I GREW up in the town of Mountrath in the 1960’s. It had lots of small shops that seemed to stock everything that was required for the daily running of any household.
At one end of my street you had Darcy’s shop or O’Neill’s as it was also known. Along the way in the middle of Patrick Street was Ger Gorman’s great corner shop which also acted as a community center for all who lived and worked in the area.
The weary traveler from Dublin to Limerick found great sustenance in these two shops. Mrs Darcy had a coffee shop on her premises; some of those tables were later to be found in my restaurant (if those tables could talk!).
Ger’s shop was a kind of a meeting place for school goer’s early in the morning, at lunch break and in the evening. All the students that passed through Ger Gorman’s shop over the years could tell great stories like taking refuge behind the big counter when one of the Brigidine Nuns or Patrician Brothers might have been looking for them.
These shops provided a selection of everything that was needed throughout the year from cut wafer ice-cream to creamy whipped cones, local grown vegetables, bread and cakes made by men and women in the neighboring houses, general grocery and the magic of Christmas treats.
Like our wonderful grocery shops and bakeries we also had a great selection of butchers. There was great competition amongst themselves in the fine quality of the animals they each prepared for their customers needs.
In many cases you could find people shopping in all of the butchers because they all had signature products from prepared joints and cuts of meat to some wonderful cooked products like brawn or even cooked roast beef or their own baked ham.
Then when our bellies were full and bursting out of our trousers it was off to the selection of footwear and drapery shops. I can remember at least six drapery shops and that is not counting the extra little brick-a-brac shops where you could get a second hand comic or a jumper knitted.
There was also a selection of dress makers and tailors, Patrick Street alone had three along with some very fine aran knitters. So it was a town that had a very self sufficient way about it.
It was shop local and supporting local at its very best. It’s very sad that with the open market the small producer regularly lost out. But as time has moved on we have learnt this bigger isn’t always best, indeed this approach has failed so many people.
Thankfully we now see a great turn back to shop local and support local growers and producers again. This is something that should be supported at all costs.
When I started to write this piece for Times Past, it made me realize how much times past is very much becoming times present, especially when it comes to food. My interest in food goes right back to my experience of growing up as a child in a large family.
Meal times were a lot of work for my mother but a glorious time for her husband and children. Every meal was prepared from scratch. My mother was like an artist with a blank canvas wondering what sort of a picture she would paint. My memory is that they were all masterpieces.
On my street many of the houses had vegetable gardens and so the day would start with a trip to the garden to see what was there or even what was in someone else’s garden. Laugh you may but in those days people shared whatever they had with their neighbours.
Sometimes it was a case of someone else being better at growing carrots or parsnips or cabbage than the next person. As a result people shared what they had. It was soil rotation in another form.
Then it was a trip to town to one of the many food shops or butchers, each one a master at what they did. In those days you would go to a shop for a particular cut of meat like streaky bacon, cross the road to another shop for collar bacon, then further up the street for sausages or cooked ham.
Every part of the animal was used. The shopkeepers were good at buying in their stock and then women like my mother were good at what they did with the ingredients.
Today we don’t have as many food shops but we do have a very good selection of food in the shops that are there. We also seem to have a great interest in cooking instead of buying ready meals.
So much can be done with a whole chicken or a joint of meat, you should buy the best you can afford and try to keep it local or at least Irish. We need to talk to our shopkeepers tell them what we need or want.
My experience is that they will be only too happy to meet your needs.
One favourite dish I remember as a child was my mothers Saturday Casserole which was cooked in a big black roasting tin which seemed to be around for years. I am sure the tin added to the flavour.
1lb Sausages (My mother always used Roscrea sausages)
6 Lamb chops
2 Sliced Onions
Salt and Pepper
Cornflour to thicken
Place the sausages in the tin, then arrange the chops on top. Mix the salt, pepper and herbs with the minced beef and shape into meatballs. Layer the meatballs on top of the chops. Scatter the sliced onions over the meat.
Cover the meat with water and the crumbed oxo cube Then sliced onions were scattered over with great flair. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and covered the lot with water and a crumbed up OXO cube. Place the dish in a moderate oven for up to two hours. Thicken with a little corn flour and water mixed together (my mother would include a little bisto as well). Serve with fluffy mashed potatoes.
In times past it was called feeding your family, today in a restaurant its called posh sausages and mash, or a three joint roast.