Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Cooking Kids.

Well not exactly cooking kids more kids' cooking classes. I started a series of classes in our local community centre/sports complex recently. When I first broached the idea with the committee they were surprisingly enthusiastic. Well the centre does promote health and fitness and it was an idea to cover all aspects of health.

So far we have had two classes. We decided twelve was the maximum we could cope with at any one class and for the first class we had just that. Second week and seventeen kids show up. We didn't turn them away but from next week we need to either run two classes or just go with the original twelve who booked initially.

I am concentrating on healthy eating but using recipes that have "kid appeal". Lots of vegetables, hidden and not so hidden. Lots of - "yuks", lots of - "I don't like that" (this is now banned, they must say "I'm not so keen on....."). But I had one girl who said she never ate any veg try some red pepper at the first class and in the second class admit she couldn't taste the hidden veg.  Progress.

The first week we made spring rolls and chicken Chow Mein. Billed as make your own healthy Chinese take away.  The second week we made pizza using real dough.  For next week I asked them to choose their favourite processed food and we will make it. They chose chicken goujons. They have also requested meat balls and brownies.

They are very enthusiastic and quite knowledgeable in that they have been able to name most of the vegetables including freshly dug carrot, ginger and a bulb of garlic. So I'm not dealing with Jamie Oliver's documentary level of ignorance.

We have visited a couple of local schools to let them know what we are doing and aim to get around them all in next couple of weeks. It takes an age now with security plus clearing it with the secretary, then the head, then the class teacher. Such a change from even my kids' school days!

Some of the mothers waiting for the kids came up to me after and said they had learned a lot just from listening. They have requested I do adult classes as well. The first one starts tomorrow evening.

I have found BBC Good Food a very useful website as they even have a dedicated children's section.

From small acorns........

Choosing pizza toppings

Getting children interested and enthusiastic about cooking, nutrition and food is the best way to combat obesity and to encourage them to have a healthier diet. While they are cooking I am drip feeding them nutritional information. At this age they are like sponges and they retain the information in spite of themselves.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Boozy Christmas Cake

You only make Christmas cake once a year so push the boat out and buy best quality ingredients. The taste will be worth the extra expense. 

Boozy Christmas Cake Recipe
250g organic sultanas
250g organic raisins
100g organic unsulphured apricots
100g mixed candied peel (recipe)
4 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons whiskey
2 tablespoons Calvados
Zest and juice of a lemon and orange

Soak all the above dried fruit, juice and zest in the booze and leave loosely covered overnight. Stir it occasionally.

Next day
300g butter
250g muscovado sugar or if using ordinary sugar add a tablespoon of molasses
4 eggs
400g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
half tsp of nutmeg, ground cloves and cinnamon

Cream the butter and sugar together. If using muscovado it can be a bit lumpy so mash with a fork. Add one egg at a time and one tablespoon of sieved flour to prevent curdling.

If you need more flour add a tablespoon at a time. My mixture was quite wet.

Pre-heat oven to 150 deg. If using fan set it to 140 initially and turn down to 120 after an hour.

While oven is heating line tin with butter paper or baking parchment. I had saved loads of butter papers and I also wrapped some around the outside of the tin. My grandmother used to wrap newspaper with string around hers and I always remember the smell of it singeing.

It took just over an hour and a half to bake as I put mine in a fan at 150 deg. It is preferable for it to bake a bit slower so if I was doing it again I would put it in at 140 and turn down after an hour. I was loosely following a Jamie Oliver recipe which said 150.

When cake is completely cold wrap it well in greaseproof and tinfoil and store in a tin. Every week or so drizzle some more whiskey or brandy over it.

I sometimes make a marzipan but more often don't bother as most people just pick it off.

I used a 23cm square cake tin with 7cm depth. Slightly smaller would be better to give a bigger rise.

Finished iced cake
This recipe is the best Christmas cake I have ever made. It was moist, crumbly and so so tasty.

