Ten Things You Never Knew About . . . St Patrick

1) St Patrick’s name wasn’t actually Patrick. His real name was in fact Maewyn Succat. His father, a Christian deacon, owned a small estate in a place called Bannavem Taburniae. It is not certain where this place actually was but it was probably on the west coast, near the southern border of Wales and England. A saint of the Catholic Church, St Patrick spent most of his adult life converting the pagans of Ireland to Christianity. St. Patrick went to his reward on 17th of March, 461 AD and subsequent entrance to heaven, rather than the day of his physical birth

2) At the age of 16, Patrick had the misfortune to be kidnapped by Irish raiders who took him away and sold him as a slave. He spent the intervening years in Ireland herding sheep and learning about the people there, until at the age of 22 he managed to escape. He made his way to a monastery in England where he spent 12 years growing closer to God.

3) The shamrock is a popular Irish symbol, but is not a symbol of Ireland. Many claim the shamrock represents faith, hope, and love, or any number of other things but it was actually used by Patrick to teach the mystery of the Holy Trinity, of how the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit could be separate entities, yet one in the same. Obviously, the pagan rulers of Ireland found Patrick to be convincing because they quickly converted to Christianity. Incidentally, the odds of finding a four-leaf clover are about 1 in 10,000.

4) There is a legend which states that St. Patrick drove all the snakes, (or possibly toads in an alternative version) out of Ireland. As there is no evidence that snakes have ever existed in Ireland, the climate being too chilly for them, certain scholars suggest that the term snakes may be figurative and refer to pagan beliefs rather than reptiles or amphibians.

5) Contrary to popular belief, the original colour associated with St. Patrick is blue, not green. In many early artworks depicting the saint, he is shown wearing blue vestments. King Henry VIII used the Irish harp in gold on a blue flag to represent the country. Since that time blue has been used to represent the country on flags, coats-of-arms and sports jerseys. Green was later adopted by the country because of the greenness of the countryside and may also have led to the country being referred to as the Emerald Isle.

6) Besides the colour green, the activity most associated with St. Patrick’s Day is drinking. However, Irish law, (1903 – 1970), declared St. Patrick’s Day a religious observance for the entire country meaning that all pubs were shut down for the day. That meant no beer for public celebrants. St. Patrick’s day was a dry holiday in Ireland until 1970 when the law was overturned, allowing the taps to flow freely once again.

7) One night Patrick dreamed that Satan tested his faith by dropping an enormous rock on him. He lay crushed by its weight until dawn broke, when he called out, ‘Helios! Helios!’ (the name of the Greek sun god) and miraculously the rock vanished. Taking it as some kind of epiphany, Patrick later wrote ‘I believe that I was helped by Christ the Lord’ In another vision back in Bannavem Taburniae, he was visited by an angel with a message from the Irish: ‘We beg you, come and walk again among us’ Thereafter Patrick retrained as a bishop and went back to Ireland.

8) Another legend tells of how Patrick fasted for 40 days atop a mountain, weeping, throwing things, and generally behaving very badly until an angel came on God’s behalf to grant the saint’s outrageous demands. These included permitting him to redeem more souls from hell than any other saint, that Patrick, rather than God, would judge Irish sinners at the end of time and that the English would never rule Ireland. Perhaps God will keep the first two of those promises!

9) Traditionally, every year, the Irish leader hands a crystal bowl full of shamrock to the US President. The shamrock, grown in Kerry, is immediately destroyed by the Secret Service after the exchange. For security reasons it is not permitted to give a food or floral gift to the US president.

10) St Patricks day is also a national holiday on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean, a tiny island with around 4,000 inhabitants which became home to a large number of Irish emigrants in the 17th century. Montserrat will be holding an entire week of celebrations, including a Patrick’s Day dinner, a calypso competition and a church service.

‘Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaiobh


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

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The Pie Of Old England

National Pie Week is upon us once more and with everybody throwing their ideas into the pot I thought it might be somewhat calming to re-introduce a few of Granny Robertson’s classic recipes.

This blog has written much about many different regional recipes for pies as well as extensively covering the history of the pie itself.

There are two main types of pie.

The first is where the raw meat and vegetables are mixed with a stock or liquor and topped with a pastry crust which is then slow-baked until done. In this case, unless the original liquor is thickened with a flour or starch of some description can be fairly gloopy bland.

The second is where a cooked meat, or fish, is combined with other ingredients into a basic casserole or stew which is then covered in pastry and baked.

Then there is the style of pastry. Shortcrust, puff, rough puff, suet or hot-water the finish is basically the same.  Some will allow scone, or cheese scone or herby bread but the result is always a pie.

Unless of course you include the cottage pie, the shepherd’s pie and the fish pie that are traditionally topped with mashed potato (with or without cheese)

But be that as it may, when the first pie shop opened in Southwark, London the rule was a bottom of suet pastry topped with shortcrust.

