A celebration of Grandmothers

One of our Rhode island Red hens

A Ballyvoddy hen - inspired by Nana

I am fortunate enough to still have a Granny and, until I was 12, I also had a Nana.

Nana, my mother’s mother, was sick throughout my childhood so we spent a lot of time at her home in Oldcastletown. Some of my earliest memories revolve around her Aga-warmed kitchen – the centre of the house – where there were always a selection of queencakes in a tin or fruitcake slices to be buttered for afternoon tea. Saturday was the baking day in that house. I remember being wrapped up in an apron before being shown how to fold in flour to a sponge cake or slicing apples to fill an enormous roasting tin-sized apple tart. That was the house of mushroom gluts and energetic jam making as us grandchildren were sent down the fields to pick mushrooms or into the orchard to gather windfalls and blackcurrants. Even when Nana wasn’t able to do the work herself, she kept an eagle eye over my mother and aunts as they completed the work to her satisfaction. I pored over her old cookbooks – subsequently having to buy Maura Laverty‘s Full and Plenty in homage – learned baking skills at her kitchen table, inherited her interest in hens and now live in a cottage just the other side of the hill from Oldcastletown.

My paternal Granny lived alone nearby and she was a constant presence in my childhood. She was the person who minded us whenever my parents went off on their child-free holidays, cooking good plain meals that her granddaughter often refused to eat (that was when I was on my 30-years-long no potatoes diet). Granny’s apple tart was often held up by my father as an example of how much better Mammy could do it. It’s to my mother’s credit – and her own relationship with Granny – that she never took offence! Granny made our Christmas cake every year but she didn’t need to use a mixer or anything like that, instead putting her hands into the bowl of ingredients and squeezing the butter and sugar between her fingers until they were amalgamated better than any appliance could manage. She’s had to give up the baking in the last few years and is now living with one of my aunts but we’re lucky to have her with us to welcome Little Missy, her great granddaughter and namesake.

My am one of the lucky ones. I had the opportunity to spend time with and learn from both my grandmothers and, even now, can sit down – Little Missy permitting – and have a great chat with Granny. This Saturday, 25 April, Slow Food Ireland will celebrate Grandmothers’ Day. Activities are taking place all over the country – see below – but, most importantly, take the time to catch up with your own Granny or Nana.