Monday, 11 November 2013

For Remembrance Day - A Tribute to my Grand Uncle

My first cousin James O'Kelly wrote this and carried out all the research. I am only transcribing it for the record. However it is a fascinating account of the first World War describing the times and possible reasons Irish people enlisted. 

Patrick Joseph (P.J) O'Kelly of Caher, Feakle, County Clare was born Patrick Joseph Kelly on 29th July 1889, one of 11 children of Patrick and Margaret (sometimes called Mary) Kelly. The family are listed in the 1901 census as living in the townland of Caher Power in the (quite large) parish of Feakle which came under the "District Electoral Division" of Derrynagittagh.

The census lists Patrick Kelly as a 41 year old "Shopkeeper-Farmer" and Margaret as his 43 year old wife. The literacy skills of all family members are also recorded. Both parents are listed as being able to read and write and even the then four year old Charlie is recorded as "being able to read".

The census lists PJ and his siblings as follows;

Michael (16) Read-Write
John (15) Read-Write
James (14) Read-Write (my grandfather)
Mary (13) Read-Write
Patrick (11) Read-Write
Ellen (8) Read-Write
Thomas (7) Read-Write
Martin (6) Read-Write
Charles (4) Read
Margaret (2) Cannot Read

Chris (Christina) is not listed in this census which can only mean she hadn't yet been born.

P.J subsequently changed his name to O'Kelly - as did his brother James ( my grandfather) who joined the Land Commission and moved to Castlebar where he met and married Margaret (my grandmother) McGowan.

At some stage P.J moved to Athlone where he became an apprentice at a firm of solicitors owned, we think, by a Maurice O'Connell whose daughter Mary (sometimes known as Mabel) he married on 30th December 1914 in St. Peter's Church, Athlone. His records do not give her full date of birth, simply stating that she was born in 1887. The witnesses who signed the register were Maurice and Nora O'Connell of "The Willows", Athlone. (The local librarian informs us that this house still exists on the "Connaught" side of the river.)

It seems curious that no member of his family signed the register which may or may not indicate some froideur between the two families or it might even mean that his family were not informed of the marriage. At this remove it obviously isn't possible to draw any firm conclusions.

P.J joined up three months earlier on 21st September 1914 and the family legend is that Mary was the driving force behind P.J's enlistment but there is no way of confirming this as it may well have been her father who pushed it, as the firm would no doubt have been doing business with "Protestant" firms but it remains a matter of speculation.

However the fact that the two events occurred so close to each other, tend to support his enrolment was linked to, or as a condition, of the marriage. Like many people during the Gaelic Revival, P.J changed his name to what was regarded as the more authentically Irish form incorporating the "O" which Elizabethan edict insisted Gaelic families stop using, at the close of the 16th Century. The Revival reflected the strong national desire, at the time, to reassert an Irish identity and push for independence. The fact that he changed his name, in this way, tends again to support the notion that his enlistment was to please his intended wife and/or her family but the two need not have been entirely incompatible either, given that John Redmond had - to the great dismay of Ulster Unionists - extracted a promise of Home Rule for Ireland (shelved for the duration of the war) if Irishmen fought for the Crown.

Incidentally, at this time his brother Charlie was working in Loughrea and some of P.J's correspondence was to an address in Loughrea town square but his permanent address, on the enrolment form, is given as "Excise Street", Athlone which is not far from the O'Connell home.

P.J joined the "Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery" and the enlistment form has an entry which is crossed out before this was entered. The original entry appears to read " regular infantry" but this is not conclusive and in any case the form may simply have been one which was abandoned from another enrolment. However, since he was already an apprentice solicitor, he must have been quite highly qualified for the time (he includes a certificate from a P. Ross, the principle from the "Skerry's College", 10 Harcourt Street, Dublin) and could ride a horse, it may be that he was advised - or discovered - that he could become a commissioned officer if he applied to such a regiment. This may also explain why he did not join either of the two "Irish" divisions, the 10th and 16th, as neither had Irish officers.

