Category Archives: Irish Cooking

Postcards from a special Kilmacrennan tea house!

Every once in a while you stumble on a little treasure of a place and want to tell the world! Such was our experience last Sunday afternoon in the village of Kilmacrennan in North Donegal, Ireland.

 On a day filled with torrential downpours we were in need of some comforting food, and so we stopped at the very pretty group of thatched cottages on the Creeslough end of the village. This group of little thatched buildings have been in Kilmacrennan for some 150 years and previously housed a museum.

They are now under the management of a young couple who have exciting plans for these lovely buildings.

If you fancy a B &B in an authentic thatched Irish cottage, this is the place for you! This beautiful cottage is available to rent on Air B and B.

The former little dairy will be used for workshops.

The largest building houses a tea and coffee shop, and when you step inside you know you have arrived somewhere special! It’s not just a matter of tea or coffee, it’s so much more! Wonderful food, wonderful atmosphere and a warm welcome await!

 

The light lunch we enjoyed was very special with artisan breads and very creative choices of savoury and sweet options served in beautiful surroundings.

The centre piece is of course the open fire with a blazing turf fire and a crane with a selection of cooking pots that were used in times gone by.


We were just a little too early for the music sessions that happens here on a Sunday afternoon but there was a lovely atmosphere even without it! 

It’s great to see new ventures and people thinking outside to box to provide unique high quality services to locals and visitors alike. I heartily recommend a visit to this lovely place, for either breakfast, lunch or a coffee break …you will not be disappointed! 


A gem of a place! 

Coffee Time Cafe Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/tiscoffeetime/

Twitter account is @tiscoffeetime

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Filed under Irish Cooking, Irish Countryside, Irish Heritage

There’s something about Christmas..

Christmas! A perfect celebration for those of us in the northern hemisphere, living in the dark days of winter, with long nights and short days, cool and often freezing weather. Some of us resist the tinsel and glitter and hype for as long as we can, but in the last weeks before the big day we too must succumb to the inevitability of it. Last minute cards, last minute Christmas trees, house decorations and gift purchases all add to the excitement!

In December 2012 I made this post about Christmas in our home which I  am reposting here as it epitomizes all that is Christmas, past and present. I hope you enjoy it!

‘There’s something about Christmas. There’s something about it that creeps inside and finds the child in you.’ These are the opening words of the magical  Barry’s Tea ‘Train’ radio commercial. It is back on the airwaves so Christmas must be near! You can listen to it here.

Christmas in our Donegal home almost 60 years ago is a world away from Christmas in the early 21st Century. My mother used  to begin the Christmas baking in late October when she made two rich fruit cakes. The whole process seemed to take days as she assembled sultanas, raisins and currants, chopped the mixed peel and the glace cherries, soaked whole almonds in boiling water so the skins would slip off, then chopped them finely. This scrumptious mixture was placed in a huge basin, doused in whiskey and covered with a clean cloth to soak overnight. During the evening the cloth was lifted when there was no adult in sight, so we could inhale the beautiful aroma of liquor and fruit. Tins were lined first with buttered greaseproof and then buttered brown paper – an art in itself, akin to Origami as it took a lot of expertise to line a round tin!

The following day the serious business of baking took place; flour and raising agent were sieved; the exotic mixed spice, nutmegs, cinnamon, ginger and mace were measured out; eggs were beaten, butter was softened and black treacle was measured out of the tin. An argument would then ensue as to who  would get to lick the sticky black syrup from the spoon. This entire process took some hours as there was nothing mechanical in my mother’s kitchen — only a wooden spoon and an egg whisk with a wheel on the side. After all the beating, folding and mixing the tins were filled. We got to clean out every last bit of the mixture that still clung to the sides of the big cream coloured baking bowl, then we were banished  from the kitchen and had to whisper for the rest of the day. Any loud noise or banging door might result in the cakes ‘sinking’! A good cook’s worst nightmare!

