Friday, 28 September 2012

11 December, 1897 - 'Some Economical Irish Dishes' - Part 1, Irish Stew, Colcannon and Bacon & Cabbage

"Helen, dear! will you give me some recipes for the things you have in Ireland? They would do nicely for the servants' hall!"

The speaker - a regal-looking dame in blue velvet and rosepoint - looked at her niece sweetly as she spoke. She seemed quite unconscious of the hidden meaning in her speech. But all down the glittering table in that old banqueting hall ran a ripple of laughter. Helen's aunt was always insinuating that the food in Irish homes was only fit for servants' halls!

Helen did not mind. Not she. But a cousin sitting near - a Major, he of the ______ Regiment, stationed in Cork, looked quite furious. He was engaged to a lovely blue-eyed Irish maiden - so perhaps his views on the subject were not impartial. He had his mother reduced almost to tears before he had done descanting on the generous dainty hospitality extended to many in the Emerald Isle. But all the same, Helen made out a list of economical Irish dishes, and left her aunt to use them when and where she would.

The first on her list was, of course, the famed Irish Stew. None of your sloppy, watery, greasy compounds. In Ireland such a thing would not be tolerated. Helen's recipe produced a savoury, toothsome, unique dish - much to be appreciated on both sides of the Channel.

For this stew Helen's aunt would have to lay in a lean juicy bit of mutton. The best part of the scrag end does very well. It must be cut into neat chops, with most of the fat and all gristle trimmed away. Carelessness in this matter of false economy will render the stew indigestible and stringy. To every pound of meat two pounds of whole peeled potatoes and half a pound of sliced onions. Helen told her aunt that most cookery books tell the amateur to boil meat and potatoes together. The real Irish way is to simmer the meat and onions in one pot with only a little water. Potatoes brought to a boil in a separate pan - strained, and added with pepper and salt to taste. This insures the ingredients being well cooked, yet guards against sloppiness. When all the stew is thus mixed, cover down tightly, and never lift the lid again for one hour and a half. Juice from the onions, gravy from the meat, and steam from the potatoes will give enough moisture to cook the whole.

Result - a savoury, rather dry stew.

Another way of cooking this dish (Helen left both recipes) which makes it still more fit for delicate palates, is to put all the ingredients, without any water, into a brown earthenware crock. (The lid must have a hole in it to let out steam.) Place the jar in a moderate oven and cook for rather more than two hours. This will be a browner, drier stew than even the first one, and I believe the husband of Helen's aunt - sounds like a phase from Le Petit Precepteur, doesn't it?) considers it far too good for the servants' hall!

Colcannon:- I wish Helen's aunt (or my readers) could have heard the rich Kerry brogue in which Helen's cook, Dinah, let her into the secrets of this truly Irish dish. It was strong enough to stand on, and thick enough to cut with a knife! So Helen said, and we must believe her.

Colcannon is a dish universally partaken of in Ireland on All Hallows Eve. In its smooth, soft depths a ring is hidden, with all its prophetic bliss for the finer thereof. But colcannon without a ring is eaten all the year round whenever a cook can be got who does not mind the trouble of making it.

Potatoes and curly cabbage form its component part. Well wash and peel the former, letting them lie to whiten in fresh water for a short time before cooking. Dinah's suggestive remark was "They must be cleaner than usual". Chop the cabbage "as fine as snuff" (This is Dinah's expression). When the potatoes are parboiled add the cabbage with a tiny - a very tiny - pinch of soda.Boil all together for ten minutes. Have at hand a wooden masher and pound the mixture well after having, of course, drained all the water off.

Smooth as cream, green as grass, your colcannon ought now to be, and when to it is added a goodly lump of butter, no better vegetable could be desired. A sprig of parsley as a bonnet will accentuate the colour and decorate at the same time.

Bacon and Cabbage:- It seemed as if there was no need for Helen to put such an obviously simple recipe on the list of Irish dishes for her aunt. But Helen knew otherwise. When she first married and went to live in the Emerald Isle, she took an English cook with her. Now Helen's better half hails from Paddyland, and his favourite (it really might be spelt in capitals) dish is bacon and cabbage. Helen thought him vulgar, I am afraid; she also despised his taste. Bacon and cabbage as cooked by Mrs Jenkins was certainly most unappetising! Meat served on one dish, vegetable in another. Neither well done, bacon stringy. Cabbage with a bone in it.

But when Dinah came to rule, things were changed. Pig's cheek and cabbage became a luscious, much-appreciated meal. The secret was only - to boil both together in one pot! If Mr Editor can overlook the triviality of this recipe and put it in the pages of THE GIRL'S OWN PAPER I can answer for it that his readers will never regret following it. It is the Irish dish par excellence, though not as economical as it sounds. Helen knew her servants to choose it for their festival dinners rather than beef or chicken. This is a fact; whilst her husband suggested regaling the bishop on it when he dined at the parson's! 

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