His enlistment form is "For a candidate who is neither a university graduate nor a cadet or "ex-cadet" and the category of his commission is described as a "Temporary Lieutenant for the duration of the war".

P.J and Mary's son Gerard Charles O'Kelly was born on 7th December 1915 and he appears to have been sent to the war zone shortly afterwards, on 1st January 1916, before Gerard was a month old. At some point, he was attached to D battalion of the 58th brigade of the 11th (Northern) Division* which had just returned from Gallipoli. He does not appear to have been deployed at the Somme until 1st March 1916 but remained with the division until he was killed in action on 26th September 1916. During that time the division was involved in the following battles and actions;

14th September 1916 - Capture of the Wonder Work
15th September 1916 - Battle of Fleurs-Courcelette
26th to 28th Spetember 1916 - Battle of Thiepval Ridge

The senior officers of every regiment recorded the significant events of the day in a regimental diary and these entries give an insight into the appalling ferocity of the war. In the course of one night - which is described as "otherwise quiet" - a stray shell scored a direct hit on an arms dump behind the regiment's lines, resulting in a series of massive detonations.

(When the relevant entries from the diary have been typed up, we will circulate them.)

Although the conditions under which the officers lived were substantially better than those of the enlisted men, this incident brings home something of the unimaginable psychological strain under which the soldiers passed their days and nights.

Sniper attacks were frequent, as were reconnaissance flights and patrols by both sides. Shelling, at any time, was an unpredictable but common occurrence.

Another entry reminds officers of the need to constantly remind the men driving the horse-drawn carriage-loads of ordinance to the front, to keep noise to a minimum. Sound carried at night and if the horses' hooves were heard, the Germans' Gunners might get wind of the fact that shells were being delivered and target the area with potentially devastating results.

P.J was killed on 26th September - the first day of the battle of Thiepval Ridge - and his records show that he died intestate. Gerard would have been 11 months old at the time and he would only have seen his son as a newborn infant before departing.

His personal effects are recorded as;

an identity disc
a watch
a rosary
2 grenades
2 charms
a prayer book
3 notebooks
a note case
an officer's advance book
photos and postcards

He is buried in the military cemetery outside of the modern-day village of Ovilliers-La-Boiselles (Grave'Memorial ref VII.A.10)

("Ovilliers and "La Boiselles" were two separate villages destroyed during the battle.)

Today Ovilliers-La-Boiselles, is 22 miles north east of Amiens, 5km northeast off the D929 road to Bapaume, the cemetery itself being 500metres west of the present day village on the D20 road to Aveley.

P.J's grave is recorded on one document as being "about 150 yards southwest of La Boiselle Communal Cemetery.  A letter from the War Office says the grave is "marked with a durable wooden cross with an inscription bearing full particulars". The place of burial is also given as "X13. of 2.1 map 57 of S.E 4."

The initial site of the cemetery - documented on the Commonwealth war graves website - is described in 1916 as being "behind the dressing station" but it would obviously have grown rapidly, as the battle went on and after the war ended it was hugely expanded with the addition of an enormous number of  unmarked graves. About two thirds of the graves are unmarked. 

After his death Mary/Mabel applied for the war gratuity and pension and some of her correspondence with the war office gives her address as Caher, Feakle, County Clare.which could indicate that she had gone to live there or, more likely, was visiting at the time.

The gratuity paid to her upon the death of her husband was stg. £140 plus a pension of stg. £100 per annum. A gratuity of stg. £46.13 plus stg. £24 per annum was paid to her on behalf of Gerard for the loss of his father.
She remarried and lost the pension but after the death of her husband, she applied for it to be restored on 16th December 1936.

