ArchiveDecember 13, 2008

Spirit of the Season

Few people can recall going into the festive season at a time of such doom and gloom. Many of us remember when little treats were much looked forward to – a tangerine, some plasticine, maybe a few balloons, colouring pencils, and doll dress up sets in our stockings. The Dandy or Beezer annual, a game of ludo or snakes and ladders – kept us amused throughout Christmas day. Many presents were home made. Mum secreted herself away in the evening for weeks before Christmas, knitting and sewing and making little felt toys. The making of the plum pudding and Christmas cake was a family affair, we all pitched in, stoning muscatel raisins, chopping candied peel, halving cherries and of course we all helped to stir and then we had a wish. We did little jobs for months before Christmas to save money for the annual Christmas shopping trip to Kilkenny, the excitement was unbearable. Sometimes Daddy would give us half a crown to supplement our savings. Out of our money we bought a present for mummy and daddy and for each other. The now endangered Woolworths were a terrific resource and the place where I bought my first plastic Cindy doll with hair, ooh the joy!
I digress this is a food column; at that time most of the food we ate came from local shops, local butchers, neighbouring farms, and our garden. It was always fresh and in season and we knew where the people who grew produced at least 50% of our food. In these credit crunch days our carbon footprint has much to recommend it. Lets try to source as much of our produce locally as possible. There are wonderful fresh red cabbage, Brussels sprouts and Bramley apples and a few pumpkins in the shops. Many local farmers have free range turkeys, geese and ducks but you’ll need to hurry if you haven’t already placed your order, despite the fact that this kind of poultry is more expensive the demand continues to escalate because of the greatly enhanced flavour of the meat.
If you are going to have a bird it might as well be delicious. The recipe for Mummy’s trifle can be made several days ahead but you’ll need to hide it! Don’t skimp on the sherry. The citrus fruit salad will be the most welcome dish of the Christmas Season, fresh tasting, light and delicious and virtually no calories enjoy!

Traditional Roast Goose with Potato Stuffing and Roast Bramley Apples

Nora Ahern rears wonderful free range ducks and geese on her farm in East Cork.
021 4632354.

Roast Goose with Potato Stuffing is almost my favourite winter meal.  However, a word of caution, a goose looks enormous because it has a large carcass.  Many people have been caught out by imagining that it will serve more people than it does.  Allow 450g (1 lb) in cooked weight per person.  This stuffing is also delicious with duck but use one quarter of the quantity given below.

Serves 8-10

4.5g (1 x 10 lbs) approx. goose

Neck, giblets and wishbone of goose
1 sliced onion
1 sliced carrot

Bouquet Garni

a sprig of thyme
3 or 4 parsley stalks
a stick of celery
6 or 7 peppercorns
cold water to cover

Potato Stuffing

30g (1 oz) butter
450g (1 lb) chopped onions
450g (1 lb) cooking apples e.g. Bramley Seedling, peeled and chopped
1 fl oz (25ml) fresh orange juice
900g (2 lbs) potatoes
1 teaspoon each thyme and lemon balm
3 teaspoons finely grated orange rind
salt and freshly ground pepper

Accompaniment – Irish Bramley apples (see fool proof food)

To make the stuffing: Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan.  Add the onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes; add the apples, herbs and orange juice.  Cook covered until the apples are soft and fluffy.  Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in their jackets until cooked, peel, mash and add to the fruit and onion mixture.  Add the orange rind and seasoning.  Allow it to get quite cold before stuffing the goose.

To prepare the goose: Gut the goose and singe off the pin feathers and down if necessary.  Remove the wishbone from the neck end.  Combine the stock ingredients in a saucepan, cover with cold water and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours.  Season the cavity of the goose with salt and freshly ground pepper; rub a little salt into the skin also.  Stuff the goose loosely and roast for 2 hours approx. in a preheated moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.
Prick the thigh at the thickest part; the juices which run out should be clear.  If they are still pink, the goose needs a little longer.  When cooked, remove the goose to a serving dish and put it in a very low oven while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the roasting tin (save for sautéing or roasting potatoes – it keeps for months in a fridge).  Add about 1 pint (600ml/2 1/2 cups) of the strained giblet stock to the roasting tin and bring to the boil.  Using a small whisk, scrape the tin well to dissolve the meaty deposits which are full of flavour.  Taste for seasoning and thicken with a little roux if you like thickened gravy.  If the gravy is weak, boil it for a few minutes to concentrate the flavour; if it’s too strong, add a little water or stock.  Strain and serve in a hot gravy boat.
Carve the goose and serve the Bramley Apple Sauce and Gravy separately.

