Mrs. Clingain's Kitchen
On special occasions, when we lived in Lizzie’s room, mammy baked bread, as well as apples tarts, in a three legged iron pot suspended over the grate. She put peat on the lid to ensure the even distribution of heat in what she called her oven pot.
But the turf man who made his last stop down the Bog on Saturday afternoons, and give us a ride to the corner of Rossville Street in his empty cart afterwards, never made it to Springtown. So the move to the new hut, with a real oven, generated great excitement.
Mammy ‘s baking skills were nothing short of high art. Just a handful of this, or a pinch of that did the trick. Her hand was as accurate as a thermometer when she stuck it into the middle of the pot to gauge the heat. She measured nothing. A handful of this or a pinch of that did the trick. A fistful of bran or Golden Drop (corn meal) completely changed the texture of the bread. The cornmeal, I learned years later, was introduced to Ireland during the Great Famine.
But her culinary skills were limited in other areas. These limitations, however, had less to do with mammy, than to circumstances. Granny, used to tell the story of a man who boasted constantly of his wife’s cooking. Getting a little tired of this, one of his friends pinned him down and asked exactly what his wife gave him to eat that made her such a great cook. When the husband explained he got beef, chicken, and mutton chops his friend commented that his own wife would be a great cook too if she too had all that stuff That was mammy’s predicament, as well as most women of her time.
sadie says,?"Mammy didn’t use recipes"
Not too long ago, I was asked for the recipe for Irish stew. I wanted to say truthfully that Irish stew was stew made with whatever was available to put into the pot.. But that may have been misinterpreted., so instead, I gave the woman a recipe a la Boeuf Bourguignon with a cup of fresh green peas .added five minutes before serving.
Mammy didn’t use recipes. But she knew how to make stews like nobody else. She made the stews in a very large long handled pot that also doubled as a clothes boiler. She must have acquired this pot after we went to Springtown for it was much too big to fit into Lizzie’s grate
She started the stews by peeling and quartering a stone of potatoes. She didn’t use a cutting board, or put them directly on the table. She quartered them with the knife blade facing the heel of her left hand before putting them into the pot already filled with water. Then she added two or three onions also cut in quarters. If she had a turnip she added that as well.That was my favourite. A half pound of mince, sometimes a pound, if the work was good in the factory, was dropped on top.. She finished the whole thing off with salt and pepper and let it boil until the potatoes and mince began to disintegrate adding water if she thought the mixture was getting too dry. The stews were ready when the texture was like a very thick soup, which she ladled into a soup plate to be eaten with a spoon. Mammy never sat down and ate with us She waited until she was sure we all had as much as we wanted before she herself sat down to eat.
I asked her once why she used so many potatoes as there were only four of us in the house. She looked vaguely into the distance, her signal for cutting off a conversation, and said there were plenty of hungry mouths to be fed and the stews would be gone by the following day. She was right. Mammy’s stews were not just good for the body, they were good for the soul as well.