Licking the Lizard – or The World Turned Upside Down

…Nothing was more natural than the desire to have a ‘last fling’ just before the beginning of Lent. On the Continent of Europe this became a public, communal revel, the carnival, but generally in Ireland the Shrove Tuesday celebration was a household festival with the family and their friends gathered about the fire-side, when the surplus eggs, milk and butter were used up in making pancakes, and even the most thrifty housewife did not object, as otherwise these perishable foodstuffs might go to waste. Some people kept the Christmas holly for the fire which baked the pancakes…

That’s my old friend Kevin Danaher again, reporting on the seasonal customs which we will be celebrating this week, described in The Year in Ireland Mercier Press, 1972. As he points out, the ‘last fling’ in Ireland is tame by comparison with Carnival in other countries, where it really can be the case of A World Turned Upside Down – authority is despatched to the sidelines while fools, mock kings, mock abbots and ‘Lords of Misrule’ conduct the proceedings. Hence the illustrations above, where malevolent hares get their own back on human hunters – and men lay eggs! Both of these are from the marginalia of thirteenth century manuscripts which are teeming with such anarchic visions.

Above – role reversal, a popular feature of carnival customs – and contemporary political upheaval which seems carnivalesque

An 18th century chapbook carries a remarkable and wonderful series of illustrations: The World Turned Upside Down or The Folly of Man, Exemplified in Twelve Comical Relations upon Uncommon Subjects. Here we find ‘the cart before the horse’, ‘children caring for their parents’ and many other thought-provoking reversals.

Back to Danaher:

…In Skibbereen, County Cork, after the fall of darkness on Shrove Tuesday evening the boys of the town amuse themselves by discharging home-made firecrackers. These were made by wrapping gunpowder in paper with a short fuse attached and enclosing the packet in a tight covering of the lead-foil lining of tea chests. Some, even more dangerous, were made from a short length of lead pipe stuffed with powder. These miniature bombs were thrown about the streets, at groups of people, when the sight of the glowing fuse flying through the air was the signal to scatter and run. The bang from these fireworks is said to have been very loud and when thrown at a belated wedding cavalcade, usually caused the horses to bolt, much to the public danger. Towards the end of the last century this custom was finally suppressed by an active police official… (ibid)

amorous hareJohn Dunton, an English writer and bookseller, visited Ireland and described various customs he encountered, in Teague Land: or A Merry Ramble to the Wild Irish (1698). Here’s one he observed in Naas, Co Kildare:

…The inhabitants of this place and the neighbourhood have a custom (how begun I could not learn) on Shrove Tuesday to meet on horseback in the fields, and wherever they spy a hare in her form, they make as wide a circle as the company can and the ground will permit, and someone is sent in to start poor puss, who cannot turn herself any way but she is repulsed with loud cries and so frightened that she falls dead in the magical circle, though sometimes she breaks through and escapes; if a greyhound or any other dog be found in the field, it is a thousand to one she loses her life; and thus after they have shouted two or three hares to death they disperse…

Hardly surprising, then, that the hares in the 13th century manuscript marginalia should want to get their revenge… And, unhappily, an evolution of this same barbarous sport, now under the name of ‘hare coursing’ is still permitted in Ireland! We live in a topsy turvy world, indeed.

better hunting haresAmhlaoibh Ó Suilleabháin, the schoolmaster of Callan, Co Kilkeeny reported a similarly unsavoury Shrove Tuesday custom in  1831:

…To-day is the day when cocks were pelted. It was a barbarous trick. The poor cock was tied to a post or a stone by a hard hemp cod, and sticks were thrown at it. He who killed it became owner of it. A penny was wagered on every shot. Recently this custom has receeded. I have not seen it for thirty years. It was an English custom…

Good to know that we can at least blame the English for that! Cock-throwing was also noted in the three volume Guide to Ireland published between 1841-1843 by Samuel Carter Hall (1800-1889), and his wife Anna Maria (1800-1881) …The day for this sport was Shrove Tuesday, a day which is still dedicated to games and amusements far less cruel and irrational… They went on to describe and illustrate pastimes more familiar to us.

