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Con Houlihan: The Proof of the pudding . . .

A s we were coming away from the All- Ireland Football Final in 1975, a veteran from down below at home said to me: "You can't bate the spuds and the bacon and cabbage." I said, "of course", but it made me think of other delicacies and I was tempted to add black pudding.

But black pudding had been out of fashion for a long time and was just creeping back in. It is now so fashionable that it is served at the most stylish weddings and in really chic restaurants. It has acquired a kind of mystique but there is no mystery.

It is made from pigs' blood with oat-meal and minced onions -- they are the basics. You can put in any additives or spices that you choose. The black puddings are then put into gently boiling water. When the pudding rises to the top, it is fit for use. It can be fried or steamed or prepared in any way you like. Its companion, the white pudding, is made from pork. It's as simple as that.

There is a rare delicacy called drisheen. It is confined to a few parts of the country, mainly the city of Cork and the occasional Kerry town. To make it you put sheep's blood into a wide shallow dish and allow it settle until a greyish material rises to the top. This is lymph. You skim it off and pour it into sheeps' gut or any other kind of casing. And then you can steam, fry or cook it any way you see fit.

Now we come to colcannon. It was very common a few generations ago but it too is almost forgotten now. Where did the word come from? 'Col' obviously means cabbage. 'Cannon' could mean 'bright head' or in Irish 'ceann fionn'.

Colcannon is made from mashed potato and finely chopped white cabbage, all covered in butter. The mystery about the word is that the basic ingredient, the mashed potato, is not included in the name.

Now we come to another strange word -- rusks. To make rusks you bake white bread to its ultimate. Then you grind it down as fine as you can.This is put into the pudding mix to prevent seepage.

Housewives may not be aware of it, but if you are making black puddings on a big scale, it can be very important.

The apple has always played a big part in cooking all over Ireland. It can be served in many ways, cooked with custard as an aftercourse or made into a pie or into a cake.

In Kerry in the old days they distinguished between apple pie and apple cake. Apple pie was the thin composition of pastry and sliced apple that you made for your tea. Apple cake was cooked in an oven and could last for three or four days and, of course, apple goes well in jam with many other fruits.

Stealing apples was a common hobby of small boys. Nobody minded very much unless you overdid it. Once in our town a man who was a semi-professional thief was brought to court because he was overplaying his hand. He pleaded that he hadn't missed an All-Ireland Final when Kerry were involved since he was a small boy.

On that evening in Croke Park long ago, I could have told my neighbour that many of the young men who played for Kerry that day hardly ever dined on spuds and bacon and cabbage. They preferred the food that was creeping in from the European mainland and even from China, including spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne, sweet and sour chicken and fried rice and, of course, pizza. There are Pizza Huts all over the world. One morning in Las Vegas, when out and about before dawn, I began to feel hungry and came upon a modest wooden building. It was a Pizza Hut.

Then, when staying in a hotel near Boston, I came upon a Pizza Hut and it almost became my headquarters.

Long ago down at home there was great rivalry among the women in the context of cooking. By the time I left home, the black pudding was back in vogue and every woman seemed to have her own recipe and they kept the identity of the different spices to themselves.

There are many of the old delicacies that have been lost because so many young women have been educated in cookery schools and they haven't been taught the old ways.

Colcannon was once so popular that there was a song about it:

Oh she did, So she did, Oh she did,

and so did I,

And the more I think about it, the more it makes me cry

Weren't they the happy days when troubles we had not

And our mothers made colcannon in the litte skillet pot...

Fogra: Congratulations and best wishes to all the athletes who learned of the standards for the London Olympics in 2012


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