Slow Food Ireland celebrates lost skills on Grandmothers’ DayOn April 25th Grandmothers’ Day will be celebrated, for the first time, all over Ireland .The day will be dedicated to remembering and recording lost skills, the precious inherited wisdom of previous generations, that otherwise is in imminent danger of disappearing.Skills which otherwise would be lost – like home-baking, growing vegetables, keeping goats, crochet and wicker-work, tending bees for honey, catching fish. skinning a rabbit, making jams and chutneys, preserving fruit, whatever.To take part, all anybody need do is to recall some of the old-fashioned (but practical) ways things used to be done in the past and then endeavour to pass some of that knowledge on to a new generation.The idea – joint brainchild of the president of Slow Food Ireland (and grandmother of six), Darina Allen, and Californian restaurateur and vice-president of Slow Food International Alice Waters – has been welcomed by Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini who believes the idea of dedicating a day to remembering, preserving and nurturing the wisdom of our elders might well become a global annual celebration.During that weekend, Slow Food members and convivia (or chapters) across Ireland will be organizing activities to bring together children with grandparents to promote inter-generational exchange, the passing on of traditional wisdom and the fundamental Slow Food values of sharing and generosity.To kick the celebration off, Darina Allen will make an appearance on RTE’s Late Late Show on Friday 24 April, encouraging viewers to mark the day by showing their own grandchildren how to bake a cake, fillet a fish, sow some seeds … or whatever they can.As with most Slow Food events, non-members are just as welcome as members to participate in whatever is going on locally and, in this case, grandparents especially. Here’s a round-the-country roundup of some of the events that will be happening on April 25th (for more details visit www.slowfoodireland.com):The Cork City Slow Food Convivium, in conjunction with local newspapers, is asking grandmothers for memories of the ways they sourced and cooked their food in the past. They plan to publish all gathered recollections on the Slow Food website and as a book. For details, contact Simone Kelly on 086 810 0386.The Wicklow-based Garden Convivium is planning to hold an “Old Fashioned Tea Dance” with “proper traditional afternoon teas like they used to be” jointly prepared and served by grandparents and their grandchildren. Details from convivium leader Hermione Winters at 087 637 2725.In West Cork, the local Slow Food Convivium has invited grandparents to demonstrate – at Hosford’s garden centre, near Clonakilty – such skills as home-baking, jam-making and bee-keeping, and this will take place alongside a market (in conjunction with the Irish Countrywomen’s Association) – plus dance music from “The Three Grannies”! For more information contact Diane Curtin on 086 067 6249.The Waterford-based Four Rivers Convivium will meet at 11am in the Dunhill Community Education Centre to collect details of skills related to local food production. Active retirement groups will participate and speakers include Darina Allen, Michael Kelly of the Irish Times and the KCLfm food correspondent. €5 entrance includes afternoon tea and home-baked treats. Details from Donal Lehane on 087 678 0014The Limerick Slow Food Convivium is seeking details of traditional family recipes, particularly those passed down through the generations – as well as tips on cooking, food storage and preparation, and on festive foods from the old days – to be published in a supplement to the Limerick Post. More information from Jennifer Allen at 086 337 8046.In East Cork, a “cooking with granny” art competition for youngsters has yielded literally hundreds of entries and The Irish Examiner has been very supportive in promoting a competition to find favourite recipes that grandparents love to cook with their grandchildren. Prizes for both include courses at the Ballymaloe Cookery School . For more information, contact Darina Allen at 021 464 6785.The Slow Food Convivium in Galway is encouraging grandparents to share their gardening secrets at the Community Garden , followed by a session at a nearby enterprise centre to talk about – and demonstrate – traditional recipes and cooking tips. For more details of this event, contact Móna Wise on 086 888 6835.Tipperary Slow Fooders have asked inspirational 79-year-old local grandmother Nancy Burns to share her experiences of cooking and gardening at the Gael Scoil (the school has set up a fine vegetable gardenwith potatoes already been planted and sprouting). Contact Peter Ward 087 793 1113 to find out more.For the Clare Slow Food Convivium, grandmother Kathleen Gibbons will demonstrate traditional cooking at the Lisdoonvarna crèche and, in Ennistymon, grandmothers will bake cakes and make butter at the Steiner School with local cheese-maker Siobhan Ni Ghairbhith demonstrating her traditional skills. More information can be had from Birgitta Hedin-Curtin on either 065 707 4432 or 087 822 4173.Bantry Bay Convivium is organising a traditional afternoon tea at the West Lodge Hotel in Bantry with a practical demonstration of how to hand-make your own chocolates. They are also planning a children’s art competition based on images of “Cooking with Granny”. Details from Letty Baker on 087 756 4566.



Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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6 Responses

  1. Jill says:

    This is such a lovely idea. I really like the idea of the generations sharing food and recipes together!

  2. Caroline says:

    Since the arrival of Little Missy, I think I’ve become more aware of that and appreciative of what I got from my own grandmothers. She’s lucky enough to have one doting Nana down the road and another over in New Zealand who’s coming to visit her in June!

  3. Jill says:

    That’s nice as well for Little M to have grandmothers from different countries, two different sets of recipes 🙂

  4. Caroline says:

    Two different sets of recipes and two different sets of traditions! I must dig out the photocopies that I have of one of the Husband’s grandmother’s hand written recipe collections. I loved her recipe for Ginger Gems and made them several times when I was in New Zealand but I know there are other dishes there that are definitely worth trying out. Between that and Full and Plenty, Little Missy will be getting plenty of old-school cooking!

  5. Hi, Just to let you know that there is an All Ireland Food & Drinks Skills Conference on in Cromleach Lodge, Sligo on Wednesday 20th May 2009.I am involved in a Food Training Network and we have organised this day long event on facing challenges and opportunities, promoting products and where to cut costs and differentiate in the Food & Drinks business.If you would like more information click on http://www.taste4success.ie or email me and I will send you the brochure.ThanksSharon SweeneyCannaboe Confectionerywww.cacamilis.com

  6. Caroline says:

    I don’t think I’ll make it this time, Sharon, but thank you for sending on the information. Hope it goes well for you!

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