hall's shrove tuesday

…The family group – and the “boys and girls” of the neighbours – gather round the fireside; and each in turn tries his or her skill in tossing the pancake. The tossing of the first is always alloted to the eldest unmarried daughter of the host, who performs the task not altogether without trepidation, for much of her “luck” during the year is supposed to depend on her good or ill success on the occasion. She tosses it, and usually so cleverly as to receive it back again on its surface, on its reverse, in the pan. Congratulations upon her fortune go round, and another makes the effort: perhaps this is a sad mischance; the pancake is either not turned or falls among the turf ashes; the unhappy maiden is then doomed – she can have no chance of marrying for a year at least – while the girl who has been lucky is destined to have her “pick of the boys” as soon as she likes…

We had better finish off with a pancake recipe – and who better than Monica Sheridan to provide a traditional Irish one?

Oh! Do I hear you asking where Licking the Lizard comes into all this? Here is Kevin Danaher to round things off:

…There was a common belief that to lick a lizard endowed the tongue with a cure for burns and scalds; this was especially effective if the lizard was licked on Shrove Tuesday…

hare with dog

Gary, Paul, and Nana’s Soup

Rowers Return

Two local lads, from Lisheen down the road, have stolen the hearts of everyone in West Cork. Everyone in Ireland, actually, and beyond.

On the stand

Gary and Paul rode the open-topped bus into Skibbereen on Monday night and then spoke from the stage at Fairfield

Gary and Paul O’Donovan won a silver medal in Rio in their rowing pairs class. They row for the Skibbereen Rowing Club, a local club that punches way above its weight in national and international competitions. The coach credited with that is the brilliant, but mono-syllabic, Dominic Casey. Taking Gary and Paul under his wing, he turned them into the hard-working athletes they are.

MUM AND NANA

In  the window on the left, the boys’ mother, Trish O’Donovan, and their grandmother (Nana), Mary Doab

Their parents’ devotion was sterling. Eoghan Harris’s Independent interview with their Mother, Trish, is perhaps one of the most revealing pieces of journalism about the O’Donovan Brothers phenomenon and what it takes to support an Olympian.

Waiting for the Open-Topped Bus

Gary and Paul are also dream interviewees – every sentence is a sound bite, delivered in pure West Cork accents, with artless but articulate insouciance. Their interviews are now the stuff of legend – but if you haven’t already seen them, take a look at this one done before the final race. What shines through, and makes them so endearing, is that they take their training, but not themselves, seriously.

Pub Window

Above: Left, Stella and Hugh sporting their ‘occasion wear’; Right, this young man let me take his photo in his Shteak and Spuds shirt. Below: Many of the Skibbereen merchants had decorated their windows

The classic quotes have already been immortalised and the T-shirts have been selling like hot cakes in Skibbereen. The night of their homecoming it seemed like the whole of West Cork turned up to welcome them, including us! It was great fun to be there, in the streets, waiting for the open-topped bus, and then to see them on the stage, with Dominic Casey, so obviously having the time of their lives.

Replay

We, thousands of us, re-lived their big moment on an enormous screen in the Skibbereen Fairfield

Someone who came in for special praise in one of their interviews was the boys’ grandmother – their Nana (the first of the interviews on this page). Coming in cold and hungry from rowing, they gratefully wolfed down her home-made soup and ‘brown cake.’ Here in West Cork when we talk about a ‘cake of bread’ – what we mean is that solid round mass of white or brown home-made soda bread that is one of the staples of our diets, and that tourists have come to love.

Following the Bus

It  seemed like the whole of West Cork turned out to greet them

In honour of Gary and Paul and their Nana, and using only locally grown and organic vegetables purchased at Levis’s of Ballydehob Wednesday Farmers’ Market, here is my recipe for Nana’s Soup. It’s vegetarian and gluten-free – and totally delicious! Serve with a wedge of brown bread if gluten is OK for you. (I’ve become more sensitised to gluten issues recently as a dear little niece has been diagnosed with coeliac disease.) 