The pie shops of London gained a certain notoriety over the decades that persists today. Eel, a fish that could survive in even the filthy water of the Thames was a constant on the London menu for centuries.

In the meantime, immigration has given gave us the chicken balti pie, the Scotch pie (filled with minced mutton or beef) and the Cornish pasty. Not forgetting of course the, mostly seasonal, mince pie.

Since time immemorial pie sellers have roamed the streets of London in their droves. The first recorded pie and mash shop opened in Southwark in 1844.

Sadly, from over 100 shops in the mid-20th century, numbers have declined sharply, due to rising costs and competition from other fast foods.

London’s pie and mash shops have served the same traditional fare since the 19th century.

Names and decor are much the same, small, cosy shops bearing the founder’s name or initials with marbled tables and seating booths while decoration is minimal.

With thousands of chicken, kebab and fish and chip shops on the high streets of London there are possibly a handful of pie and mash shops surviving.

There are some who assert that the Cornish pasty like the Scotch pie is, in fact, not really a pie, likewise the Welsh or Clarks pie (or Clarkie)

Not that I would say this of course, I’m far too much of a coward!

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A Further Taste Of India

Returning to the Little Indian Cookbook mentioned previously I include here a few more recipes worth a second look.

Spices are used in many different forms: whole, chopped, ground, roasted, sautéed, fried, and as a topping. They blend food to extract the nutrients and bind them in a palatable form. Some spices are added at the end as a flavouring and are typically heated in a pan with ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil before being added to a dish. Lighter spices are added last, and spices with strong flavour should be added first.

Curry is not a spice, but a term used by Western people and refers to any dish in Indian cuisine that contains several spices blended together, whether dry or with a sauce base.

An old favourite of the wedding buffet, the public bar on a Saturday night or the takeaway after a night out with the lads.

Very much an ‘anglicised’ dish, properly made it is well worth a try.

Dhansak on the other hand is a fairly unusual lentil and gram curry garnished with carrot, aubergine and potato.

Use either chicken or king prawns for a traditional Parsi (Persian) dish.

More to follow

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Brooke Bond Tea Cards

Brooke Bond & Company was founded by Arthur Brooke, born in Ashton-under-Line, Lancashire in 1845.

Brooke added ‘bond’ to the company name because it was his ‘bond’ to his customers to provide them with the best quality tea.

He opened his first tea shop at 23 Market Street, Manchester in 1869 and in 1870 the company expanded into wholesale tea sales.

PG Tips, Brooke Bond’s most famous brand was launched in 1930 and by 1957, Brooke Bond was probably the largest tea company in the world, with a one third share of both the British and Indian tea markets. Brooke Bond, the brand, is currently owned by Unilever.

Brooke Bond Taj Mahal tea leaves are grown in estates of Upper Assam, Darjeeling and Tripura. It grows on the northern banks of the great Brahmaputra, which floods its banks every monsoon, creating a rich, humid soil.

There is plentiful rain in the monsoon and humidity lasts through the year. The soil and weather together give Assam Tea its strong malty flavour and deep body.

Brooke Bond Red Label, launched in 1903 is made in tea manufacturing units of Assam, Coochbehar, Darjeeling and some parts of Meghalaya.

The manufacturing process of tea includes the stages of withering (leaving tea leaves to dry), rolling/cutting (through which complex series of chemical changes known as oxidation are initiated) drying and then grading into sizes.

In 1954, as a marketing strategy, the company introduced ‘collectable’ illustrated cards into their packets. Designed to be informative and appeal to children the cards were generally fifty in a series, and books were produced to hold them

Most of the initial series were wildlife-based, including ‘British Wild Animals’, ‘British Wild Flowers’, ‘African Wild Life’, ‘Asian Wild Life’, and ‘Tropical Birds’.

Later subjects, from the late 1960’s, included historical subjects, such as ‘British Costume’ and ‘Famous Britons’.

The last series in the 1999 was based on the Chimps of the TV adverts. Between 1954 and 1999 there were a total of 85 separate titles issued around the world.

The cards illustrating this post are from the ‘Flags & Emblems of the World’ series issued in 1967 and ‘The History of the Motor Car’ series issued in 1968.

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Ten Things You Never Knew About . . . Olives

1.  Extra virgin olive oil is considered unrefined and of the highest quality of all the grades of olive oil. To meet the extra-virgin standards, the olive oil must be left untreated by chemicals or heat which helps it to retain its flavour. Also, extra-virgin olive oils must contain no more than one percent of oleic acid, which contributes to the stronger taste and richer colour of the oil.





2. A mainstay of the Mediterranean diet for centuries, there is hardly an Italian, Greek, or Spanish dish considered complete without it. Beyond that olive oil is touted as a cure-all for the body, being relatively low in saturated fat, it has become a boon for those watching cholesterol levels and its even been touted as dermatological marvel because of its anti-inflammatory properties  that can soothe dermatitis.

