'I'm looking at her handwriting, remembering her and those simple times' - RTE's Mary Kennedy shares her mother's recipes
Broadcaster Mary Kennedy shares some much-loved family recipes
How often have you heard somebody refer to an apple tart as 'nice but not as good as the one Mammy used to make'? Some mammies put the sliced apples straight onto the pastry base, others stew them to a pulp first. You either love cloves in an apple pie, or you hate them. Your preference will often depend on the way your mother made hers.
I fall into the latter category because in our house the apple tarts were without cloves, full of stewed apples and topped with light-as-a-feather pastry. Apple tarts were a treat at the weekend when I was growing up, but other dishes evoke memories of childhood and ground me in an appreciation of the comfort and security of home. I loved coming in from school for lunch on Friday because, it being a fast day, no meat allowed, we were guaranteed the egg and chips dinner I loved so much.
Another of my mother's specialities was cheese soufflé at teatime. I still have the recipe she used, although my attempts to recreate the fluffy, cheesy, gooey dish have been less than successful. In fact, I could have marketed soufflés as an alternative to Polyfilla.
My sister Deirdre has made Mam's cheese soufflé with great success, and although I have eaten it at Deirdre's home on the Aran Islands, the first forkful transports me right back to winter nights in the kitchen at Saint Brigid's Road in Clondalkin, Daddy and us four children sitting around the table and Mammy taking the soufflé from the oven and spooning it onto our plates immediately, before the crispy fluffy dome could collapse.
It was a comforting, tasty culinary delight for all of us. We would hoover up what was on our plates, then fight over who would scrape the bits off the sides of the brown earthenware dish that Mammy always used for that delicious soufflé. It was definitely comfort food, although the term wasn't used at the time. Writing about it evokes warm memories of home and times past. If you ever decide to theme a dinner party around the swinging 1960s, cheese soufflé will be Top of the Pops, a not-to-be-missed BBC programme that started in the 1960s when I was 10 years of age.
It's funny how memories can be so clear when triggered by food. When tea was finished and we'd washed up, we had half an hour of television before we finished off our homework and went to bed. On Thursdays, that half-hour was Top of the Pops. I wanted to be Sandie Shaw, tall (or so she looked on telly), with shiny, straight hair; barefoot, slim, exuding confidence and fun. This was the unabashed hero-worship of a freckle-faced, frizzy-haired, puppy-fat young one sitting in her school uniform on a hard chair watching from a Dublin suburb.
In honour of the memories evoked for me by Mother's cheese soufflé, I here offer you her recipe. I still have the spiral-bound copybook covered with patterned wipe-clean plastic in which Mam wrote her recipes. I'm transcribing it now, looking at her handwriting, remembering her and those simple times, growing up in Clondalkin.
Mammy's cheese souffle
1oz (25g) butter
1oz (25g) flour
½ pint (275ml) milk
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 tsp mustard
3oz (75g) grated cheese
1. This is the method, in my mother's own words:
Melt the butter, mix in the flour. Add the milk gradually, stirring all the time. When all the milk has been added, bring the sauce to the boil.
2. Take off the heat and add the pepper, salt and mustard. Then separate the eggs. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and beat well in. Stir in the grated cheese.
3. Beat the egg whites till they are stiff and fold them gently into the mixture.
4. Pour the mixture into a well-greased dish no more than two-thirds full. It's important to leave space at the top for the soufflé to soufflé! Bake for about 30 minutes at Regulo 3 (170°C).
Our winters are often cold and damp, and I have always felt that a bowl of soup to welcome the family home is an expression of connection to the unit that brings us all together under the one roof. That connection is deeply felt also when you send them off to school or work with a flask of homemade soup. For me, there's a sense of satisfaction in knowing that what was made in the home is eaten in the workplace and provides a gratifying link to home and family. In the words of Louis P de Gouy, the French-born head chef at the Waldorf Astoria in New York for 30 years: "Soup is the song of the hearth … and the home." My two absolute favourites that I make all the time are nourishing and cheap, cheaper in fact than soup bought in a can. This broccoli and almond soup is a recipe from my friend Anita - written on the back of an envelope with the indicator that you can leave out the almonds if you want it to be zero points. People who are watching their weight will understand the reference and be very glad of the recipe.
My daughter Lucy adopted a vegan lifestyle while she was teaching in South Korea and has maintained it for five years. I have to say it was a struggle to find ingredients when she became vegan but now the selection is varied and easy to access. It's a new departure for my family certainly, but family gatherings always include vegan dishes now. It's often the case that the main course is vegan when the extended family comes together these days. I don't eat a lot of meat, although I'm not vegan or vegetarian, but I'm happy to enjoy veggie food for the taste, of course, but also because it embraces the diversity of my adult children's food choices and philosophies, and brings us together to celebrate a new culinary beginning.
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped or grated
1 red chilli, chopped (de-seeded if, like me, you don't like anything too spicy, food wise)
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 courgette, peeled and grated
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbs tomato purée
7oz (200g) cherry tomatoes, halved, or 1 x 400g tin tomatoes
13.5fl oz (400ml) vegetable stock
1 x 400g tin kidney beans or chickpeas
Salt and pepper
A good handful of chopped coriander leaves and sour cream, to serve
1. Fry the onion, garlic and chilli in the oil for two to three minutes over a medium heat until they are softened. Add the carrot and courgette and sauté for another two minutes. Add the spices and cook gently for another two minutes. A lot happens in twos here!
2. Stir in the tomato purée and heat through before adding the cherry tomatoes. Pour in the vegetable stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
3. Cook for 15-20 minutes to reduce and thicken the sauce, stirring frequently. Add the beans or chickpeas, salt and pepper, then cook for a further five minutes. A lot of ingredients, and the flavours are great. Don't forget the coriander leaves when you're serving your masterpiece. Serve with rice and if you want to add a bit of colour and cool things down, throw in a crisp green salad.
* Extracted from Home Thoughts from the Heart by Mary Kennedy, with photography by Joanne Murphy, published by Hachette Ireland at €16.99