Levis market

Local growers sell their fresh vegetables at Levis’s pub in Ballydehob on Wednesday mornings

NANA’S SOUP: THE RECIPE

Vegetables: I used kabocha squash, onions, carrots, parsnips, potatoes and green beans, but you can use any robust vegetables that are in season.

Other ingredients: 1 can organic tomatoes, tapioca starch, vegetable stock (I used Marigold Swiss Veg Bouillon, but Knorr Veg Stock Pot is also gluten-free)), fresh or dried herbs.

Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and roast in a hot oven for about 20 minutes. Leave to cool. Once cool, scoop out the flesh of the squash and chop roughly.

Peel and roughly chop the onions, potatoes, carrots and parsnips. Top and tail the green beans and cut in half or thirds. Chop the herbs (I used parsley sage, oregano and fennel from my garden, but any combination that suits you is fine).

Sweat the onions over medium heat in butter or olive oil until translucent. Over the onions, scatter about 2tbs of tapioca starch (this make it gluten-free, but if gluten is not a problem, just use flour) and stir until well mixed and starting to thicken. Pour in a can of organic tomatoes, the herbs, and a cup or two of vegetable stock. Stir until well mixed, then add all the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for at least an hour, preferably two or even three.

Soup and brown cake

After a bowl of this, you too can Pull Like a Dog!

Gary and Paul aren’t intimidated by a ‘bit of wind’. This is why – Skibbereen Rowing Club is on the beautiful , and breezy, Ilen River

Summer Markets

Long Island

Our West Cork markets – Skibbereen, Bantry and Schull – are thriving. Each has a distinct character and all of them are fun for wandering, browsing and buying.

Top right: A basket of scotch eggs from West Cork Pies; bottom left: April Danann from Rebel Foods

Skibbereen Market on Saturday mornings has become the iconic foodie market of West Cork. Everyone goes – it’s a social occasion as much as a shopping trip. Yesterday, Darina Allen of Ballymaloe breezed through when I was chatting with Eithne McCarthy, and rumour had it that Saoirse Ronan had been spotted earlier.

Eithne

Everybody loves Eithne McCarthy’s home made cakes, breads, jams and chutneys.

There’s music and coffee and crepes and bean burgers and sausages and cupcakes and scotch eggs and anything else you can happily munch on as you wander.

Many stall are devoted to locally produced and artisan foods. Perhaps the best known is Gubbeen, famous for cheese and smoked meats, but not far behind is West Cork Pies, Brown Envelope Seeds, April Danann’s Rebel Foods (wild, foraged and fermented), and Union Hall Smoked Fish.

Fingal

Top: Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen; Lower left: Union Hall Smoked Fish; Lower Right; Madeline McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds

But there’s also a whole array of stalls selling chocolates, baked goods, chutneys and pickles, free range eggs and the hens who lay them, vegetables, honey, vinegars, sausages, quiches, berries, olives, seaweeds, and more cheese.

It’s not just food, of course. There are flowers and bedding plants, wooden chairs, magic wands, dolls, jewellery, wool, carved bowls, antiques, books, junk, and yes, knitted tea cosies.

The Schull market is much smaller but has many of the same stalls. Schull is the quintessential tourist town – heaving in the summer – and the market here goes from Easter to October. It’s on Sunday mornings and has a lovely, casual, local vibe, with people dropping down after mass and everyone getting caught up on the latest news.

Schull Crowds

Like Skibbereen, it’s madly busy, so expect to queue and just enjoy the ambience and the music.

Cheese Queue

Bantry, on Friday mornings, is the largest market. Although there are some of the same food stalls, it seems to attract different vendors than the other two. This is the market where people shop for second hand goods, curios and collectibles, tools, carpets, clothing, work boots, trees and shrubs, and Michael Collins posters.

Bantry Market

A visit to West Cork wouldn’t be complete without making a trip to the market. Heck – make it to all three of them!

Vials

Say Cheese!

Cheese Bundle

Goats Cheese, that is: creamy, delicious – and home-made! Goats cheese is what I made today at our friend and neighbour Nick’s Rossbrin Permaculture Farm on the shores of Roaringwater Bay. The ingredients? Happy goats, a couple of ingenious WWOOFers and eager students.

