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Introducing: Penny Ericson & The Chemo Cookery Club

Posted by: Information & support 19 July 2013

We're happy to introduce a new guest blogger: Penny Ericson of the Chemo Cookery Club. We know managing dietary needs with pancreatic cancer can be difficult, so here's Penny to introduce her book/blog and the bonus of a recipe for you to try: 

Hi, I am Penny Ericson the author of Chemo Cookery Club and I was absolutely delighted to be asked by Pancreatic Cancer UK to post a regular blog. Let me start by telling you a little bit about the background to the book.

I met my husband Simon in my local pub a few years ago. He was recovering from his first operation to have a grapefruit-sized tumour from his colon (why is it always the size of a grapefruit?) He was also on his first tour of chemo. He looked a mess but had a great sense of humour. He proudly told me that Guinness was good for fighting anemia, it took 47 minutes to poach an egg and baked beans and Cornish pasties worked a treat for the balance of his diet. It was clear he needed taking in hand and I can't resist anyone who needs feeding. He was mine!

Simon and I were soon caught in the tricky cycle of keeping him motivated and well during treatment, searching for accurate guidance about simple things like alternative sources of iron to Guinness. What I found was a lot of controversial, contradictory but well-intended opinions and a lot of advice on foods he would never consider eating even when healthy. I am an experienced chef and having written and contributed to cookery books in the past, I decided to create my own diet for him. Chemo Cookery Club was born!

Chemo Cookery Club is a non-cancer specific diet-book stuffed full of everyday recipes for everyday food but with special consideration to enhancing flavour to combat things like metal mouth. It also highlights what I call in the book, 'your new best friends', foods we know to be helpful and in some cases preventative. A very popular feature of each recipe is the specially designed 'thumbs-up' nutritional analysis.

Chemo Cookery Club is a book about everyday food that we buy in everyday places using everyday tools and methods. Turning lemons into lemonade…with a twist. (haha - I do like a good pun!)

I needed medical expertise for the nutritional analysis and serendipity made sure that I was introduced to Barbara Parry MSc RD. Barbara is one of the UK's and Global cancer community's leading research dieticians. She really does write books on cancer food policy. She agreed to join the team and has contributed 'the science bits', including the nutritional information and 'thumbs-up' analyses. 

Using Simon as my willing chief guinea pig I experimented with tweaking traditional recipes to help him with appetite stimulation, digestion and most importantly enhanced flavour. I also concentrated on dishes that could easily be prepared in advance and served in small portions. These came in particularly handy on chemo days. Coming home to a dish like fish pie after a day in the chemo suite was bliss.

There are over 150 recipes in Chemo Cookery Club so there is something for everybody. My style is to make things as simple as possible and so the recipes are easy to follow and flexible enough to substitute ingredients for modified diets. The response to the book has been most encouraging since its launch in April 2013 with particular interest from all sections of the cancer community including the major cancer charities and support groups, surgeons, oncologists, and many medical groups.

I hope, when you see the book you'll like and enjoy using it as much as I did creating it. Here's a sample recipe for one of the comfort dishes I created to get enriched nutrition into Simon when he was feeling his worst. It's called Simon's Pie (sort of a posh shepherd's pie really). It freezes easily and can be served in small portions. I recommend it with the Greek salad.

 Pie Blog

Simon's pie

serves 4-6

This is a really nutritious take on shepherd's pie. I made up this dish when Simon was in chemotherapy. It's perfect to come home to.

  • 4 lamb shanks
  • lentils 
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • a generous handful of mixed herbs
  • 500ml lamb stock
  • dash of sriracha (or 1 small chilli, finely chopped)
  • salt & pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1.25 kg potatoes
  • 2 to 3 tsp white plain flour
  • 100ml water, approximately
  • 200g shallots, finely chopped
  • nutmeg

Slow cook the lamb and ingredients on medium for 6-8 hours. The meat should fall off the bone. When ready strain the jus through
a fine sieve. Pull from the bones ensuring there is no fat. Next boil and mash potatoes and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. 

To make the gravy, bring the jus to hard boil then reduce heat to simmer. Using flour and water, make a smooth paste and whisk into the jus avoiding lumps. Bring back to the boil. Season to taste.

Preheat oven to 200°Cf. (That's fan assisted)

Finally, layer the lentils, shallots and lamb in a casserole. Add sufficient gravy to completely cover the meat then cover with
a generous layer of potatoes adding seasoning and a dash of nutmeg. Seal to the edges to prevent the sauce from boiling over. Rough up the surface using a fork. Bake until golden brown on top. Remove from heat and leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Each portion provides 77g protein and 1080kcals

The thumb's-up nutritional score for this recipe can be found in the book and on our website.


As a closing note, I wrote a great portion of this book during the hours I spent by Simon's bedside while he was in hospital.

This time last year he was recovering from a ground breaking operation where they removed large sections of his colon, some liver, duodenum, right kidney, gall bladder and the head of his pancreas. They created seven new joins to his stomach and built him a new duodenum. The operation would never have been attempted had he not been strong enough to cope. His team of amazing surgeons are positive that much of his strength was the result of his healthy and well considered diet. They contributed the foreword to the book.

I am always delighted to receive emails and enquiries about the book, and food in general. I would also be delighted to run our unique thumbs analysis of your favourite recipes. Please feel free to contact me at penny.ericson@chemocookeryclub.com or via the contact form on the website. We also have just launched a forum on the site.

You can purchase the book by clinking on the image below, £5 from the sale of each book provides much needed funds for Pancreatic Cancer UK.