One of the Easter traditions Robert writes about this week is the practice of gathering shellfish on Good Friday. Traditionally, Good Friday was a day of complete austerity – the very apex of the Lent period when people gave up treats and went on a simple diet for the 40 days before Easter Sunday. In Ireland, Good Friday is the only day of the year apart from Christmas Day when the pubs are closed. No meat was eaten, and because fishermen would not put their boats out to sea on Good Friday, it was customary to gather whatever was available on the shore – seaweed and shellfish – for dinner.
To our amazement, we have discovered that this tradition persists, here in West Cork. It has evolved, as such traditions do, into a family day on the shore, with everyone gathering shellfish, followed by a mussel feast back home.
We tagged along with friends, walking down to Rossbrin Cove, with wellies and buckets. We met Leita and Tommy Camier of the Gortnagrough Folk Museum, who were leaving with a full bucket of mussels. They told us they had gathered mussels on Good Friday as long as they could remember. There aren’t as many mussels now as in the old days, they said, and they’re smaller.
Mussels were the shellfish of choice for most of the folks who had come to the Cove. Picking was fairly easy, off the rocks, taking pains to avoid ones with barnacles. Our neighbour Hildegard and her family also gathered cockles and winkles.
Afterwards, we ended up at Dietrich and Hildegard’s house for a feast. Robert and I are not mussel eaters – or so we had told each other. Robert stuck to bread and cheese, but I thought I should be polite and at least try some when presented with a plate of fresh steaming cockles and mussels and some warm French bread. Surprise! As cooked by Rui with onions and garlic and herbs, they are delicious! Two plates later, I am a firm convert.
I like this austerity business!
But enough of this deprivation! I wonder if Robert has remembered to get me a chocolate Easter Egg…