3. Olives stimulate the digestive process, making them an ideal natural appetiser that increases production of gastric juices and aids digestion. The ingestion of olives also facilitates the emptying of the gallbladder, making it useful in combating diseases that can affect this vital digestive organ.

4. While some olives can be eaten right off of the tree, most sold commercially have to be processed in order to reduce their intrinsic bitterness. Processing methods vary with the olive variety, region where they are cultivated, and the desired taste, texture and colour.

5. Despite being classified as fruits olives are  more commonly thought of as a vegetable. Versatile and zesty it can be added to salads, meat and poultry dishes (not forgetting the pizza and martini cocktails)

6. The colour of an olive is not necessarily related to its state of maturity. Many olives start off green and turn black when fully ripe, others start off green and remain green when fully ripe, while others start black and remain black.

7. Typically green in colour, olives picked in an unripe state can be lye-cured, water cured or brine cured. Each of the treatments can affect the colour and composition of the olives in a number of different ways.

8. The worldwide olive crop, the majority of which comes from California, are harvested from late September to mid-November.

9. Greek-style black olives, Spanish-style green olives, Kalamata-style olives, and many different methods of olive preparation can provide us with valuable amounts of many different antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients.

10. A bowl of olives is full of vitamins and minerals. They also contain significant amounts of provitamin A (carotene) and vitamins B and E. Calcium is the most abundant mineral but they also have considerable amounts of potassium, iron and phosphorus. The sodium content comes from the salt in the brine that is added to them while they soak.


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Child Of The Seventies

In the annals of British history the 70’s are seen as that sad decade, that tired, miserable hangover that was the aftermath of the Swinging Sixties.

As late as 1971, women were banned from going into Wimpy Bars on their own, after midnight, on the grounds that the only women out on their own at that hour must be prostitutes.

Remembered for Edward Heath, power cuts, strikes, shocking headlines, the donkey jacket and the Austin Allegro they were also,  with the aid of rose-tinted spectacles firmly fixed on the nose, the decade of lurid wallpaper, plaster ducks, silly hair, the space hopper, the Chopper, Bagpuss and Curly Wurlies, it was the decade that taste forgot.

British life probably changed more quickly between 1970 and 1980 than during any other post-war decade, but for most ordinary people the 70’s brought new experiences that their parents and grandparents could barely have imagined. In 1971, British tourists took around four million holidays outside of the seaside resorts and holiday camps of 60’s Britain– the package holiday envisaged by Thomas Cook had finally come-of-age!

By 1973 that figure had jumped to nine million and by 1981 it was more than 13 million.

For even relatively poor, working-class families, holidays no longer meant Blackpool or Bognor but exotic locations ‘abroad’ such as Malta and Majorca. Places no longer just names on a map and once regarded with suspicion, now meant two weeks of sun, sea, sand and sangria.

But TV programming was still rife with almost casual sexism and anarchic racism. Teenage boys sporting Marc Bolan and David Bowie-esque make-up often risked a vigorous kicking.

From pornography in the corner shop to computers in the office, the cultural landscape of British life changed more rapidly and inexorably between 1970 and 1980 than during any other post-war decade.

Supermarkt 4

The fact that so many children had Raleigh Choppers and space hoppers indicates that even working-class families now had a growing disposable income and could afford toys for their offspring. Would Star Wars, which first went on general release in Britain in early 1978, have become the success it did if there were no pennies in the piggy bank for all those expensive action figures?

Somewhere behind all those terrible economic and political headlines, ordinary British families, just ‘carrying on’ and ‘making do and mending’ were, in actual fact better off than they ever had been.

Posted in Granny Robertsons Cookbook | Leave a comment

The Reduced Sugar Christmas Cake!

This year’s Christmas project has been to produce a sugar free (well, almost . . .) Christmas cake, using only the ingredients I had on hand: no special purchases.

The cake was easy enough, a low sugar recipe from a small volume on Christmas cakes I found earlier this year in a charity shop (which have proved a great source of material for this blog in the past)

I must admit, as low sugar cakes go it was not too bad. Instead of beer I used very strong tea and replaced the majority of the sugar with honey.

The marzipan proved easy, the ground almonds easily accepting the sugar substitute (in this case Canderel) to provide a smooth paste.

So far, so good.

And then there’s the icing. This was a bit more tricky. It began with a base of cornflour with sweetener (our old friend Canderel again) made into a paste with egg whites.

The result was interesting, giving a slow flowing coating that I put on the top and let ‘flow’ of its own accord down the sides.

A nice idea that worked fairly well, a nice smooth coating that I was actually quite pleased with until, as it dried, it began to yellow and become brittle. Not seriously enough to make it unusable of course and the coating was easily removable at the cutting stage.

Also, there was no hope of producing garnish such as holly leaves or roses and so I had to resort to a kind of pre-made (see above) decoration but to be honest, it achieved its objective.

I shall try again at some time in the future but making sure that I have some liquid gums and bindings on hand first!

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