It seems like an eternity since I wrote my last column. In those seven days I lived through a whole lifetime of emotions -joy, helplessness, gratitude, guilt, relief, loneliness, deep sadness, not necessarily in that order.
During those seven days my eight siblings and I sat by our mother’s bedside, taking turns to watch over her and hold her hand, as she gradually slipped in and out of consciousness and finally passed away gently in her sleep as dawn broke on April the 17th.
Mummy was in her early eighties and had been a widow for 45 years. She was a woman of strong faith and was so looking forward to being with Daddy once again. She consoled us all by whispering that she was not frightened of death. As she lapsed into a coma we longed for her to open her eyes just one more time, until my sister reminded us of how disappointed she was likely to be if she woke up to find us all peering anxiously at her, rather than meeting Daddy with his arms open wide. During the long week with my brothers and sisters, there were several other comic moments, and even some laughter interspersed with sadness and grief as we reminisced and swapped memories.
With hindsight those seven long days and nights were some of the most precious of my entire life. How fortunate were my brothers and sisters and I to be able to spend that time uninterrupted, with the extraordinary woman of courage and fortitude who brought us into the world, and whose wonderful cooking brought joy and solace to family and friends for over eighty years.
Our home was always full of the delicious smells of cooking. Among many things, Mummy taught each and every one of us how to bake and roast, braise and stew and the joy of sharing food and sitting around the kitchen table with family and friends.
Her spirit lives on in every picnic we share and every skill she taught us, and in the smell of Cullohill Apple Tart and Mummy’s Sweet Scones.

Mummy’s Brown Soda Bread

I’ll never forget the flavour and texture of Mummy’s Bread. For years Mummy baked several loaves of soda bread every single day, and even after her stroke she continued to make bread with one ‘good hand’ on a regular basis. When I was little she would give me a little piece of dough to make a ‘cistín’, which I proudly baked alongside her loaf in the Esse.

Makes 1 loaf

225g (1/2lb) white flour
225g (1/2lb) wholemeal flour (Howard’s-one-way)
1 level teaspoon bread soda
1 level teaspoon salt
450ml (13floz-16fl oz) buttermilk (depending on consistency of buttermilk)

Preheat the oven to 230ºC/450ºF/gas mark 8.

Mix the flour in a large wide bowl, add the salt and sieved bread soda. Lift the flour up with your fingers to distribute the salt and bread soda.

Make a well in the centre and pour in all the buttermilk. With your fingers stiff and outstretched, stir in a circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl in ever increasing concentric circles. When you reach the outside of the bowl seconds later the dough should be made.

Sprinkle a little flour on the worktop. Turn the dough out onto the floured worktop. (Fill the bowl with cold water so it will be easy to wash later.)
Sprinkle a little flour on your hands. Gently tidy the dough around the edges and transfer to oven tray. Tuck the edges underneath with the inner edge of your hands, gently pat the dough with your fingers into a loaf about 4cm (1 ½ in) thick. Now wash and dry your hands.

Cut a deep cross into the bread (this is called ‘Blessing the bread’ and then prick it in the centre of the four sections to let the fairies out of the bread).

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes then turn the oven down to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 for a further 15 minutes. Turn the bread upside down and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until cooked (the bottom should sound hollow when tapped). Cool on a wire rack.

Farmhouse Chicken

Serves 8

This was a favourite family supper in our house, a whole meal in a dish. Originally Mummy reared the chickens herself and she always served it in the big black roasting tin.

1 x 4 lb (1.8kg) free-range chicken
Seasoned flour
1¼ lb (560g) streaky bacon in one piece
2 tablesp sunflower or arachide oil
14 oz (400g) finely sliced or chopped onions
12-16 ozs (350g-450g) thinly sliced carrots
5 lbs (2.3kg) large ‘old’ potatoes approx.
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pints (1.1L) chicken stock, made from the giblets and carcass

Garnish:
1 tablesp. freshly chopped parsley

Deep roasting tin 15” (38cm) square approx.

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/gas 8

Joint the chicken into 8 pieces; separate the wing joints so they will cook evenly. Cut the rind off the bacon; cut 8ozs (225g) into ½ inch (1cm) lardons and the remainder into ¼ inch (5mm) thick slices. If salty, blanch, refresh and dry on kitchen paper. Heat the oil in a wide frying pan and cook the lardons until the fat begins to run and they are pale golden; transfer to a plate. Toss the chicken joints in seasoned flour, sauté in the bacon fat and oil until golden on both sides, remove from the pan and put with the bacon. Finally toss the onions and carrots in bacon fat for 1-2 minutes.
Peel the potatoes and slice a little less than half into ¼ inch (5mm) rounds. Arrange a layer of potato slices on the base of a deep roasting tin. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle the carrots, onions and bacon over the potatoes and arrange the chicken on top. Season again with salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour enough hot stock over to almost cover. Cut the remaining potatoes into thick slices lengthways, 1½ inches (4cm) approx. and arrange cut side up on top of the chicken (the whole top of the dish should be covered with potato slices). Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour approx. After 30 minutes put the strips of bacon on top so they get deliciously crisp with the potatoes. Test after one hour – it may take a little longer. If its getting too brown, cover loosely with greaseproof paper or foil near the end of the cooking. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve at the table followed by a good green salad.

