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God’s Gastronomy

Maggio 2010
Glenstal Abbey, County Limerick, Irlanda. Visitiamo questo monastero benedettino per godere, in religioso raccoglimento, delle delizie preparate da Brother Anselm (fratello del noto attore John Hurt), monaco e chef d’eccezione.

di Kathleen Becker

File audio:

Brother Anselm
Brother Anselm

Language Level  B1 (LOWER INTERMEDIATE) 

Brother Anselm’s golden rule for cooking at Glenstal Abbey is: variety. At dinner the monks might have Irish Stew, Hungarian goulash, Indonesian curry – or Italian crespelle as on the evening I arrive. At Glenstal, dinner is eaten in silence, only broken by the sound of the cutlery and the daily reading.


Glenstal Abbey is a monastery with many faces. The exterior looks a bit like Windsor Castle. Once through the ancient gate, Hogwarts School from the Harry Potter films comes to mind, though the church is modern. Glenstal is in fact also a boarding school for boys, although they seem so well-behaved that you hardly hear them. Benedictine rule teaches peace, work and prayer – the famous “ora et labora” – and hospitality. Visitors can come to Glenstal for retreats, to work on their own projects or just to relax for a few days.
They can take part in religious services, listen to Gregorian chants, admire a collection of priceless Russian icons in an underground chapel and walk the beautiful grounds with many ancient trees. The abbey’s walled 17th century garden has a Bible Garden, with biblical plants from A to Z. A short walk brings you to a Mass Rock where Mass was said in secret during the period of the anti-Catholic Penal Laws.  


Brother Anselm’s “career” as a monk is as unusual as the monastery itself, with its relaxed atmosphere, full of Irish banter. Anselm, who was born Michael Hurt, entered a monastery in England. After 12 years, he left, married and had children, but realised that religious life was the life for him. So when Anselm officially became a member of the Glenstal community on his 65th birthday, it was in the company of his family, including his five-year-old granddaughter!

Brotherly Love

Speaker: Justin Ratcliffe (Standard British accent)

Brother Anselm is a brother in more ways than one. On the one hand, he is a brother in the Benedictine Order. Although an Englishman by birth, he lives in Ireland and is the head chef at Glenstal Abbey in County Limerick. And such are his culinary skills that he has even published a recipe book: Brother Anselm’s Glenstal Cookery Book.
And he is also a brother in the sense that he is the older brother of the famous English actor, John Hurt, who wrote the foreword to his book. Brother Anselm, who was born “Michael Hurt,” actually left the monastic life in the early 1970s and married and had children, but he later returned.
When he met with Speak Up, we asked him what role the liturgy played in the food he prepared at Glenstal Abbey:

Brother Anselm (Standard British accent):

Well, not much, except that, of course, it gives you special occasions for a special meal. If it’s a feast, then, as far as I’m concerned, if it’s sufficiently important anyway, it becomes a gastronomic feast as well. So, obviously, for things like Christmas or Easter or so on, you do a gala meal, but we do it a bit more often than that. St Patrick’s Day, of course, and... but there’s... lots of days which are solemnities, which we would celebrate, so I put on a special meal for that. And I would think in terms of a good starter, which might be sort of melon and smoked salmon, and a nice dessert. A very handy one, if you want just to quickly sort of smarten up a menu for a day, is a Baked Alaska because it’s got a sort of something about it, you know, but we do other desserts, of course, special desserts, like chocolate mousse, and cheese and biscuits put into the meal as well, and, of course, there’s always good meat. There has to be good meat!


We then talked about his famous younger brother, John Hurt. As Brother Anselm says, they often cooked together during their youth. They would go on hiking holidays around the beauty spots of England and Scotland:

Brother Anselm:

As like as not, you’d pass a butcher’s during the day. And if you did, you picked up a couple of steaks, you see, which we would then cook on a stick over the fire in the evening. And with... you’d get that nice sort of woody smell! We had instant mashed potato. It was very basic, certainly no special cooking skills, really. Instant mashed potato... and we had this Spotted Dick for pudding: it’s a suet pudding, full of raisins and whatnot. So that when you got into camp, the first thing you did, you’d light the fire, get the water boiling and get the pudding on, ‘cause that needed cooking for about an hour and a half. And if we couldn’t get a steak during the day, we’d always have a few tins of stew.  



O’Flaherty’s Delight

This is a delicious dish, though perhaps it is not for those who are worried about cholesterol! The garlic butter can be made by boiling garlic cloves for 10 minutes and then mashing them into the butter. Who was O’Flaherty? Well, he must have lived in the west of Ireland, where salmon and potatoes were plentiful! Quantities are left open.

Smoked salmon, sliced
Potatoes, parboiled and sliced
Grated cheese
Garlic butter

1. Rub the inside of the dish with the garlic butter.
2. Put a layer of potatoes in the bottom.
3. A layer of smoked salmon on top.
4. Sprinkle cheese and pour cream over.
5. Repeat steps 2-4, ending with a layer of potatoes, cheese and cream.
6. Bake at 180 degrees until potatoes are fully cooked and brown on top.

(From Brother Anselm’s Glenstal Abbey Cookbook,Columba Press, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, 2009)

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golden rule - regola d’oro.

Irish stew - stufato irlandese.

cutlery - posate.

boarding school - collegio.

so well-behaved... hear them - così educati che a malapena li si sente.

retreats - ritiri spirituali.

priceless - dal valore inestimabile.

walled - cinto da mura.

Mass - Messa.

banter - chiacchiere  scherzose.



head chef - capocuoco.

skills - talento. 

recipe book - libro di ricette.

foreword - prefazione.

as far as I’m concerned - per quanto mi riguarda.

a good starter - un buon antipasto.

a very handy one - una (cosa) molto comoda.

to quickly... smarten up a menu - ravvivare velocemente un menu.

Baked Alaska - dolce a base di pan di spagna e gelato.

they would go on hiking holidays - andavano a fare trek-king per le vacanze.

beauty spots - le bellezze naturali.

as like as not, you’d pass a butcher’s - spesso si passava da un macellaio.

you picked up a couple of steaks - si prendevano un paio di bistecche.

on a stick - su uno spiedo.

you’d get... smell - si sentiva quel buon profumo di legno.

instant mashed potato - purè istantaneo.

suet pudding... raisins and whatnot - pudding con uvette e quant’altro (v. Speak Up explains).

a few tins of stew - qualche barattolo di stufato.



garlic butter - burro all’aglio.

cloves - spicchi.

mashing - mischiare schiacciando.

parboiled and sliced - sbollentate e affettate.

cream - panna.

rub - ungete.

layer - strato.

bake - cuocete in forno.