Roast Duck with Traditional Potato Stuffing

Use 1/4 or 1/3 of the Potato Stuffing recipe depending on the size of the duck.  Serve with Brambley Apple Sauce.
Red Cabbage

This red cabbage can be made several days ahead or frozen for several weeks.

1 lb (450g) Irish red cabbage
1 lb (450g) Irish cooking apples (Bramley Seedling)
1 tablespoon approx. wine vinegar
4 fl ozs (120ml) water
1 level teaspoon salt
2 heaped tablespoons approx. sugar

Remove any damaged outer leaves from the cabbage. Examine and clean it if necessary. Cut in quarter, remove the core and slice the cabbage finely across the grain. Put the vinegar, water, salt and sugar into a cast iron casserole or stainless steel saucepan. Add the cabbage and bring it to the boil.

Meanwhile, peel and core the apples and cut into quarters (no smaller). Lay them on top of the cabbage, cover and continue to cook gently until the cabbage is tender, 30-50 minutes approx. Do not overcook or the colour and flavour will be ruined. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar if necessary.

Serve in a warm serving dish.

Note: Some varieties of red cabbage are quite tough and don’t seem to soften much, even with prolonged cooking. Our favourite variety is Red Drummond which gives best results.

Mummy’s Boozy Trifle

Sherry Trifle, can be a pudding to be avoided at all costs on a restaurant menu.  However when it’s made as Mummy made it, with good homemade ingredients and lots of best-quality sweet sherry it is a revelation.  Trifle was a Christmas tradition at our house and was served in a special “cut glass” bowl kept especially for the purpose with homemade custard.

Serves 8-10

1 lb (450g) approx. homemade sponge cake or trifle sponges
(trifle sponges are lighter so you will need less)
8 ozs (225g homemade raspberry jam
1 pint (600ml) custard made with:
5 eggs, organic and free-range if possible
1 1/4 tablespoons castor sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 pints (750ml) rich milk

5-6 fl ozs (150-175ml) best quality sweet or medium sherry
– don’t spare the sherry and don’t waste your time with cooking sherry.


1 pint (600ml) whipped cream
8 cherries or crystallised violets
8 diamonds of angelica
a few toasted flaked almonds

1 x 3 pint (1.7 litre) capacity glass bowl

Sandwich the rounds of sponge cake together with homemade raspberry jam. If you use trifle sponges, sandwich them in pairs.

Next make the egg custard.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar and vanilla extract.  Heat the milk to the ‘shivery’ stage and add it to the egg mixture whisking all the time.   Put into a heavy saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the custard coats the back of the wooden spoon lightly. Don’t let it boil or it will curdle.

Cut the sponge into 3 / 4 inch (2cm) slices and use these to line the bottom of a 3 pint (1.7 litres) glass bowl, sprinkling generously with sherry as you go along.   Pour in some homemade egg custard and then add another layer of sponge.  Sprinkle with the remainder of the sherry.  Spread the rest of the custard over the top.  Cover and leave for 5 or 6 hours, or preferably overnight in a cold larder or fridge to mature.
Before serving, spread softly whipped cream over the top, pipe rosettes if you like and decorate with cherries or crystallised violets and large diamonds of angelica.  Scatter with a few toasted flaked almonds.


Smoked Mackerel Pâte

We use Frank Hederman’s locally smoked mackerel for this recipe. It’s a terrific standby to have in your fridge over Christmas. If you don’t have time to make your own Frank sells a delicious pate at the Midleton Farmers market. Delicious served with cucumber pickle and Arbutus crusty sour dough bread.


Past Letters