Happy International Women’s Day


International Women’s day is a global celebration of the social, cultural, and political achievements of women. It’s also a “call to action” to accelerate women’s equality.

Every year, thousands of women and their supporters courageously gather in cities across the world, often risking their lives to protest for women’s rights and protection against violence. They are often met with riot police and counter demonstrations.

This year events are, of course, virtual. But I found a list of over 300 events on www.internationalwomensday.com .  

How fortunate are we to have been born into a society where overall, women are considered equal to men and a girl child is welcomed with the same joy as a boy.

It has certainly taken a while…..

When I was a child I distinctly remember overhearing ‘shocked’ conversations about some man in the parish who was spotted pushing a pram, with several of his own children….. it was almost a scandal – that was considered women’s work…

My father had an innate respect and admiration for women. He was so proud of Mummy, a mother of nine by any standard a wonderful homemaker, who dedicated her early life solely to looking after all of us and my father whom she adored. (I don’t use that term loosely). Looking back she was a totally liberated woman. How fortunate were we that she loved cooking and saw it not only as a way of nourishing us all, but bringing joy and excitement into our lives on a daily basis. Later, when my father died she took over the running of the business despite having no training.

Looking back, her skill set was pretty awe-inspiring. She made most of our clothes, wonderful dresses for me, serge dungarees for all of us boys and girls for after school play. I always remember a tartan circular skirt she made for one of my birthdays. I was the envy of all my school friends…

And then there were the fluffy angora boleros, doubt if any if you know what I am talking about! She taught me how to sew and embroider, lazy daises, French knots and chain stitch onto tray cloths, how to use a sewing machine, how to sow seeds and fill hanging baskets. The kitchen garden produced vegetables year round, currants and berries in summer, and several varieties of apple in the Autumn. Daddy made sure she had help in both the house and garden. I remember, local people spoke about how lucky those girls and lads were to be working alongside Mummy.

As a child this was my norm. We also had a flock of hens, chickens were reared for the table and a Kerry cow produced raw milk for the house. I’ve just remembered that she also made hand-made floor rugs, did tapestry fire screens and candlewick bed-spreads which were all the rage at that time. Even though there was no TV, I still marvel at how she did it. In the midst of all this, she taught me how to knit Aran patterns, diamond, blackberry, zig zag, honeycomb, multiple cable and basket stitches.

A wonderful trip down memory lane, as I write, I realise how fortunate I was not only to have my own mother as a role model but to marry into a family with an innate respect and appreciation of women and a culture of encouragement and ‘can do’!  I’ve never experienced a ‘glass ceiling’, the idea abhors me. I feel so proud that so many women have broken through in recent years, both in Ireland and internationally, so much so that a friend recently said to me “You’d almost begin to feel sorry for the men”.

It’s certainly not about either /or, it’s about equal opportunity. But watch out, cultural attitudes can be very deep seated. If your partner thinks that sexist remarks are hilariously funny, be wary, very wary… Though you may be able to laugh it off, it may not really be a joke, but may be a hint of a hidden but deeply held cultural belief which would not bode well for the future.

Covid has resulted in a huge increase in domestic violence- a very worrying situation. In Ireland today, there are numerous examples of gender imbalance and women being paid less for identical work.

As parents, we can all play our part by our example, encouraging our children to reach their full potential with their unique talents. Our educational system would do well to emulate the Finnish Model Vihti where both boys and girls learn essential life skills- basic carpentry, first aid, how to wire a plug, sew, grow, cook, save seeds…

Since the 1960’s here in Ireland, our educational system has primarily focused on a set of academic skills, often to the detriment of practical skills. Consequently, several generations have left school with top grades, but without the basic skills to feed themselves properly and a mis-guided notion that practical skills are of lesser value than academic skills.

During this pandemic, thousands of hugely competent women who could ‘run the country’ found themselves feeling utterly out of their depth and helpless in the first Lockdown when they were confined to home with no backup and a family to feed- 7 days a week, 3 meals a day….

Once again, it’s not either/or, it’s as well as and remember in the end the way to everyone’s heart in through their tummy…!

It could be said that some early feminists did women a grave dis-service by making them feel that cooking was beneath them- drudgery to be avoided at all costs. Learning cooking skills is not a sign of weakness, but it is a sign of strength and self-sufficiency.

Happy International Women’s Day, a celebration of all women particularly those who succeed against the odds in every area of life!

Here are some of Mum’s favourite recipes:

Mummy’s Brown Soda Bread

Makes 1 loaf

340g (3/4lb) wholemeal flour (Howard’s-one-way)

110g (1/4lb) plain white flour

15g (1/2 oz) butter

Barely rounded teaspoon bread soda

Level teaspoon salt

1 egg and 415ml (14fl oz) buttermilk


470ml (16fl oz) buttermilk *

Add two tablespoons of cream if the buttermilk is low fat

Preheat the oven to 230ºC/445ºf/gas mark 8.

Mix the flours in a large bowl, rub in the butter. Add the salt and sieved bread soda. Lift the flour up with your fingers to distribute the salt and bread soda.

Add the beaten egg (if using) to the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre and pour in all the liquid. 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 wholemeal flour on to the worktop.

Turn the dough out onto the flour. WASH and dry your hands. (Fill the bread 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 flip onto the flour. 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.

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).

Transfer to a floured baking tray.

Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes then reduce the temperature to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for the remaining 25-30 minutes. Turn the bread upside down after approximately 30 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

Scalloped Potatoes with Beef and Kidney

Serves 4-6

This filling and economical dish often cooked by my mother was one of our favourites for a cold Winter’s evening. We all loved beef kidney and it was excuse to eat lots of butter on the scalloped potatoes.

3 1/2 lbs (1.5 kg) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonder, or Kerrs Pinks

1 lb (450g) stewing beef

1 beef kidney

1 lb (450 g) chopped onions

2 ½ -3 ozs (70-85 g) butter

13-15 fl ozs (375-450ml) stock or water

salt and freshly ground pepper

seasoned flour

1 oval cast-iron casserole (4 pint/2.3 l) capacity

Wash the beef kidney, remove the core and cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes, sprinkle with salt and cover with cold water.

Cut the stewing beef into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes.

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/4 inch (5mm) thick slices, put a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the casserole.  Drain the kidney pieces and dry with kitchen paper, toss the beef and kidney in seasoned flour and scatter some over the potatoes with approx. one-third of the chopped onions and a few knobs of butter, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Add another layer of potatoes, then meat, onions, and so on up to the top of the casserole, putting some knobs of butter between each layer and ending with a neat layer of overlapping slices of potato.  Season each layer carefully otherwise it may taste bland.  Top with a few knobs of butter, pour in the boiling stock, cover and cook in a low oven, 150C/300F/regulo 2 for 2 ½  hours approx.   Serve on hot plates.

This reheats very well.

Marmalade Pudding

For almost a week during the cold January days the whole house smells of marmalade as we lay down our store for the coming year.  My father-in-law, Ivan Allen adored marmalade pudding.

Serves 6

110g (4oz) plain white flour

110g (4oz) minced beef suet

110g (4oz) breadcrumbs

110g (4oz) sugar

1 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg, preferably free range

2 tablespoons homemade Marmalade chopped

Marmalade Sauce

2 tablespoons water

450g (1lb) homemade Seville Marmalade

freshly squeezed juice of 2-3 lemons

To Serve

softly whipped cream

bowl – capacity (5 inches/12.5cm)

Mix the dry ingredients together.  Add beaten egg, marmalade and a little milk to moisten if necessary (the mixture should have the consistency of plum pudding.)  Fill into a pudding bowl.  Cover with a double sheet of greaseproof paper with a pleat in the centre.  Tie firmly and steam in a covered saucepan for 2-3 hours.  Check regularly and top up with hot water if necessary (the water level should be 3/4 ways up the bowl).

To make the Sauce

Put the water and marmalade into a saucepan.  Warm gently, boil 2 – 3 minutes.  Add the lemon juice.  Taste.

To Serve

When the pudding is fully cooked, turn out onto a hot plate.  Spoon some sauce over and around the puddings.  Serve on very hot plates with lots of softly whipped cream and the remaining sauce.

Mum’s Victoria Sponge

This buttery sponge, the best you’ll ever taste is still my favourite to serve with afternoon tea. The best sponge cake you’ll ever taste. It keeps brilliantly and it’s even more delicious if you add some softly whipped cream and fresh raspberries in season as well as the jam.

4 1/2oz (125g) butter

6oz (175g) castor sugar

3 eggs, organic and free-range

6oz (175g) flour

1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder

1 tablespoon milk


4oz (110g) homemade Raspberry Jam

10fl oz (300ml/1/2 pint) whipped cream

castor sugar to sprinkle

2 x 7 inch (18cm) sponge cake tins

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

Grease the tin with melted butter, dust with flour and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and gradually add the castor sugar, beat until soft and light and quite pale in colour. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each addition. (If the butter and sugar are not creamed properly and if you add the eggs too fast, the mixture will curdle, resulting in a cake with a heavier texture). Sieve the flour and baking powder and stir in gradually. Mix all together lightly and add 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of milk to moisten.

Divide the mixture evenly between the 2 tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked – the cake will shrink-in slightly from the edge of the tin when it is cooked, the centre should feel exactly the same texture as the edge.  Alternatively a skewer should come out clean when put into the centre of the cake. Turn out onto a wire tray and allow to cool.

Sandwich the two bases together with homemade raspberry jam and whipped cream. Sprinkle with sieved castor sugar. Serve on an old fashioned plate with a doyley.

Queen of Puddings

Another pud that conjures up child-hood memories. Mummy loved to cook this Queen of Pudding’s for us as an occasional treat when we came home from school.

Serves 6

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

50g (2oz) butter

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

150g (5oz) white breadcrumbs

grated zest of 1 lemon

25g (1oz) caster sugar

3 organic eggs, separated

110g (4oz) caster sugar, plus 2 teaspoons for sprinkling

3 tablespoons raspberry jam

1 x 1.2 litre (2 pint) pie dish

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 and grease the pie dish.

Put the milk and butter into a saucepan, bring almost to boiling point, and add the vanilla extract. Mix the breadcrumbs with the lemon zest and sugar. Stir in the hot milk, leave for about 10 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks one by one. Pour into the pie dish and bake for about 25 minutes or until just set.

Remove from the oven. Whisk the egg whites in a spotlessly clean, grease-free bowl. When it is just becoming fluffy, add half the sugar. Continue to whisk until it holds a stiffish peak. Fold in the rest of the sugar. Warm the jam slightly. Spread very gently over the surface of the custard. Pile the meringue on top in soft folds. Sprinkle sugar over the top. Return to the oven and cook for 15 minutes or until the meringue is pale gold and crisp on top. Serve with pouring cream.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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