The following day the cooled cakes were stripped of the paper, pricked all over with a knitting needle,’fed’ with whiskey and placed in an airtight tin. Over the following weeks  we had a weekly ritual of ‘feeding the cakes’ and replacing the greaseproof paper!

Similar preparation of fruit took place some weeks later when the Christmas puddings were made. A stale loaf was laboriously made into breadcrumbs. A bottle of stout was added to the mixture which made mixing easier for smaller people and we all ‘had a go’. The well-stirred mixture was placed on double layers of  large  squares of cotton –  old sheets  made excellent pudding cloths- the corners were gathered up and tied securely for boiling, resulting in a beautiful round pudding!   Christmas was forgotten about then until about a week before whenthe Yule Log was baked as were my mother’s speciality – ‘Snowballs’. These were rounded balls of cake mixture, baked, then covered in jam and  rolled in shredded coconut – they always looked wonderfully tempting!   The two rich fruit cakes  were iced (two cakes as my younger brother had a birthday on Christmas Day and he was the only member of the family to have a birthday cake)  and decorated.  Then there was the marzipan to make – we smaller ones could not help with this as it was a very stiff mixture of ground almonds and sugars, but it looked lovely when done! About three days before Christmas we had the Royal Icing that was spread all over the marzipan-ed cakes  and we enjoyed placing lovely little silver balls and little snowmen and  tiny Christmas trees into the icing. The Birthday cake usually had  less seasonal characters stuck into the royal icing, but always had NOEL piped o the surface, for that is my brother’s name .

Some days before Christmas the turkey arrived – alive. It  had to be dispatched and hung for several days then ‘cleaned’. Our next door neighbour Katie Ward did the plucking and it was great to watch her do it as she expertly pulled out all the feathers and then singed the skin with a taper to get rid of the very last signs of a feather. On one occasion, when I was quite small I was given the job of carrying the turkey to her house. Carrying it  by the legs with the long neck and head trailing down, wings flapped open, I  was followed by a dog who wanted to eat it.  He got hold of the head as I went in the gate. I climbed onto the wall and tried to hold the turkey up high so the dog could not reach my precious cargo. I was rescued when my roars for help were heard!

Excitement was now really building and we knew it was close when a strangely costumed man with face covered would burst into our kitchen (front doors were always open) and frighten the lives out of us. He was closely followed by a troupe of Mummers all well disguised, who rhymed their way through a performance  in which there was a narrator, two bragging men who  took part in a fight and various other characters.  One of the protagonists dies as a result of having a sword plunged into him, but is revived by a Doctor who demands money. Most of the characters are long forgotten , but I do recall a few. There was  Belzebub) and there was Jack Straw – ‘Here come I, Jack Straw, Such a man you never saw! and my favourite ‘Here comes I, Wee Divil Doubt, The biggest wee divil that ever came out’

Also in the days just before Christmas Carol Singers would arrive. They stopped outside the door, sang a few carols and hoped they might get a few pence in appreciation..they usually did!

Christmas Eve was a busy day –  my father would bring home  a Christmas tree that would be put up in the upstairs sitting- room and decorated with tinsel strips and tinsel ornaments.   He also brought lots of  berried holly and sprigs would be pushed in behind hanging pictures in every room.  Paper chain decorations were hung from the ceiling in the kitchen.  Stuffing for the turkey(or goose)  would be made to be ready for Chrsitmas morning – more grating of a stale loaf to make breadcrumbs! This delicious mix of breadcrumbs, onions, butter and parsley  would have to be put out of reach  so we would not eat it all up!

It was impossible to get to sleep with excitement and we were under constant threat if we did not go to sleep Santa wouldn’t come – this only added to the angst and ensured that we would not get to sleep for hours! But on Christmas morning we woke very early  to find that Santa had in fact called and there would be something either on the bed or on the floor by the bed. A doll, a meccano set, a toy train, a button accordion, a jig saw – usually one toy each plus an annual or a book and a red net stocking filled with Cadbury’s chocolate bars. Bliss!  The discovery was usually made in teh early hours, and needless to say we had to run and wake the entire house to announce what Santa had brought!

