I wrote about Sue Robb yesterday, an inspirational cook, local Irish history expert, and food columnist. I have a cookery booklet with her recipes published I would guess sometime in the 70’s; as well as her biscuits and pastries, savouries and soups, there are little reminiscences of her life, probably from before the war, when farming was less industrialised and many of the old traditions lingered on. I suspect it is viewed through slightly rose-tinted spectacles, but it doesn’t detract in the slightest from its charm and interest and tribute to the really hard work men, women and children had to undertake on farms in the old days.
My earliest recollections are of a typical farmhouse kitchen with a long wooden table, well-scrubbed bakeboard and buttermilk crock. There were up-ended farls of soda and wheaten bread covered with stiff-starched white cloth, which had started out as a flour bag. A big black griddle sat on tops of the coal-fired range, with a gathering cream crock in the corner sitting on top of an upside-down butter box. The long shelves had a selection of 2lb stone jars containing home-made jam of every description.
This was all in the days when they fed the calves on linseed meal, churned, made butter, baked bread, cleaned the black-handled knives and forks with bathbrick and rubbed stubborn grease stains with a damp cloth dipped into the ash pan.
My mother was born in Scotland, and she made the best potato bread and oatcake that I have ever tasted. This together with apply tarts and slim cakes was very much part of our way of life.
Mrs Robb writes with a glow of affectionate reminiscence, but how hard were their lives! Every item of food she mentions was home-made, even the ingredients such as butter and jam were home-made. Cleaning must have been such hard work without modern appliances or even modern kitchen ‘chemicals’. Imagine week after week of wet weather and trying to do the washing, trying to dry the washing, endlessly cleaning muddy boots and muddy floors…
Mrs Robb doesn’t include her mother’s recipe for oatcakes or potato bread, but there is a simple recipe for wheaten bread:
Oven Wheaten Bread
- ¼lb flour
- 1 lb fine wheat meal
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 small tsp salt
- mix all ingredients, then knead
- roll out ¾ thick and bake in moderate oven
It is a recipe which depends on the cook knowing what the finished product should look like because there is no description as to whether it should be square or round or shaped neatly. The wheaten bread I have had has not been rolled out, but the dough shaped into a slighly flattened ball, or an elongated ball, so it slices across when cooked. But this is Mrs Robb’s recipe!