 In memory of
Patrick Joseph O'Kelly
29th July 1889 - 26th September 1916

Ar dheis go raibh a anam

Background note: The Summer of 1914

As the late summer of 1914 turned into Autumn, John Redmond made two major speeches – one in August, the other in September – urging Irishmen to fight for Britain, pointing out that Nationalists could not afford to allow Ulster Unionists to reap the benefit of being the only Irish to support the war effort.
These speeches were deemed as critical turning-points. It should be remembered that at this point, no one in military or political circles envisaged a prolonged or bloody conflict, even though by this stage of the war, the “Glorious Retreat” from La Mons – the first major engagement of the British Expeditionary Force – had already taken place a month earlier on 22nd and 23rd August and had been widely reported. It’s worth noting however that the public would have been cocooned from the true nature of this brutal engagement by the sanistised-style of war reporting prevalent at the time.
During the retreat, the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, in a classic rearguard action, held nine German battalions while suffering appalling casualties until being cut off and finally overwhelmed on the on the 27th of August at Etreux with only 240 men surviving. (The Connaught Rangers were also involved in the retreat but in much smaller numbers.) Incredibly they secured the unmolested withdrawal of no less than four divisions, a then largely unrecognised fact that is now seen as having enormously influenced the eventual outcome of the war. Newspaper accounts of the battle and retreat resulted in a rapid rise in army recruitment in Britain but the achievement was so great that by April 1915, conventional explanations were considered insufficient to explain it, in the public mind.
Rumours began to circulate which offered another explanation for the Munsters’ achievement. These claimed that a “miracle” had occurred or, that the intervention of the “Angels of Mons” had aided the troops. The final irony of the extraordinary achievement at La Mons, was that the southern Irish troops who achieved this great feat were usually described as British.

*The 11th (Northern) Division
The division was a volunteer division which came into existence on the 21st August 1914. Initially it was without equipment or arms of any kind. The recruits were judged to be ready by late spring 1915, and it was ordered to reinforce the beleaguered garrison at Gallipoli.
It landed at Suvla Bay on 7th August 1915 and withdrew on 21st December 1915. In July 1916 it landed at Marseilles and spent the remainder of the war on the Western Front. It was involved in the Battle of Fleurs-Courcelette (sixth phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916).
On 28th June 1919, the Division ceased to exist, having lost more than 32,100 casualties during the war.

*There was an “Arthurian” legend newly invented by a Welsh journalist and author named Arthur Machen. Machen published a short story entitled The Bowman in the bestselling London newspaper, The Evening News, on September 29th , 1914. It was inspired by accounts that he had read of the fighting at Mons and an idea he had soon after the battle. Machen was a journalist on the paper and although he was a well-known author of supernatural stories there was no indication that it was fiction when it was originally published in the paper. It was written from first-hand experience and described a soldier calling on Saint George, to summon phantom bowmen from the battle of Agincourt, to destroy a German host. The unintended result was that Machen had a number of requests to provide evidence for for his source for the story quite soon after publication, from the readers who thought it was true. He responded by saying it was completely imaginary, as he had no desire to create a hoax. However the story was reprinted a number of times over the next six months and by May 1915 was being cited in pulpits across Britain, as evidence of Divine intervention in the war.

Machen was appalled by this development and attempted to refute it by publishing a book with a lengthy preface stating that the rumours were false and originated in his story. It became a bestseller and inspired popular songs and artists' impressions. Further attempts by Machen - who regarded as one of his poorest pieces of work - to set the record straight in many quarters as "treason".

In the spring of 1915 there was another surge in supernatural rumours and the stories published then often attributed their sources to "anonymous British officers". One April 24th 1915, an account was published in the British Spiritualist magazine telling of visions of a supernatural force that miraculously intervened to help the British at the decisive moment of the battle. This resulted in another flurry of similar accounts and the latest study of the Mons story suggests these may have been part of a covert attempt by military intelligence to spread morale-boosting propaganda and disinformation.
It was a time of Allied problems due to the sinking of the Lusitania, Zeppelin attacks and a failure to achieve a breakthrough on the Western Front. From this point of view, the timing would make military sense.

