Mother’s Day


There’s a special day allocated to celebrate almost anything one can think of these days but I’m sure we all agree that if ever a celebration was warranted, it’s Mother’s Day.
It’s a movable feast so keeping up with the annual date is tricky enough. Here in these islands, it’s rooted in the Christian observance of Lent so Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent, exactly 3 weeks before Easter. Not only does it land on a different date each year, but it’s celebrated at different times around the world. So, check it out…. If your mum is in the US, it’ll be the second Sunday in May.
My lovely Mum, mother of nine, passed away over a decade ago now.  Little things remind me of her almost every day, but Mother’s Day really brings memories flooding back.  I remember her delight when we would pick a simple little posy of primroses for her, bake a few fairy cakes or a rhubarb tart or bring her breakfast in bed…
Looking back with hindsight, many of us will remember with regret how obnoxious we were during our teens and look back with shame at the torment and annoyance we caused our long-suffering parents. Hopefully we have found the right moment to tell them how sorry we are for the hoops we put them through….
Invariably, we don’t remember just how abominable and unreasonable we were until our children are going through the same phase …!
Mother’s Day gives us all, young and old the opportunity to let actions speak louder than words.
If cooking isn’t your forte, you could treat your Mum to a slap up meal in anything from a ritzy restaurant to the local café depending on your finances.  If you’re broke as well as culinarily challenged in the midst of this cost of living crisis, not to worry, it’s time to get creative and offer your services instead…
How about a practical gift token instead…I bet that an offer to wash and valet the car or clean out the fridge will be greatly appreciated…
If you have green figures, a pledge to weed the flowerbed after Winter or dig the vegetable patch will be greeted enthusiastically. You might even manage to buy a few fresh herbs to plant into a tub or hanging basket by the kitchen door.
An offer to do the washing up every evening for a week or even once would win you serious brownie points. Most mothers loathe ironing with a passion, so that’s another way to show your devotion. If you too hate ironing, grit your teeth, and cheer yourself up that you are developing life skills…That’s the sort of ‘Mumsie’ remark that my daughters hate! I am one of the rare people who love ironing but rarely do it!
If you have the cash, newspapers, magazines and the internet are packed with ideas for special Mother’s Day gifts over and above the usual cards and flowers – a voucher for a spa treatment, a ticket to her favourite retro gig, maybe even a karaoke session…
And no, not an expensive tub of anti-aging cream. I’m totally happy with my wrinkles – honourable scars built up over the years. If I could make a wish, it would be that all mothers could be released from the beauty industry’s insistence that we must look forever young.  So let’s let go of ‘aging anxiety’ and embrace our very own natural beauty.
Flamboyant gifts are all very fine, but this is a cooking column.
This year, Mother’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day and Easter are all in quick succession so here are a couple of my mother’s delicious family recipes plus my favourite comforting Irish stew for Saint Patrick’s Day and a recipe for rainbow cake from the revised edition of Mary Berry’s ‘Baking Bible’ which has just arrived in the post.
Finally a recipe for Simnel cake which coincidentally was traditionally made by servant girls to bring home to their mothers as a gift on Mothering Sunday.
I have a feeling that it was unlikely to have been as rich and delicious as this version…make it now so it’ll be ready to enjoy for Easter Sunday afternoon tea with family and friends.

Ballymaloe Irish Stew

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a traditional Irish Stew, a classic one-pot dish.  The recipe varies from region to region – in Cork, carrots are a quintessential addition, not so in parts of Ulster.   Pearl barley is a favourite addition, originally added to bulk up the stew.