Then it was up for 8 o clock morning mass . We walked the mile or so to the Church and one of the loveliest memories I have is of a house at the end of the village street with a tall candle burning in every window – a magical site on a dark morning. And so to the chapel to hear the choir accompanied by the big organ give an almighty rendition of Adeste Fideles and Silent Night! It was Christmas!

Lunch was served about 1 o’clock and consisted of a delicious clear turkey soup made from the neck and giblets of the turkey, that had been bubbling away all morning on the Stanley No. 7  Range!

Our Christmas dinner was served much later at about 4.30 pm. On the menu was roast turkey (or goose)  delicious  parsley and onion bread stuffing, brussel sprouts (cooked in true Irish tradition for the best part of an hour, until they  fell apart- not to be recommended in these modern ‘al-dente’ times!) and mashed potato. In north Donegal our name for the rather genteel sounding ‘mashed potato’ was in fact the very descriptive ‘poundies’!  The entire meal was enveloped in my mother’s absolutely fabulously delicious white sauce, made with cornflour and milk and butter and parsley.  After our meal we tucked into the Christmas pudding that was always served with hot milk poured over.  Yummy!

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My 3 year old brother blows out the candles on his birthday cake,Christmas Day 1955

A little while later it was time for cake – big triangles of beautifully moist cake topped with hard sweet icing were served – how we managed to eat it is a wonder in itself!

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Tucking into the huge box of chocolates. The Christmas tree in the background is decorated with tinsel

Later in the evening we had a huge box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray chocolates. The big box had a beautiful scene on its padded cover – a snowy mountain scape or a Santa scene. What luxury!

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The Christmas guests 1955, in front of the fire, with my father in the centre. I think that the man on the left may be O’Donnell, possibly John? and the man on the extreme right may be Ward from the south of the County.

On some Christmases  we had guests at our table – people who worked locally perhaps and who could not get home to their families for Christmas  for many reasons – they may have not had the transport and there was no public transport to speak of, and they may only have had one day off work, so would have had to make the round trip in one day.

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My father, just a few days after his 34th birthday, enjoying and sharing the poetry of Robert Service on 25 December 1955.

After dinner my father would sit in his chair and recite from The Collected Works of Robert Service  and transport us to the snow-covered wilderness of the Yukon. He laughed heartily  as he read his two favourite poems:  The Shooting of Dan McGrew  (featuring a lady  that’s known as Lou!)  and The Cremation of Sam McGee

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.
The only Christmas of my childhood for which we have pictures is this one in 1955. We have 5 photographs in all, and 4 of them are shown here. (the remaining one is of my 3 year old sibling trying to light up a cigarette in behind the sofa!)
This post was inspired by Pauleen at Family History Across the Seaswho  in her blog invited her readers to join in with the Christmas Geneameme. It sent me off delving into my family traditions and I am delighted to have had the chance to record a typical Christmas for my family.
There is indeed something about Christmas…
 

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Family History, Irish Cooking, Irish Culture

An Irish Halloween

Halloween has its origins in Ireland’s ancient Celtic past. Samhain (Sow-an) was one of the 4 major Fire Festivals of the ancient Celts. Imbolg, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain  fell on ‘cross quarter’ days – about half way  between the solstices and equinoxes – and are celebrated on  February 1, May 1, July 1 and November 1. Samhain (as with the other  Celtic pagan festivals) has been christianised and reinvented. The celebration has been de-paganized and has become Halloween – literally  meaning the eve of All Saints (Hallows) Day, which in turn is on the eve of All Souls Day (November 2nd.) November 1 was designated the feast of All Saints by the catholic church as recently as the 9th century. Nevertheless, modern Halloween and the ancient Samhain Festival have common themes marking – then as now – the  end of the growing season and arrival of  dark days of winter and the returning of spirits from the other world,

50 years ago or so, in Donegal, in Ireland’s north-west, Halloween was a fairly simple family affair, eagerly anticipated by youngsters. We called it ‘Halloweve’ and it was indeed a magical evening that heralded  a month of  prayer and devotions for the Holy Souls (people who had died but were congregated in Purgatory as they were not yet pure enough to enter heaven).

