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The Sidhe (Irish Fairy) Story I Received for a Rhubarb and Ginger Jam Recipe

Irish Apple Cake - Cáca úll & A traditional Cure

A chara,

Thank you so much to all the 4,816 subscribers receiving this newsletter. I hope like me you have your cup of tea ready as we get into this newsletter. The wheel of the year is almost at Easter and is turning towards Bealtaine, one of the biggest events in the Celtic calendar. With the approach of Bealtaine, I am introducing more Sidhe (faerie) stories and associated recipes over the next few weeks for context. Upcoming newsletters will list some items you might want to gather in order to carry out some old family customs, so look out for these. Finally a word on famine recipes. Some people have contacted me to ask for the famine soup recipe to be posted. I will share this next week along with some context of the An Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger) as it was at Easter 1848, only 176 short years ago.

In today’s newsletter there is…

  • The Sidhe (Irish Fairy) Story I received in return for giving the rhubarb and ginger jam recipe below.

  • Rhubarb and Ginger Jam - Subh biabhóg agus sinséar.

  • A traditional Cure; Cowslip Tea (Cure for the Nerves) - Tae duillín bó

  • Pea and Pigs Trotter Soup - Anraith pis le crúibín.

  • Irish Apple Cake - Cáca úll.

  • Minnie’s Story

  • Coming Up: The Easter Famine Recipes

The Sidhe (Irish Fairy) Story I received in return for giving the old rhubarb and ginger recipe below.

This family faerie (fairy) story was told directly to a friend of mine in 2020 in return for the jam recipe below which his mother used to make in the eighties. This man doesn’t believe in Irish fairies (at least openly) yet he was quick to bring up his aunts story without hesitation. It is from a very respectable source. Only names have been changed for privacy, the story otherwise is completely unchanged in any way. The below is my retelling of this story. Let’s call him Tom.

"I'll tell you a family faerie story about the road passing by our house near that hillfort". 

When Tom's* aunt was young she was cycling home late one night on that road. Now this is a quiet, dark country back road between a hill and a river with few houses around. As she passed by the hill someone or something not of this world suddenly jumped on to the back of her bike. Frozen in fear, she could not do anything, not stop, not turn around, she was simply unable to move even if she wanted. All she could do was cycle as fast as she could back home and all the while the person, not of this world, remained on the back of her bike, right behind her.

The next morning, realising her bed was not slept in, her father went looking for her. He finally found her in the shed, standing astride her bike, frozen to the spot, still unable to move. His entry into the shed calling her name broke the Sidhe spell and finally she was able to get off her bike and ran as fast as she could into the house. She had been stuck there in terror, literally frozen to the spot, not by fear, but by the Sidhe magic, unable to move all night with the otherworldly Sidhe sitting behind her all night long. The story is now being passed through the family.

For context, the Sidhe are known for playing tricks on the Irish. Being unable to move, or find the way out of a field are examples of such tricks.

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam - Subh biabhóg agus sinséar

  • 3 lb diced rhubarb

  • 3.5 lb sugar

  • Rind and juice of one lemon

  • 4 oz crystallised ginger

Pour sugar over the rhubarb and leave to sit for one hour in a pot. After an hour, place the mixture in a preserving pan with the lemon juice and grated rind and slowly bring to the boil. Cut the crystallised ginger into slivers and add. Boil rapidly for ten minutes, then carry out the set test by pouring a little of the jam into a cold saucer. If the edges wrinkle slightly when tipped the jam is ready. Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

A Traditional Cure: Cowslip Tea (Cure for the Nerves) - Tae duillín bó

In Ireland, when someone is bad with the nerves it means they are suffering with terrible anxiety or psychosis, depending on who you ask. Traditionally cowslip tea would be made as a herbal cure to aid with deep shock or psychosis and so I mention it here for context, so you can see how nervousness and shock used to be treated locally when medicinal help was unavailable. As always please see the disclaimer at the end of this newsletter.

  • a1-2 oz cowslip blossoms

  • 1 pint boiling water

Pour boiling water onto the blossoms and leave to infuse for two minutes or so. Strain and serve with a little local raw honey stirred in with a wooden spoon (never a metal spoon). This was used as a "nerve tonic".

Pea and Pigs Trotter Soup - Anraith pis le crúibín

Requested by a reader, pigs trotters, known here as crubeens (from Irish crúibín) is something I have spoken a lot about with local tradesmen and campsite owners. When I mentioned that I have a little passion project about old Irish recipes, they are very quick to tell me that they ate crúibín's growing up and still enjoy them today, just for the taste and the childhood memories. Wild marjoram grows by roadsides and on dry banks in mostly lime soil and wild mustard can often be found in hedgerows, but they weren’t always used. You can substitute pork belly for pigs trotters, however the trotters give a beautiful rich flavour and texture to the soup.