Nick and Goats 2

Nick bringing the goats home in the evening

Nick has a smallholding and tries to be as ecologically sensitive, environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible. His WWOOFers seem to like the place and some stay for extended periods or keep coming back. (For those of our readers who are not familiar with the concept of WWOOFing – take a look at the WWOOF Ireland website.) Jasmine from Taiwan has become a keen forager and cheesemaker, and Helene from France loves to experiment with natural flavours. Recently there was a Slow Food event on the farm (wild garlic pesto – forage and make) which we couldn’t attend, so when this opportunity came up I jumped at the chance to sign up to learn how to make goats cheese.

Helene and Jasmine

Helene and Jasmine – cheese makers extraordinaire!

I had this idea that cheese was a long slow process involving ageing in caves and something called rennet so I was intrigued that we would make and take away goats cheese in one afternoon.

Diluting the citric acid

Jasmine dissolves the citric acid – available in any pharmacy

Jasmine and Helene had milked the goats that morning so the milk was fresh, although it can also be a few days old – the older the milk the stronger the distinctive chèvre taste. We started by adding dissolved citric acid to the milk, drop by drop, and stirring, while it sat on a moderate heat. The idea is to add the citric acid very slowly while the temperature rises to 180-190F. This process pasteurises the milk and starts the process of making curds.

Left: Jasmine and Helene and students Manon, Bríd and Maria. Right: adding the citric acid drop by drop and patiently stirring

Once it has reached the proper temperature the milk is allowed to cool a little then poured into cheesecloth-lined colanders to separate the curds and the whey. Since the next step is to let it drip slowly through the cheesecloth, we enjoyed some tea and cake and then we took ourselves off for a wander around Nick’s farm.

Julian straining

Through the cheeseclothUpper: Julian strains the heated milk. Lower: left to drain

We walked down to Jasmine’s seaweed-gathering beach and made a quick inspection of Nick’s ingenious vegetable island. Why grow vegetables on an island? Easy – no rabbits and no slugs! Nick practices Hügelkultur on this plot.

Once back in the kitchen we inspected the cheese and saw that the whey had drained away to our satisfaction. To continue the process we tied the cheesecloth up to make a ball and suspended the cheese over pots for a while longer.

All tied up

During the next wait period Jasmine and Helene showed us how to make seaweed appetisers. Jasmine had harvested sugar kelp and sea spaghetti that morning and together we made seaweed crisps and sea-spaghetti bruschetta. It sounds a bit weird, I know, but honestly, they were delicious.

Jasmine had washed the sugar kelp and hung it out to dry along with the other washing. The recipe for the crisps and bruschetta is at the end of the post

By then, we were ready to finish the cheese. First we added a little salt and then decided on the flavouring. On Helene’s advice we selected cumin and mustard for one and sundried tomatoes and basil for the other. A little tasting, a final lesson in wrapping, and we were done!

I love goats cheese and have several favourite recipes so I’ll be trying out a couple this week. It’s going to feel really good to casually drop into the conversation that, oh yes – I made it myself. And if that’s not totally and strictly true, I’m sure none of you will tell on me. Right?

Recipes

Moongazy Pie

Ready for cooling 2

Moongazy Pie – an original Roaringwater Journal recipe

Each year around this time we look forward to the annual Cornish Invasion – a group of men and women from Cornwall who come on a cultural exchange to sing and tell stories around West Cork. Some are old friends of Robert’s and we inevitably end up in pubs, singing and playing our hearts out until all hours.

A Cornish Quartet

A Cornish Quartet in O’Donovan’s Hotel, Clonakilty

This year we managed to get a couple of them and their Irish hosts to sit still long enough to eat dinner with us. To celebrate the theme of our Irish/Cornish friendship, we made a special dish – Moongazy Pie.