As for Halloweve itself, we would each have a ‘False Face’ – a paper mache mask, that in all honesty was more ugly than scary, and we delighted in wearing them all afternoon. Unfortunately very often the elastic designed to hold it on, would break at an early stage!   Tea time was a real treat  with  Colcannon piled high and rivers of melted butter flowing down the sides, followed by my mother’s Barmbrack – we called this simply Brack. Shop-bought Brack contained a ring, but for children a silver threepence or sixpence was a more appropriate ‘surprise’ to find and my mother put one in both the Colcannon and the Brack. ( See Recipes below)

Colcannon

A pot of Colcannon, waiting to be plated up and crowned with a golden knob of butter. Image Wikimedia Commons

After tea we would have nuts –  hazelnuts from the hedgerows and monkey nuts (peanuts) from the shop and if we were lucky we would also  have a coconut. My father would drill through the ‘eyes’ and pour out the milk , giving each of us a small drink. He would then saw the coconut in half and we would be given a chunk of the chewy flesh – a real once a year treat!

Every house had a nail driven into the door frame of which to hang an apple (I still have this nail on my kitchen door from my own children). The apple was attached to a long string and the trick was to get a bite from it without using hands to hold it. Apples were put into large bowls of flour,and several were floated in basins of water. In each case the apples had to be retrieved, or bitten,without using hands – the  kitchen often ended up in a wet mess, but it was great fun!  These were days before the unattractive practice of ‘trick or treat ‘ had crossed the Atlantic, and in days before television. Halloweve was indeed a highlight of our year and was the last great celebration before Christmas.

In Ireland, November 1 was a holy day, and so off we went to Church. Similarly on November 2, All Souls Day, we attended 3 masses, visited graveyards, and prayed earnestly for the release of souls from Purgatory. This continued throughout November, designated the month of the Holy Souls, and we earnestly believed that our prayers helped release souls into heaven!

 Brack.

This is not a cake, but is a bread, sliced thinly and buttered just like bread.

Brack

Buttered Brack. Image Wikimedia Commons

Ingredients

1 pound of fruit – Sultanas, Currants, Raisins.

1/2 pint of strong tea

12 ounces Self Raising Flour

1/2 teaspoon Mixed Spice

6 – 8 ounces of Brown Sugar

2 Eggs – beaten

A silver threepence or sixpence scalded in boiling water and then wrapped well in greaseproof paper.

Method

Put the fruit in a saucepan with the tea. Bring to the boil, turn off heat and leave overnight.

Sieve the flour and spice, add sugar and then the soaked fruit.

Stir all ingredients together , add beaten egg, and mix well.

Put all mixture into a greased 2.5 pound loaf tin.

Push the well wrapped coin  into the mixture

Bake at 170C (325 F) for 80 – 90 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean from the centre.

Serve cold.

Colcannon

This recipe is taken from my mother’s old cookery book – Full and Plenty by Maura Laverty

The recipe in the book is preceded by this old song

”Did you ever eat Colcannon when ’twas made with yellow cream
and the kale and praties blended like the picture in a dream?
Did you ever take a forkful, and dip it in the lake
of the heather-flavoured butter that your mother used to make?

Oh, you did;  yes, you did. So did he and so did I

And the more I think about it, sure the more I want to cry

Ah, God be with the happy times, when troubles we had not

And our mothers made colcannon in the little three-legged pot”

The recipe is simplicity itself and as with many Irish recipes, there are no quantities given.

