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How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit Picking Potatoes

PICKING POTATOES

BY ALEX SWEETMAN MCDONALD

When we go to my Grandad’s house, way down in Taghmon, south County Wexford, sometimes we go out to the field and pick potatoes.

Grandad’s house is in the country, in a very open place where there’s lots of space between the houses. At the time of this story, I was only six. Or nearly seven. But I remember that the field was big and wide. When we got up that morning, we went down to the kitchen and had a good breakfast of sausages, rashers and toast. Then we went and got dressed into old clothes. They had to be old because the potato field was very brown and muddy. But I learned that the hard way…

It was the day after Christmas and I had got a new tracksuit from my Uncle. The tracksuit was black with a white stripe all down the side. It was shiny and comfortable and I wore it happily the next day. The weather was fine and sunny, with only a few clouds.

The potato field was easy to get to. All we did was go out the back door and walk through the skinny trees and then we were standing in the field. Picking them was easy. All you had to do was get hold of the stem at the top and pull the potatoes out of the ground. Mostly they came in ones or twos. But sometimes four potatoes came out in the one go.

Well I was running across the field, because my Grandad had said ‘I’ll start at one end and you start at the other. Then we’ll meet in the middle.’ Suddenly I slipped and fell. I got covered in sticky mud and dry dirt. I felt sad because my brand-new tracksuit was all muddy and dirty.

But I kept picking even more potatoes! And when we were done, we went inside and my Nanny put my tracksuit in the wash and it was clean and dry the next day.

Roosters was the kind of potato that Grandad grew. For dinner that night, my Nanny made steak and chips. She made the chips out of the potatoes we had only just picked. They tasted really good! And way better than the ones you would buy in the shops. They were big chunky chips and I ate a whole plateful!

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How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit The Hairclip

THE HAIRCLIP

BY AVAE SWEENEY

One time, I was visiting my Nanny’s house and asked her what was her favourite Christmas present, as we were doing a worksheet in school about one of your grandparents’

favourite Christmas presents. So I chose my Nanny.
My Nanny said ‘Well Avae, we never had anything like you did at Christmas time. All we did was bring in an evergreen tree from the woods beside our house and put it in the corner beside the fire. Perhaps we might have put some toys or

ornaments on it, for decoration…’
This was news to me and I wanted to hear more, so I asked

Nanny to tell me some more stories. And she did…
In those days, children got one of their socks and put them on the tree as Christmas stockings. The tradition was that each child would get three things: an apple, an orange (well you would always get these) and then the last thing was

something different—a surprise.
Nanny told me that her favourite Christmas present ever,

was a hairclip. It was one of those simple ones that you slipped into your hair and it clipped over. It was plain black but did its job very well.

She treasured it because that was the most useful thing that she had ever gotten. Back then, her hair was brown. I saw a picture of her when she was in her twenties—she’s in her seventies now—and her hair was short and curly. (My Mam got her curly hair from my Nanny and her grandmother. I think I did too!) So the present of a hairclip was great to keep all the hair off her face.

As Nanny was telling me this story, she looked very proud and smiled, recalling her best present. She also seemed happy to be telling me about all her Christmas memories. That day we spent a good, long while together: me listening and her talking.

She described waking up in her four-roomed cottage: there was the kitchen, the sitting room and two bedrooms one off the kitchen and one off the sitting room, where their Mam and Dad slept. The youngest child, Bridget, got to sleep in her parents’ bedroom, in their bed as there wasn’t another one. So, in the household there was Kate, Nellie, Nanny, Liz, Mag, Tom, Mary and Bridget. Then their Mam, Dad and their Grandad. Their Grandad slept in the bedroom off the kitchen, where two or three children also slept. In the kitchen there was a fold out bed, known as a ‘settlebed’. At least two children slept in it.

My Nanny’s siblings slept in the sitting room. They went to sleep on sofas and on the ground, some by the fire, some not. They covered themselves in well-worn woollen blankets and used cushions off the sofas as pillows. At Christmas, they were all excited for the morning to come, to see what presents they had got. They didn’t have as much stuff as we do now, but my Nanny said that even so, they were still Really Excited!

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How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit

HOW TO SKIN A RABBIT

BY CARMEL KINSELLA

At about eleven or twelve years of age, I was taught the technique of how to skin a rabbit. It was a regular chore for a child that time, if you had a supply of them.

In my early married life, here in Toberpatrick when I would be lucky enough to get a present of a dead one, I would put several layers of newspaper down onto our kitchen table and lay the rabbit out on it. First of all, I would break the animal’s four legs by hand and cut them off.

Next, I’d put a slit in its stomach with a sharp knife and clean out all the inner guts, as well as the liver and heart which would be fed to the waiting cat. Then I would catch the skin on one side of the slit and pull the skin away, from the bottom two legs right up to the top of the rabbit’s neck.

After that, I’d take the head in my hand and cut it right off. That was that.

Then the rabbit would be sectioned into small parts, ready to cook; depending on the size of the rabbits, it could be up to eight parts. When I worked in institutional catering, in public schools and colleges in England, some of the boys would present us with rabbit, pheasant, hare and woodcock that they would have killed. This was their pastime and then they would enjoy eating them.

In England, pheasant was left so long hanging, it would be falling apart. Some of them would want it rotten! I worked at St. Hugh’s College in Oxford, among students and then there were the Dons, lecturing. Those students and professors did not know what I was speaking to them about. They really wouldn’t know a thing about it—they were off in another world!

Getting back to my rabbit anyhow, all the innards were discarded and put into the dustbin. And when ever there was a pig killed, this was big work! The pig would be roped and pulled up a ladder with the head hanging down. His throat was slit and the blood was saved to make black pudding. I can remember the guts of the pig being cleaned in the river near home. They’d be filled later with onion and pinhead oaten meal. Then they’d be tied at each end and there’d be several of them laid out in a row. We never bothered with white pudding in our house.

The pig’s liver and heart were saved and the pig’s head was cured, cooked and made into collarhead of bacon. For this, the head would need to be pressed and cold; all the meat was removed and it was put into a tight bowl, left in a bag and pressed down on again. You’d slice it when it was cold and it was a very popular dish, served with salads. The pig was cut into flitches of bacon and hung from the ceiling in the kitchen to be cured.

I was never given a hare to be cooked but I know it would be skinned and sectioned like a rabbit. It’s not as tasty a treat, very dark meat, but boiled with vegetables and strained, you could make a nice hare soup, if anyone liked it.