Dinner Group

Robert, Majella O’Callaghan, Jonathan Ball, Nick Blood, Brendan O’Callaghan

Have you heard of the famous Cornish dish, Stargazy Pie? It’s an arresting looking dish, with pilchards’ heads peeking out of a pastry crust as if gazing at the stars. Of course, there’s a whole legend to go with it and lots of traditions.

stargazy

Photo from http://www.jusrol.co.uk/pastry-recipes/stargazy-pie/

Regular readers will know by now that Robert is a hare fanatic. (In fact, he thinks he is a hare, but don’t tell him I told you that.) What better way to combine his Cornish heritage and his hare obsession than with the symbol of the moon-gazing hare – one of the classic, universal images with which we associate hares.

oval

One of Etain Hickey’s wonderful moon gazing hares

So here is the recipe we devised! I’m not sure who likes pilchards (not me!) so don’t worry, there isn’t a pilchard in sight – just beautiful salmon and lots of leeks. Although this is an easy recipe give yourself time to make it, as part of the process involves cooling the ingredients and then the pie itself before baking. It’s a great dish to make in the morning for a Sunday lunch, or in the early afternoon for dinner.

Ingredients

MOONGAZY PIE

6 leeks

2 tbs butter

A side of salmon (1 – 1.5k/2.5 – 3.5lbs), skinned and boned (we got our fishmonger to do this for us).

A large handful of fennel fronds (I happen to have this in the garden and I love the aniseedy aroma  but you can substitute fresh dill)

Freshly grated zest and juice of one lime

1 large egg

1 tablespoon water

2 packs ready-made puff pastry sheets – You’ll need about 900g/2lbs in total.

PREPARE

Take the puff pastry from the fridge so it will be at room temperature when you are ready to roll it out.

Wash the leeks very well, making sure to separate the leaves and hunt for that pesky soil that lurks between them. Drain them, pat them dry and cut them into rounds approx half inch or 1.5cm long. Sauté the leeks in butter over moderate heat, stirring, until tender, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Zest and juice the lime.

Cut off the coarser stalks from the fennel (or dill) and chop the fronds finely.

Cut salmon into pieces – about 2”/5cm square.

Once the leeks are cool, mix the leeks, salmon, lime zest and juice and fennel/dill in a bowl.

Whisk together egg and water to make an egg wash.

Dust a baking tray with floor. A 35 x 25 x 2cm (14″ x 10″ x 1”) works well.

Filling the pie

ASSEMBLE

On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin roll 1 puff pastry sheet (about 300g /10oz) to fit the baking tray with some overhang. Once rolled, transfer it to the tray. Roll a second sheet the same size. Mound the salmon mixture on to the pastry in the tray and spread carefully to fill the tray. Brush the edges with some egg wash and drape the second sheet over top. Roll the edge of the bottom sheet over the edge of the top sheet to form a seal and press it down all the way around with the tines of a fork.

Roll out a third sheet of pastry. Use a plate or saucer to cut out the moon shape. For the hare, we found a suitable silhouette on the internet and Robert used the printer to make one the right size to use as a template. There are various ways you can do this – make it your own, as long as you use the image of a hare gazing at the moon.

Cut four steam vents on top and brush all over with the remaining egg wash. Then cool the pie in the fridge for at least an hour and up to 3.

BAKE

Preheat oven to 205C OR 400F.

Bake pie in middle of oven until pastry is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Ta Da!

Black Pudding

Breakfast at Budd's

Breakfast at Budd’s of Ballydehob – all local ingredients

When did black pudding assume foodie status?

Breakfast Pack

Black pudding (a blood sausage) was always a popular breakfast staple in Ireland – served in all decent bed-and-breakfasts on a ‘Full Irish’ plate along with white pudding, sausages, rashers and eggs, and sometimes tomatoes and mushrooms, accompanied by homemade brown soda bread. I never liked it – “Please, no black pudding on mine.”

West Cork Pies' Black Pudding 'Brunch' Scotch Eggs, at the Skibbereen Market

West Cork Pies‘ Black Pudding ‘Brunch’ Scotch Eggs, at the Skibbereen Market

But somewhere in the last ten years black pudding has been transformed into the gourmet must-have ingredient du jour: added to scallops or crab, used to lend interest to staid sausage rolls and scotch eggs, served as canapés with the requisite goat’s cheese and caramelised onions.

