Who'd a thunk it? Me, the beauty junkie, popping up on a food page! I'll be honest, I've never been much of a domestic goddess, more of a domestic godhelpus really! That's not to say that I don't like my food. I love to eat really good food -- nom, nom, nom -- and love nothing more than good food, good wine and good conversation.
Growing up on a farm in Schull in West Cork, we had our own fresh milk from the cows as well as our own meat in the freezer. We had eggs from our hens, fresh vegetables from the fields, fresh fish from the local fisherman, as well as locally made bread and cheese.
Tom and Giana Ferguson of Gubbeen cheese are our neighbours, so for as long as I can remember I've always been lucky enough to be surrounded by good food. My grandfather had a dairy farm, so my dad and his family supplied milk to the area. They also had an abattoir and butcher shop to the front of the house I subsequently grew up in.
The butcher shop closed before I was born, but we still called it "The Shop", even though it was my dad's office at that stage. As a child I was fascinated by the big safe in the wall, and the hooks still hanging on the ceiling. Apparently, during the civil war, De Valera was in the house and guns were passed over the counter wrapped in brown paper and twine when the house was being watched.
Liam O'Driscoll, my Auntie Mary's husband, is a butcher in Skibbereen, as was my Uncle Jerry who sadly passed away a few years ago. So it was into Skib for our turkey and ham every Christmas. I miss going into Uncle Jerry's butcher shop on Main Street at Christmas time and stuffing my pockets with Roses out of the tin on the counter. When I moved to Dublin and appeared on TV -- like, only once or something -- I loved that Uncle Jerry said "here's the film star herself" as I came through the door the following Christmas -- he nearly had me signing autographs for the customers. When I started writing for the Sunday Independent he was so proud -- awww!
My mum Margaret's signature dish is her baked ham -- she always buys quality assured Irish ham, so she knows it has been produced to the highest standard. It used to be a Christmassy thing when we were very young, but these days, if there's a family party or if she has a house full of visitors, there will be a baked ham. I'm, um, glazing over just thinking about it now!
Mum's recipe has evolved over time -- the cider-soaking only appeared in the past few years. I swear it has nothing to do with her children's love of alcohol!
I know all children love their mum's cooking, but Mum -- I know you're reading this -- your cooking really is the best! Mum's ham is always so moist and flavourful and at home there's normally a race to see who can get to the crusty, caramelised, sticky, sweet and tangy glazed pieces of the ham first.
I'm normally hovering around the range waiting for it to be done -- often I'll rip off a piece the minute it's out and shove it into my gob with my mum saying, "Remember Triona, little pickers wear big knickers!" If my brother Gavin sees me at it he'll just oink at me and cough "Miss Piggy" under his breath. My brother Justin, also known as Dustbin, is normally next to me.
When my brother Aidan comes in, I try and distract him with one of my jokes, which I normally find hilarious, but he'll tell me I'm just naff. Best, then, I don't tell him my ham one this Christmas: a ham sandwich goes into a pub and says, "Barman, I need a drink" and the barman says, "Sorry, we don't serve food here." Hahaha!
Better not forget to mention my eldest brother, Brendan -- who knows everything, btw. I remember when we were kids, I thought the hamburgers we got at a chipper had ham in them and was very confused by how different they tasted from the ham we had at home. It was Brendan who told me the name came from the hamburger originating in Hamburg, Germany. Doh!
Anyhoo, it's my, um, hambition to actually make this myself one day. Growing up, I was always in the kitchen helping mum, but my sister Tricia was much better at cooking than me so I'd be laying the table, while Laura, my other sister, chopped stuff and Anna, my baby sister, was the gofer.
We had a busy house as Dad always had men working with him, so we fed them with dinner at lunchtime -- proper country style with massive cauldrons of soup first, then potatoes and stews, and we always finished off with dessert and tea and biscuits. I was great at mentertaining from a young age!
Now all this food talk is making me feel hangry -- you know, when you are so hungry that the lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both.
In fact, I'm hamgry so I'm going to get the recipe up here now.
Baked Ham with Cider
You will need:
4kg fillet of quality assured ham/gammon joint
2 x 500ml bottles dry cider
8 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
175g (6oz) light brown sugar
3 tablespoons mustard powder
Whole cloves (the apple tart kind) for studding the ham
Preparation time: Soak the joint overnight if you have time
Cooking time: 2 1/2 hours
1. Place the ham in a large saucepan and pour over the cider to cover it. Place a lid on top and leave it in a cold place to soak overnight.
2. When you're ready to cook the ham, add the peppercorns and bay leaf and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes per 450g (1lb) -- approximately 2 hours. When the ham is cooked, the skin will peel off easily.
3. Preheat oven to 220 C, 425 F, Gas 7.
4. In a small bowl, mix the light brown sugar and mustard powder together.
5. Remove the ham from the saucepan, carefully peel off the skin and, using a sharp knife, score diamond shapes into the fat. Stand the ham in a roasting tin with a small amount of the cider -- enough to cover the bottom of the tin. Spread the sugar-and-mustard mixture over the fat on the ham. Press a clove into the points of each diamond shape.
6. Roast the ham in preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the fat is crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
For more Christmas recipes and to learn more about the Bord Bia Quality Mark, see www.bordbia.ie
Sunday Indo Life Magazine