Serves 4-8

1.1 – 1.35kg (2 1/2 – 3lbs) lamb chops (gigot from the shoulder of lamb or a combination of gigot and neck chops) not less than 2.5cm (1 inch) thick

8 medium or 12 baby carrots

8 medium or 12 baby onions

8 -12 potatoes, or more if you like

salt and freshly ground pepper

850ml – 1 litre (scant 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 pints) stock (lamb stock, chicken stock) or water

1 sprig of thyme

1 tablespoon roux, optional (equal quantities of butter and flour cooked for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally – it will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator)


2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Cut the chops in half and trim off some of the excess fat. Set aside. Render the lamb fat on a gentle heat in a heavy pan (discard the rendered down pieces).

Trim the root end of the onions.

Peel the onions and scrape or thinly peel the carrots (if they are young you may want to leave some of the green stalk on the onion and carrot). Cut the carrots into large chunks, or if they are small, leave whole. If the onions are large, cut them into quarters through the root, when small they are best left whole.

Toss the meat in the hot fat on the pan until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole, then quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat. Build the meat, carrots and onions up in layers in the casserole, carefully season each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt. Degrease the pan with lamb stock, bring to the boil and pour into the casserole. Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they will steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes. Add a sprig of thyme, bring to the boil on top of the stove, cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, 1 – 1 1/2 hours approx., depending on whether the stew is being made with lamb or hogget

If using floury potatoes (not waxy) such as Golden Wonder or Kerr’s pinks, do not add them into the stew until after 1 hour of cooking. Sit them on top of the meat and vegetables and continue to cook for 30 minutes more.

When the stew is cooked, remove the sprig of thyme.  Pour off the cooking liquid, de-grease and reheat in another saucepan. Thicken slightly by whisking in a little roux. Check seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to boiling point and serve from the pot or in a large pottery dish sprinkled with herbs.


Irish Stew with Pearl Barley

Add 1-2 tablespoons pearl barley with the vegetables.

Increase the stock to 1.2 litres (2 pints) as the pearl barley soaks up lots of liquid.

Mary Berry’s Rainbow Cake

Recipe from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible published by BBC Books/ Penguin Random House UK

A fun cake for Easter.  From the outside, it looks like any other cake, but once you cut into it, it reveals itself to be as colourful as a rainbow.  For St. Patrick’s Day, one could just do layers of green, white and gold and decorate it with crystallised primroses and wood sorrel leaves that look like Shamrocks – sounds cheesy but it’ll taste delicious.

Serves 20

6 eggs

375g (13oz) caster sugar

375g (13oz) soft butter or baking spread, straight from the fridge

375g (13oz) self-raising flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons milk

food colouring paste or gel (in 6 different colours)

For the cream cheese icing:

375g (13oz) butter, softened

3 tablespoons milk

750g (1lb 10oz) icing sugar, sifted

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

275g (10oz) full-fat cream cheese

hundreds and thousands, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 (160°C fan).

Grease and line two 20cm (8 inch) round loose-bottomed cake tins with non-stick baking paper. 

Measure one-third of the cake ingredients into a large bowl and whisk using an electric hand whisk for 2 minutes.  Divide the mixture into 2 bowls and add some food colouring to each bowl (two different colours) and mix well. 

Spoon into the tins and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until well risen and springing back when pressed in the centre with your fingertips.  Remove from the tins and leave to cool on a wire rack. 

Wash, grease and reline the tins.  Repeat the method to make four more cakes, all in different colours.

To make the cream cheese icing, beat the butter and milk with half of the icing sugar in a large bowl, using an electric hand whisk, until smooth.  Add the remaining icing sugar, the vanilla extract and the cream cheese and beat until light and fluffy. 

To assemble the cake, remove the baking paper from all six cakes.  Place the violet cake on a cake board and spread with a little icing.  Continue to layer the cakes with icing sugar until you have all six cakes stacked neatly with the red cake on top.  Cover the whole surface of the cake with a thin layer of icing, then place in the fridge for 20 minutes.  This will help to seal the crumbs. 

Once the icing is firm, cover with a final layer and spread to make a smooth finish.  Sprinkle the top with hundreds and thousands. 

