, but disguising and fictionalising some of my own family details at the request of some close family members. It is categorised in the genres of cookbook and factional novella and includes over 80 recipes from the era, updated into metric and American cup measurements.’

The book has received international attention for Northern Ireland, being one of five Northern Ireland books in the Gourmand Cookbook Finalist Shortlist for 2014, and Viola is now through to the finals in the category of best food writer in the world in the Gourmand World Cookbook Award Finals in China on 9th June 2015.

‘Dreams & Recipes 1904 – 1914’ by Viola Dono is available to buy across the world on Amazon in paperback and also on Kindle.

‘I am deeply honoured to represent Northern Ireland in the category of best food writer in the finals of The Gourmand World Cookbook awards in June 2015. I am so proud of Northern Ireland’s rich heritage of baking, cooking and farming, and the wonderful products we create in our conscientious and hardworking food industry here. The recipes in my book tell us that good food is nothing new here; we weren’t just building the biggest ships in the world in the early 1900s! It’s time we all stopped being so modest and told the world more about our marvellous food.’

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