Having read a easy book to understand Brehon laws, chosen because it was one of the few books of interest that I could find in wet and windy Clare this week. The book itself is Brehon laws The Ancient Wisdom of Ireland by Jo Kerrigan took my interested as grounded by the weather in Spanish Point. So instead I get to have fun reading and researching and most of all writing. A thing I have not done for a while, due in no part to post Covid exhaustion since the Summer. Getting through the day and work has been enough for the last number of months. The first kick came last weekend, following a visit to Country Choice Nenagh. This is one of my few blogs that entails todays food, folklore of food and the living food folklore. Just Magical after all we associate Halloween with magical powers, folklore, myths and legends.
Food of the highest order in Country Choice, from rare Dexter beef slices, (small cow like animals of medieval time), local beets, organic fruit and vegetables, local comb and runny honey, jams and chutneys made on site, the place is renowned for its Irish cheese selection along with other cheeses, a place worth visiting any day , his pride in sourcing food near and afar.
The Proprietor of Country Choice Nenagh Peter Ward and dicussion about two objects near me, the one at my shoulder a French Duck Press and further a long a Norther Ireland Harnen /Oat cake /bread dryer both beautiful pieces. I knew the later of the two but not the first. I promise to get pictures if Peter allows me when I get home. The duck press I thought might be a cheese press which we agreed was not a bad guess considering Country choice is famed for its cheeses near and afar.
So while I was there at least three customers came in the door, said word fruit to Peter and he directed them to the place in the long narrow shop,deli, restaurant. Not fresh fruit but dried and candied fruit. The folklore around the produce was living in front of my eyes. People in Ireland began preparing for Christmas by baking their Christmas cake in late October early November, in essence gathering the red and green cherries, currants, raisins and sultanas, candied peels of orange, lemons and limes, the barter of using whiskey that hidden in the back press for special occasions at home, or giving up on that idea and just buying the bottle of Irish whiskey to feed, moisten and preserve the baked Christmas cake until December and January. The same customers have been doing this since childhood at their mothers and grandmothers elbows. In essence if the fruit is all bought in for Christmas at this time, some can be used for the barnbrack for Halloween..
For those who don’t know Halloween originated in Ireland the Celtic tradition of Samhain. So really the Irish Ages at its best, marking the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter. Dried fruit has come to Ireland for centuries, through the movement and settling of monastic orders, the Anglo Normans love of dried fruit which like spices displayed their wealth. The Trinity priory mentions figs and dates. Wine was imported by the monasteries and the wealthy , so dried fruits come from the same regions making it available to those who could afford it through the Irish ages.
Another conversation ensued , by four of us as customer was seeking molasses as it turned out to try in brown bread. The conversation discussed the merits of brown bread with the addition of molasses, treacle, beer or honey. Brown bread types has changed radically in last twenty years which include brown breads made with many different kinds of seeds and nuts, old type grains which may have been the norm in many centuries even if the bread was thicker, unleavened and coarser. The finish of this conversation was “why interfere with good brown bread recipe that your family loves in the first plac”e to which the reply was ” I am just trying to come into the 21st century”.
So to finish as the rain beats against the window , the wind howls, and the waves beats against the rocks in Co Clare tonight, remenber it is Christmas cake baking Season. So if you get a homemade rich Christmas cake from a friend of family member as a present at Christmas. Remember thay have spent two months looking after this rich moist Christmas cake covered in marizpan and icing, you smile and think to yourself, not only has a lot money gone into making it, but time and lots of love.
Thankyou to Peter and his customers who gave me a joyful half hour, sipping on hot beverage and providing a interesting food, food objects and folklore discussion. The Christmas cake will be opened for its first taste on Christmas eve, an another day and another story.
Maybe a Christmas present