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Hot Colcannon with a lake of butter ….

Cooked potatoes

Milk brought to the boil with a tablespoon of minced onion

Shredded or finely chooped cooked Curly Kale or Savoy Cabbage

Salt and Pepper

Mash the boiled potatoes or put through a sieve or ricer

Beat in a knob of butter and then add enough of the milk  and onion, a tablespoon at a time,  to make the mixture light and fluffy.

Add to the potato mixture one half its bulk of finely chopped cooked kale.  Beat well and reheat thoroughly.

Add the well scalded and wrapped silver coin to the mixture.

Make each serving into a volcano shaped mound, put a hole in the centre and add a knob of butter  and allow it to melt. Yum!

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Cooking, Irish Traditions, My Oral History, Oral History

Balls of Flour – the joy of new potatoes

It has been a long, long wait!  The awful cold and wet spring weather has held everything up. Finally, after a few false starts,  I have enjoyed the first ‘balls of flour’ of 2013.The term ‘balls of flour ‘will mean nothing to anyone who has not been born and bred in Ireland.  It refers of course to the eagerly awaited early crop of new potatoes . Potatoes! To many people outside of Ireland  the very word conjures up images of Famine. The reality is that when the new potatoes arrive each year , it is in fact a fabulous feast!

My own earliest encounter with the expression was way, way back in the mists of time.  My father rented a small field each year for the sole purpose of growing potatoes. In early days it was a number of drills in a big field in Drumnamona,outside Carrigart, but the plot I remember best was in Tirlaughan, beside an abandoned stone house, up on a hill. The plot was small and my memory is of it being  warm and sunny. Early  in the year seed potatoes were put into boxes to develop eyes. On Good Friday each year, sprouted seed potatoes were inspected, and if they had ‘eyes’ they were good to plant. Big ones were cut in half.

Sprouted Seed Potato. Image WikiMedia Commons

Sprouted Seed Potato. Image Wikimedia Commons

They were planted in drills – backbreaking work for youngish children – and later they were ‘earthed up’ to exclude all light. On the morning of  June 29th, (the Feast of St Peter & Paul, and coincidentally, also the  annual sports day in Cranford)  we went off with my father, carrying  the grape (a two-pronged fork) and a bucket. The grape was plunged deep into the black earth  under the leafy green plant, and the first new spuds came up – with many of various sizes attached to the roots of each plant, eliciting ‘oohs ‘ and ‘aahs’ from all of us as the earth was shaken off and the potatoes fell to the ground.

Drills of potatoes. Image Wikimedia Commons

Drills of potatoes. Image Wikimedia Commons

They were inspected, tested to see if the thin skin would just ‘rub off’, placed in the bucket and off we went with our treasure .  In  a couple of hours, (in these days dinner  was the mid day meal) they were on a huge plate in the middle of the table, ready to be devoured. If they were declared to be ‘balls of flour’ it was the ultimate accolade and a promise of a great meal to follow.

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Great Balls of Flour!

With almost the same intensity as we think of them at Christmas, our emigrants are uppermost in our thoughts at this time. Wherever they are, whether it be USA, Australia, Canada, the UK or Europe, or any place else – chances are, they are missing the balls of flour at this time of year. The Irish taste for dry floury potatoes is not shared by others, whose preference is for waxy varieties. I recall being unable to eat the potatoes in England when I first went to live there, as the texture was so unappealing to me. Similarly in Australia last year, the offering of a so-called potato was underwhelming!

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A dish of Queens

For a few weeks we will enjoy this beautiful early crop, steamed ( not boiled) , skins removed and served with a knob of butter and a grind of black pepper.  Heaven!

Royal Feast - Skins removed, with a knob of butter  on top

Royal Feast – Skins removed, with a knob of butter on top. A dinner fit for Queens.

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August 13, 2013 · 12:39 pm