The black pudding selection at Field's of Skibbereen

The black pudding selection at Field’s of Skibbereen

And it’s delicious! Artisan butchers and food producers all over the country have been developing their own recipes and flavours, although the basic ingredients (pig’s blood and oatmeal) have remained the same. Some credit Clonakilty Black Pudding with leading the charge. They use beef rather than pork and their exact formula is a closely guarded secret. Their website has lots of recipes and the history page features a video on how the pudding is made. This has become such a celebrated West Cork product that there has been talk of a Black Pudding Visitor Centre!

Clon web page

Nowadays, every supermarket meat section will sport an array of artisan black and white puddings. Here in West Cork we find local varieties such as McCarthy’s of Kanturk, Putóg De Róiste (an Irish-speaking black pudding from the Ballyvourney Gaeltacht), Hodgins of Michelstown, as well as Rudd’s from County Offaly, further afield. There are mass-produced varieties too, and supermarket chain generic puddings, all of which have their fans.

Avril Allshire at a function in Rosscarbery, handing around her black pudding swirls – our first taste of them; The Rosscarbery Recipes range of products on sale at Fields

My own favourite is made by Rosscarbery Recipes. This is totally attributable to Avril Allshire, the cheerful producer whom I have met on numerous occasions demonstrating ways to eat their black pudding or serving it up at events. She’s always up for a chat and she loves to share her enthusiasm and her recipes. She and husband Willy and two sons run Caherbeg Free Range pig farm (the Facebook page is full of adorable piggy pics), as well as the Rosscarbery Recipes food range and are totally committed to food quality, to provenance control, and to traditional curing methods that result in delicious pork products. They’ve even developed a gluten-free black pudding!

The Allshire Family with awards for their food products. Avril, William and the two boys are totally involved in all aspects of the business

The Allshire Family with awards for their food products. Avril, William and the two boys are totally involved in all aspects of the business

Avril’s Black Pudding Swirls have become my go-to appetiser recipe and I am sharing it at the end of the post, taken directly from her website but adapted for our non-West Cork readers.

An Chístín Beag's black pudding potato cakes.

An Chístín Beag’s black pudding potato cakes

The other way I have come to love black pudding is in potato cakes. As served by the fabulous An Chístín Beag (The Little Kitchen) in Skibbereen, this is a way to start your day off right, especially if you’re planning a hike! According to Pauline, you simply add chopped up black pudding to mashed potato, shape it into cakes, and fry. There’s got to be more to it than that, I insist – egg? flour? But no, that’s it. I think it helps if you leave them in the fridge to chill and firm up a bit before you cook them.

The choir Christmas get-together at Rosie's Pub. My contribution was the black pudding swirls, recipe below.

The choir Christmas get-together at Rosie’s Pub. My contribution was the black pudding swirls, recipe below

What about you and black pudding? Love it? Hate it? Got a favourite? Figured out how to get hold of it outside Ireland or the UK?

Making the swirls

Making the swirls

Rosscarbery Recipes’ Black Pudding Swirls

By Avrill Allshire (additional notes by Roaringwater Journal)

Ingredients:

1 pack of Field’s Puff Pastry; (any ready-to-bake puff pastry will do, 500g or 1lb)

1 Rosscarbery Recipes Black Pudding; (Any good-quality black pudding can be substituted, 300g or 11oz)

1 large egg.

Method:

About an hour beforehand, take the puff pastry and the black pudding from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Whip the egg.

Roughly chop the black pudding and blitz in the food processor with half the whipped egg. If you don’t have a food processor, use a fork or wooden spoon. The idea is to get it to a spreadable consistency.

Dust your rolling surface with flour and roll the puff pastry into a large rectangle. Lay the Black Pudding mixture on the puff pastry. Spread it out evenly but not to the edge of one long side which should be brushed with a little of the whipped egg. Roll from the other side. Finish the roll by pressing gently onto the whipped egg end. Slice in 1cm slices and place on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking sheet. Brush each slice with the whipped egg.

Put in the oven and bake until a golden brown. This will take anywhere from 12 to 15 mins, so keep an eye on it.

Remove and allow to cool. Makes about 50 swirls.

swirls finished

Yummers!

Shauna and Robert tasting