My grandmother.

Oct 18, 2011 by

My grandmother was 75 when I was born and I was her 40th grandchild.  She had 12 children, the last my mother born when she was 47.  She was a passionate and knowledgeable cook.  She had to rear her children on the small Land Commission salary of my grandfather.  He used to grow a lot of their fruit and vegetables and also was a bee keeper.  My uncles used to go out hunting for rabbits and river trout and they kept hens, turkeys, geese and goats.  My grandmother only had primary school education but she was incredibly interested in food and nutrition and apparently used to read avidly in the local library.  She used to tell us about nutritional aspects of food that are really only being discussed now in media .  How she knew this stuff is a mystery to me and how she managed to get certain ingredients in the west of Ireland is even more surprising.
My uncles would shoot rabbits and my granny would make curry with them.  I asked my mother where she got spices or curry powder and even my mother doesn’t know.  My mother used to tell us how she had to have freshly ground coffee (she said once it is ground it loses flavour – she was right). My mother was dispatched to the local grocer – Henaghans in Castlebar and the shop attendent would mumble and grumble as my grandmother would only buy it if he tramped up the stairs to grind it there and then.
She was very against peeling vegetables as the nutritional value was just under the skin.  She abhored anyone adding bicarbonate of soda while cooking cabbage to keep it green ( a very common practice when I was young).  She used to only steam vegetables never boil them.  She baked all their bread, including yeast bread.  I remember years ago, some sort of strike and bread was unavailable in shops.  My mother just rolled up her sleeves and produced bread far nicer than anything available in the shop.  My grandmother taught me how to knead bread, how to check if the yeast was active (in those days there was no such thing as dried yeast).  She probably wouldn’t have used it anyway as she would have been suspicious of dreaded additives in it!  My grandfather used to take the train to Dublin to go to the Yeast Company to buy her fresh yeast.  She absolutely loved my first attempts to make pizza and tucked in with relish.  Everything that was new to her was an adventure and she was very cosmopolitan in her tastes.
My mother was also very open to trying new foods and I remember years ago going to Dunnes Stores in Cornelscourt, where peppers were on display and my mother picking them up and saying I wish I knew how to cook these…!!  It wasn’t long before they were included in our weekly shopping.  My son laughs now when I tell him this, but when I moved back to rural Ireland from the UK where he was born, in the early 90’s, it was a similar story.  I needed garlic and when I asked in the local shop had they any; they smiled delightedly and produced a wizened bulb and asked what I would use it for.  My sister-in-law was asked in the same shop when she bought a bottle of water “would she use it to make tea?”

My mother on the right with two of her sisters.

It is still to a certain extent, a similar story here.  The local supermarkets really only stock the basics – meat and two veg. and very often I have to go to Dublin or to one of the bigger towns to get “exotic” ingredients.  I know the owners of the local Supervalus and they say that they just can’t shift anything unusual. They used to say they got fed up throwing out cheeses when the only one in demand was processed cheddar. This, I am glad to say has changed in the last few years. There is still so much ignorance about food however, just stand in any supermarket any day of the week and look at what people put in their trolley.  I am thankful that I had a great education in food from my grandmother born in 1888!!

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