In my quest to find and hear local food stories to enhance all that we do in Irish Feast food tours, I stopped off at Betty’s house (she wants to be anonymous so I’ll use ‘Betty’) to talk about seaweed and her experience of it growing up. She’s ‘from the shore’ and so knows about these things - I’m from the Glens and fish came from rivers or the fish man’s van on a Friday. Or occasionally Ballintoy Harbour if Dad got ‘red up’ (finished) early. Why the people of Dunluce, Dunseverick and Port Bradden should be ‘from the Shore’ rather than any other dwellers near the sea round here, lord alone knows. That’s just how it is.
(The silver spoon pictured is a treasured heirloom with salmon and a local boat (a 'drontheim') smithed into it.)
Betty invited me in to her perfect house - so clean, neat, tidy and yet so very welcoming and artistic. I may have a slight girl crush, if I’m totally honest.
We talked of carrageen moss - how it was picked, and where and the puddings they made from it. Here’s a link to a version that sounds like Betty’s - Rachel Allen's Carrageen Moss Pudding
We talked about dulse and how, in local lore, it tasted better if dried in the place it had been picked. Sounds possible, but could also have been a way for the shore people to keep as much of the dulse industry to themselves as possible! They’re a very sensible, hard headed people, the people from the shore.
We talked of sloke (sloak?) which was cooked in butter and turned bright green; of mealie crushie which was pin meal cooked in bacon fat and fast boiled ‘leap’ whelks added at the last minute. Something like couscous, she reckons, but sounds an awful lot tastier to me!
This led to talking about salmon (Port Bradden is Port of the Salmon) which, she said, was the traditional meal on 12th July. It was started about midday - covered in cold water with a bunch of parsley, some celery and leeks (grown in her garden of course), brought to the boil, then turned off and allowed to cool until 5pm, when they’d eat it with baby boiled potatoes, home made mayonnaise and tartar sauces. Her cooking philosophy is ‘If people don’t die, I make it again’. Blatantly never going to happen - she’s a fabulous cook but I might just steal the line for my own style of ‘cuisine’!
At this point, Betty asked if I wanted a cup of tea. Now, I knew that this was never going to be ‘a cup in my hand’ but a proper tea with scones etc. but even so, when she asked if I fancied a bowl of soup, too, I answered, ‘ach, maybe just a wee one’. Greed, sheer greed. Did I mention how good a cook Betty is?
Well, the soup was a gorgeous, filling vegetable soup - far better then I make. Full of soft pulses and bright vegetables, smelling amazing, tasting even better. And the ‘cup of tea’ afterwards..!! Oh my. Look at the photo! She can bake even better than she can cook. I recommend making friends with Irish women like Betty - they don’t cook ‘fancy’ but my lord they cook GOOD! A real Irish Feast!