The only real evidence of visions from actual names serving soldiers, provided during the debate, stated that they saw visions of phantom cavalrymen, not angels or bowmen, and this occurred during the retreat than at the Battle itself. Furthermore these visions did not intervene to attack or deter German forces, a crucial element in Machen's story and in the later tales of Angels. Since during the retreat many troops were exhausted and had not slept properly for days, such visions were obviously hallucinations.

While it is not entirely impossible that the original newspaper account played some part in P.J's decision to enlist - given that Athlone was a garrison town - it seems rather unlikely. But it is an interesting illustration of the heightened atmosphere of the day and the factors that would have played a part in the decisions made by many others. There was mounting hysteria in the press and enlistment in Ireland would have been driven as much by stories of German atrocities and calls to defend neutral Belgium, as by the enormously emotional issue of Home Rule.

If anyone can add to, or clarify, any of the above, please feel free to do so. Any information as to the final destination of P.J's son Gerard would be most welcome.

My grandfather James had the photo of P.J proudly displayed in his house. When my grandparents died my uncle inherited the house, however, since he died the photo has sadly vanished which explains the horrible quality of a photocopy of the original. 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Apple Butter

This is a brilliant way to use up wind fall apples. It takes a bit of time but it really is worth it. I used a combination of cookers and eaters.

Apple Butter Recipe
1.8kg windfalls. (I used 1kg cooking apple and 800g small eating apple windfalls)
2 cups water
1 cup cider
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
half teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg  
Sugar (quantity determined later)

Wash and cut apples in quarters. Remove any damaged or bruised bits. Don't peel or core.
Put in heavy based saucepan with water, cider and vinegar and cook until apples soft.

Sieve the mixture into a big basin. Weigh.

Transfer back to heavy based saucepan. I got 2kg of apple purée. (you need half this weight in sugar but don't add it yet). Bring purée back to the boil and simmer for 45 mins. Add 1kg sugar. Stir until dissolved, add spices then simmer for at least an hour until it has reduced and is starting to thicken at edges of pan.

Pour into hot, sterilised jam jars.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Really Easy Pastry

This was an accidental discovery.

I was making pastry to blind bake in a hurry as usual. I weighed out ingredients in a bowl. The butter was very hard so I popped the bowl into the microwave and turned it on for one minute, thinking the flour would insulate it and it would need that to soften. Needless to say it was a liquid when I removed it. Rather than waste over 200g of butter I decided to plough on because in the back of my mind I remembered Raymond Blanc making a pastry where he heated the butter. I searched on line for it and discovered this.

Now I very rarely follow a recipe verbatim. So I just added enough water to my dough to make a cohesive ball. Then I followed the method above and pressed the dough into the dish and baked it for 15 minutes at 180 deg in a fan oven. It was for a large Bakewell tart and it was a runaway success.

My version of this recipe is (for a 21cm removable base pie tin) -

200g plain flour
Pinch salt
95g butter
Water to make a cohesive ball.

Sieve flour with a pinch of salt. Melt butter and mix in. Add water very slowly and mix with a fork.  When you have a ball of dough all holding together transfer to your pie dish.

Press mixture into your dish as in the method above. I used my fingers and a fork to get it to an even thickness throughout. Press it into the fluted edges until at same level (no need to push it higher). Put in the fridge while the oven heats to 180 for a fan. Bake for about 15 minutes. Cool.

No need for rolling, baking beans, baking paper etc.

And it really works.

For the pear and almond tart above I made a frangipane, 100g butter, sugar and ground almonds mixed together with one egg beaten and 25g sieved plain flour and half a teaspoon of baking powder. Three pears, peeled, cored and fanned into the frangipane mix. Bake at 175 deg fan for approximately 55 minutes or until springs back to touch.