BY CARMEL KINSELLA
In Tipperary, where I come from, they say the Devil’s children have the Devil’s luck…
When I was growing up in Portroe, my home was in the townland of Ballingeer, and there was always a few of us coming home together after school. I was the eldest at that time because my older sisters and brothers had moved on. Well this day, a few of my sisters and my brother were with me. School finished at three o’clock and there was a rush out of last class to get our coats and home with us, as quick as our legs could carry us, starving with the hunger.
Our mother would have lovely home-cured bacon and cabbage ready for us, with home-grown potatoes. Delicious food. At that time, most people in the country killed their own pig for bacon. Streaky bacon would be my own favourite. Of course, almost everyone around in the countryside had a kitchen garden and provided all the vegetables for the household.
Coming home through the fields, we would see plenty of rabbits, big and small. There’d be the odd hare and lots of foxes. Years ago, farmers would kill foxes, cut the tails off and sell them for ten shillings in old money. The odd person would skin the fox and cure it with almond saltpetre, to make a rug. Big work!
That time, people would go walking through their fields with their gun. They’d see the rabbit and shoot! It was brought
home and left hanging by the legs for a few days, before it would be prepared for cooking: sectioned into eight pieces, fried or put into a casserole with onions and other veg, and cooked for a few hours.
Walking home from school, we always went the same way— cutting across fields on a short cut, instead of going around the roads. There was Boland’s Field and Hogan’s Field. And then our own: Grace’s Field. These all had cattle in them, so we always thought when we reached our own gate, that we were safe at last!
This day anyway, we decided to go through an orchard that belonged to Mrs Boland. She was a poor old lady, average size, with black hair just going grey. Getting on a bit without a doubt! She lived with her son who never married. Well this particular day, we were in and up the tree trunks, as if we had never seen an apple on a tree. Now our parents would not have been pleased at us, upsetting the old lady—and sure anyhow hadn’t we apples galore at home?
Well we’d shake the branches for the apples to come down and if you weren’t quick, they’d fall off and hit your head. Eaters and Cookers they were. We’d take bites out of some and throw others away—the sour ones. We often thought about throwing them at the old lady—such bold children we were! Sure we were only young ones that time…
Eating apples had a nice smell. They were small with reddish colours. Cookers were green and bigger. When peeled and sliced, if the seeds were white they were not ripe. Seeds had to be brown and well-fit for cooking. In July, the eating apples were ripe and suitable to eat. One type was called Beauty of Bath and kept well until October.
We also used to get Bramley apples, which were cookers, specially for stewing and making tarts. These consisted of shortcrust pastry, rolled out and put on a dish, filled with peeled and sliced apples and sugar to taste. Then, covered over with pastry again and baked in a very hot oven. The folk in the household would have them eaten up in a minute!
In those times, our parents were always very friendly with the Boland family. Of course they were—sure they were our neighbours! But as we were busy up in the tops of the trees shaking the branches like blazes, suddenly, didn’t Mrs Boland appear, looking very cross! She was after coming out her door to tell us off. She gave out like she never did before: told us not to be taking her apples, finally threatening us with a stick.
At that, we’d run! Racing home through the fields and leaping across the drains, just like cattle would do—except we’d make sure not to get our feet wet. Mrs Boland’s angry words would be ringing in our ears: “Ill got, ill gone,” she’d call out. Bold enough we were and would answer her back, shouting out ‘We don’t mind you!’