  • 7 oz peas or (fresh or dried)

  • 2.5 pints of water

  • 1 pigs trotter split lengthways

  • 7 oz diced smoked bacon (if available or accessible)

  • 1 chopped onion

  • 1 chopped carrot

  • 1 chopped leak

  • Salt and pepper

  • Half a teaspoon ground allspice (more modern, use if available)

  • Half a teaspoon dried marjoram (if available, grows wild in lime soil)

  • 2 tablespoons mustard (if available, also grows wild in hedges)

If using dried peas, the night before soak them in plenty of cold water and rinse the following morning. On the day of cooking, put peas in a pot with the pigs trotter, bacon, onion, carrot, leak and allspice. Add the water and bring to the boil. Skin away any foam that rises to the surface, lower the heat and cover, then simmer for two hours until the meat and vegetables become tender. Add additional water if the soup is too thick for your taste. Once simmered, lift out the trotter and cut away the meat, removing the bones and gristle. Cut the meat into small pieces and return them to the soup. Then stir in the dried marjoram and mustard. Taste for seasoning and add salt if you think it’s needed. The soup is now ready for serving. Enjoy.

Irish Apple Cake - Cáca úll

"The taste of those cakes has lingered with me ever since, as the food was very welcome after a long sit on a cart on a cold day". 

This cake can be served cold or warm with chilled cream or custard. In the past every cottage owner that could, had an apple tree or two in the garden and this was a very popular dessert once they were in season or as apples were stored throughout the year. This recipe was most popular in Clare, Kerry and the south of the country with apple tarts more popular towards the East. If you have an old apple tree in your Irish garden, it might be a rare old variety and it would be good to get the apple seeds tested if possible to ensure the continuation of the species.

  • 8 oz self-raising flour

  • 4 oz soft butter

  • 3 or 4 cooking apples

  • 4 oz castor sugar

  • 2 eggs, beaten

  • A little milk

  • Granulated sugar for sprinkling

  • Pinch of salt

  • Pinch of ground cloves

Heat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius/375 degrees Fahrenheit/Gas Mark 5. Butter an 8 inch cake tin or an 8.5×4.5-inch loaf pan. Sift the flour, salt and cloves into a basin. Add in the butter and rub in between your fingers until the mixture is like fine breadcrumbs. Peel the apples, slice them thinly and add them to the mixture. Add the castor sugar, then mix in the eggs and add enough milk to make a good stiff dough. Place the mixture into the prepared tin and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until springy to the touch. Cool on a wire rack or near a window once and once cool, store in an airtight tin until ready to serve. Cut into triangle slices or square slices as needed.

Minnie’s Story

When I started writing in the original Old Irish Recipes private FB group, very naturally, people started to send me their family stories, some asking for their stories to be shared with the group anonymously. They would range from retelling of memories, sharing family stories to honoring people who made a big difference to their lives. One of the first, Minnie’s story proved to be very popular and I have the pleasure of sharing it for you now. Submitting stories helps the newsletter to grow. My role as I see it in this is to provide old recipes and context for the stories. The lady in the story below was born in the 19th century and the local doctor’s advise of not putting her hands in hot water was most likely a method of trying to keep her blood pressure low, similar today to heart patients not being allowed in sauna’s or steam rooms. If you have a tiny story that you would like to submit for publication, you can email me at [email protected]

"I wish to write to you and tell the story about a woman who was a great friend of my husband’s grandmother her name was Minnie Doran. She lost all of her children between adolescence and early adulthood and her husband was also killed in England when the children were young in an accident in Birmingham. She originally was a great friend of my husband’s great grandmother as she was also widowed at when her youngest child was only 10 months old. The two became friends and supported each other and then, when my husband's grandmother married his grandfather the friendship continued with the next generation. Minnie always called and helped and when Granny Kathleen as we call her was pregnant with her first baby she lost the baby and at that stage the doctor advised her not to put her hands in hot water. Minnie brought granny Kathleen to our local town and bought her a washing machine and insisted. This was in the 1950's she didn’t have one herself and lived a humble life. We now live on the land that Minnie left to Donal’s dad as she then seen him as a son like the sons she had lost. I just am so grateful to Minnie for my life, my husband and this home and would love her sweet and kind nature to be noted in some day".

Coming Up Next Week: The Easter Famine Recipes

I hope you enjoyed the newsletter. Next week we have famine recipes at Easter 1848 and further insights into the church and fairy-Faith” or “Creideamh Sí” in Ireland. As usual a little housekeeping…

Disclaimer: The Old Irish Recipes Project is a project to collect and record all old Irish recipes in Ireland. The historical recipes and remedies provided herein are for informational purposes only. While they may offer insights into traditional practices, it is important to note that they have not been tested for efficacy or safety in modern contexts. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional or physician before attempting any old remedies, particularly if you have underlying health conditions or concerns."

Submissions:

  • Readers are always encouraged to send tiny family stories for sharing if they wish and I will always try to provide further context around these and match recipes to them where possible.

  • Readers are also encouraged to submit old family recipes if known to the collection. There is no obligation or expectation to do this.

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Thank you all for your kind messages. Do please let me know if these newsletters are too long 🙂 

Slán go fóill,

Róisín Hynes

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