Mummy’s Country Rhubarb Cake

This traditional Irish recipe is particularly interesting because it uses sour milk or buttermilk. The resulting texture is soft – more cakey than other pastries. Even though it is referred to as rhubarb cake, it was always made in the shape of a pie or tart on a plate. Mummy made it throughout the year with whatever fruit was in season: rhubarb or green gooseberries were especially irresistible because all the bittersweet juices soaked into the pastry. According to the season, she also used plums, apples, blackberries and damsons. It’s important that firm fruit (such as apples and rhubarb) is thinly sliced, otherwise it doesn’t cook properly.

Serves 8

For the Pastry

350g (12oz) white flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

40g (1 1⁄2oz) caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

110g (4oz) butter

1 organic egg, beaten

about 125ml (4 1/2fl oz) sour milk or buttermilk

700g (1 1⁄2lb) rhubarb, thinly sliced

225g (8oz) granulated sugar

egg wash

To Serve

caster sugar, for sprinkling

soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream

25cm (10 inch) enamel or Pyrex plate

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Sieve the flour, salt, sugar and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Rub in the butter. Add the beaten egg and enough sour milk to mix to a stiff dough. Turn out onto a floured board. Divide in two. Roll both pieces into rounds large enough to fit your enamel or Pyrex plate and line the plate with one of the rounds. Put a good layer of thinly sliced rhubarb on the pastry, sprinkle the sugar over the top and cover with the other piece of dough. Pinch the edges together. Brush the top with egg wash. Bake in the oven for about 1 hour or until the pastry is golden and the rhubarb is soft and juicy.

Sprinkle with caster sugar; serve warm with soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream.

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake is the traditional Easter cake. It has a layer of almond paste baked into the centre and a thick layer of almond icing on top.  The 11 balls represent 11 of the 12 apostles – Judas is missing because he betrayed Jesus.  This cake keeps for weeks or even months, but while still delicious it changes both in texture and flavour as it matures.

225g (8oz) butter

225g (8oz) pale, soft brown sugar

6 eggs, preferably free range

300g (10oz) white flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

65ml (2 1/2fl oz) Irish whiskey

350g (12oz) best quality sultanas

350g (12oz) best quality currants

350g (12oz) best quality raisins

110g (4oz) cherries

110g (4oz) homemade candied peel

50g (2oz) whole almonds

50g (2oz) ground almonds

rind of 1 lemon

rind of 1 orange

1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

Almond Paste

450g (1lb) ground almonds

450g (1lb) caster sugar

2 small eggs

a drop of pure almond extract

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Line the base and sides of a 23cm (9 inch) round, or an 20.5cm (8 inch) square tin with brown paper and greaseproof paper.

Wash the cherries and dry them. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.

Next make the almond paste.

Sieve the caster sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond extract, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the spice with the flour and stir in gently. Add the grated apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).

Put half of the cake mixture into the prepared tin, roll about half of the almond paste into a 21.5cm (8 1/2 inch) round. Place this on top of the cake mixture in the tin and cover with the remaining mixture. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Cover the top with a single sheet of brown paper. 

Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 after 1 hour. Bake for a further 2 1/2 hours approximately until cooked, test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.

NOTE: When you are testing, do so at an angle because the almond paste can give a false reading.

Next day remove the cake from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in some extra greaseproof paper and tin foil until required.

When you wish to ice the cake, roll the remainder of the almond paste into a 23cm (9 inch) round. Brush the cake with a little lightly beaten egg white and top with the almond paste. Roll the remainder of the paste into 11 balls. Score the top of the cake in 4cm (1 1/2 inch) squares or diamonds. Brush with beaten egg yolk, stick the ‘apostles’ around the outer edge of the top, brush with beaten egg. Toast in a preheated oven 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7, for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden. Decorate with an Easter Chicken.  Cut while warm or store for several weeks when cold.

NB: Almond paste may also be used to ice the side of the cake.  You will need half the almond paste again.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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