At 92 years old, my grandmother is a wealth of stories, and despite being a dreadful pupil, I commend her insistence on trying to teach me Irish. Her brown bread is without comparison and her Christmas cake a booze-laden masterpiece that'll craftily put you on your ear when you least expect it.
Two years ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit my grandmother in Dublin. During our visits, we pored over family photos, including those of many relatives I had never known. We toured her garden, and she made us a lovely lunch. We took tea, and we had lengthy chats. She was kind enough to share with me some of her cookbooks, old standbys with recipes she'd memorized by now.
To celebrate St. Patrick's Day, I'm delighted to share excerpts from one of my favorite books: Cookery Notes, which was "Originally prepared for Use in Schools and Classes for Girls, working under the schemes of the Department of Agriculture". It was published by the Stationery Office of Dublin in 1947, and was "to be purchased directly from the Government Publications Sales Office... or through any Bookseller. Price Sixpence Nett."
The preface includes the important note: "Some of the ingredients referred to in the recipes are at present scarce or unprocurable. None of the recipes has, however, been excluded on this account. Some new 'economy recipes', specially adapted to suit existing conditions, are included in pages 57 to 59." These recipes include potato salad dressing, potato and oatmeal rissoles, potato pudding, cheese and potato cakes, potato pastry, economical fruit cake, potato bread, potato loaf and potato butter.
The book is a time capsule, and each recipe is about as authentically Irish as it comes. They were created for tough times, so they seem more relevant now than ever, and each instruction is delightfully straightforward, without pretense. The following notes and recipes are from my gran's copy of Cookery Notes.
Selected notes on "Boiling Meat, ETC."
The water in which fresh meat is boiled should on no account be thrown away, as it makes excellent foundation for stock or broth.
Salt or Pickled Meat: 1. If very dry or if heavily salted, steep for twelve hours before boiling. 2. Lay into cold water, bring to the boil and allow to simmer gently till done. N.B. – Rapid boiling makes the meat very tough. 3. If cabbages or green vegetables of any sort are to be boiled with salt meat, the latter must be put down half an hour in advance of the time necessary to cook it, and taken up before the vegetables are put in the water (the water being made to boil rapidly after the meat is removed and before the vegetables are added.) When the vegetables are done the meat can be returned to the pot for a few minutes to heat before serving.
"To Boil Bacon and Cabbage"
3 pounds bacon
Steep the bacon overnight if very dry and salt. Put it into cold water and allow it to come to the boil, and simmer very gently for about one and three-quarter hours. Place the bacon on a dish and keep hot. Bring the water to a quick boil. Put down the cabbage and boil quickly till soft. Return the meat to water for a few minutes to become thoroughly hot. Remove the skin and dredge with browned bread crumbs. Strain the cabbage, squeezing the water well out with a small plate pressed on top, and arrange it round the dish.
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