Mummy’s Scalloped Potato with Steak and Kidney

Serves 4-6
We used to ask Mummy to make this comforting and economical dish when we came home from college on winter weekends. One can do lots of variations on the theme; streaky bacon is particularly good and shoulder of lamb would also be delicious.

450g (1lb) well-hung stewing beef (I use round, flank or even lean shin)
1 beef kidney
salt and freshly ground pepper
1.1-1.35kg (2½-3lb) ‘old’ potatoes – Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks
340g (¾lb) onions, chopped
50-70g (2-2½oz) butter
water or homemade stock
Garnish
Freshly chopped parsley

I use a large, oval Le Creuset casserole, 2.3 litre (4 pint) capacity.

Remove the skin and white core from the kidney and discard; cut the flesh into 1cm (½inch) cubes, put them into a bowl, cover with cold water and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt. Cut the beef into ½cm (¼inch) thick slices. Put a layer of potato slices on the base of the casserole. Drain the kidney and mix with the beef, then scatter some of the meat and chopped onion over the layer of potato. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper, dot with butter, add another layer of potato, more meat, onions and seasoning and continue right up to the top of the casserole. Finish with an overlapping layer of potato. Pour in the stock, 375ml (13floz) approx. Bring to the boil, cover and cook in a preheated slow oven, 150C/300G/gas mark 2, for 2-2½hours or until the meat and potatoes are cooked. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve from the casserole.
We eat this in deep plates with lots and lots of butter
You can remove the lid of the saucepan near the end of the cooking time to brown the top slightly for a more appetising appearance.

Cullohill Apple Tart

The pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.

Serves 8-12

Pastry
8 ozs (225g) butter
2 ozs (55g) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
12 ozs (340g) white flour, preferably unbleached

Filling
1½ lbs (675g) Bramley Seedling cooking apples
5 ozs (140g) sugar
2-3 cloves
egg wash-made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk
Castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve
Softly whipped cream
Barbados sugar

tin, 7 inches (18cm) x 12 inches (30.5cm) x 1 inch (2.5cm) deep

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

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle.
To make the tart
Roll out the pastry 1/8 inch (3mm) thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Peel, quarter and dice the apples into the tart, sprinkle with sugar and add the cloves. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the apples are tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and barbados sugar.

Rhubarb Tart
Make in exactly the same way but use approx. 2lbs (900g) sliced red rhubarb (about ½ inch thick) and approx. 13 ozs (370g) -14ozs (400g) sugar.

For years Mummy cooked delicious pub food in our family pub The Sportsmans Inn in Cullohill, Co Laois. So many of your letters of support mention calling on the way to or from Dublin for Mummy’s Apple Tart or Scones with Apple Jelly, so I’m delighted to share the recipe to bring back happy memories.

Mummy’s Crab Apple or Bramley Apple Jelly

Makes 2.7-3kg (6-7 lb)

2.7kg (6 lb) crab apples or wind fall cooking apples
2.7L (4¾ pints) water
2 unwaxed lemons
sugar

Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 2 hour.
Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted – usually overnight. Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 450g (1lb) sugar to each 600ml (1pint) of juice. Warm the sugar in a low oven.
Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly without stirring for about 8-10 minutes. Skim, test and pot immediately and eat with scones.

Mummy’s Sweet White Scones

The smell of freshly baked scones coming out of the oven was one of my earliest memories, and then there was the squabbling over the sugar tops with my brothers and sisters!

Makes 18-20 scones using a 72 cm (3inch) cutter

900g (2lb) plain white flour
170g (6oz) butter
3 free range eggs
pinch of salt
55g (2oz) castor sugar
3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
450ml (15floz) approx. milk to mix

Glaze
egg wash (see below)
granulated sugar for sprinkling on top of the scones

First preheat the oven to 250C/475F/gas mark 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board. Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round. Roll out to about 22cm (1inch) thick and cut or stamp into scones.* Put onto a baking sheet – no need to grease. Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in granulated sugar. Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.
Serve split in half with home made jam and a blob of whipped cream or just butter and jam.

Egg Wash
Whisk 1 egg with a pinch of salt. This is brushed over the scones and pastry to help them to brown in the oven.

* Top Tip – Stamp them out with as little waste as possible, the first scones will be lighter than the second rolling.

Fruit Scones
Add 110g (4oz) plump sultanas to the above mixture when the butter has been rubbed in. Continue as above.

Useful Tip
Scone mixture may be weighed up ahead – even the day before. Butter may be rubbed in but do not add raising agent and liquid until just before baking.

Hot Tips

Congratulations to Jacques Restaurant
This much loved Cork restaurant has been awarded the best restaurant in Munster by their peers at the Restaurant Association of Ireland restaurant awards in Mayo. Jacques is now in its 28th year and still run with passion by Jacque and Eithne Barry along with their team Eileen Carey and John Kelly. They also won the 2008 Georgina Campbell award for best Natural Food in Ireland in recognition of their commitment to using only local food, showcasing all that is best in Cork. Jacques, Phoenix Street, Cork, Tel 021-4277387

Burren Slow Food Festival 23-25 May, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare.
Slow Food Lunches and Dinners, Talks, Markets, Food Exhibitions, Supper Theatre and much, much more. Contact Birgitta Hedin-Curtin, 087-822 4173 info@burrensmokehouse.ie or slowfoodclare@hotmail.com

Third Annual StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress – A Kitchen without Boundaries – September 14-16, 2008 New York City
www.starchefs.com

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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