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Con Houlihan: The taste of a new generation

We tend to use the word 'generation' casually. No- body is sure what it means. Some people say it is 25 years; others say it is 33 years. So, forgive me as I use the word in the next sentence.

You will not see it in the history books, but a quiet revolution has taken place in our generation: the black pudding has come back.

Like Jesse James and Robin Hood, it was never far away, but would-be sophisticated people acquired a taste for pizza, lasagne and Chinese food. The black pudding was seen as part of rural Ireland, like bacon and cabbage, and the open fire.

Of course, the older people didn't change, but the younger people who make the fashion influenced the middle and the upper classes. Why the change came, I do not know. I have my suspicions, but that is a story for another day. What I do know is that by the mid-70s, black pudding had become fashionable.

There is nothing mysterious about the black pudding: it is made up mostly of pigs' blood, onions and oatmeal. Some people prefer rice to oatmeal, but, basically, black pudding is a blood pudding. The white pudding is mainly a pork pudding.

Most sausages, despite rumours, are not made from the sweepings of the factory floor; they are made from very careful ingredients, and such is the competition now that all makers have to be very exact.

There is one delicacy that seemingly has not survived. Drisheen is associated with Cork, and Cork City especially, but I doubt there are any people making it there now.

To make drisheen, you need sheeps' blood, settled in a wide, shallow tin pan, the kind that the travelling people showed their skill in making. When the blood settled, the lymph came to the top. This was a grey, unappetising liquid. You skimmed it off and filled it into sheeps' gut to make a pudding.

It was very delicate and was served mainly on Sunday morning, and was greatly favoured by people who had been out late on Saturday night.

Another delicacy seems to have vanished, too. You hardly ever hear now of yeast bread. It was common in rural Ireland long ago. To create it, you mixed a few ounces of yeast and a few pounds of white flour. The dough was put into an enamel bucket, placed near the fire, and covered with a white cloth.

When we were small, we were tempted to lift up the white cloth to see what was happening inside, but it was a mortal sin to do so. Eventually, after maybe about two hours, the white cloth began to lift itself. The process was over. And there was your bucket full of pale bread.

Small boys, like myself, thought it was a miracle. And I used to believe that the world was created in the same way. There was a lump of yeast somewhere and it grew and grew and grew until you had the world. One question remained: whence came that lump of yeast? That question has been tormenting philosophers for thousands and thousands of years.

There was another delicacy that vanished for a while, but has made a great comeback. Long ago, it was called pratey bread: it was made from floury potatoes mixed with white flour. We knew it when it was baked in loaves. Now you can buy it in slices in the shops. It was very popular in rural Ireland, especially in October when the potatoes are at their flouriest.

And during the Second World War, white flour was very scarce and it was common then to bake bread that was a mixture of potatoes and flour. The potato was a blessing in those lean years.

Pandy was our name for mashed potatoes. There was another dish in which the potato was basic. It has a strange name. It was called colcannon. "Col" surely means "cabbage", as in cauliflower, and in German. That is simple enough. Where did "cannon" come from? The recipe was potatoes boiled with chopped, white cabbage and all crowned with butter. Some people say that cannon means "ceann fhionn", which means bright head. That is probably true. There was a famous song associated with colcannon. The last verse of this song was:

Oh weren't they the happy days

When troubles we had not

And our mothers made colcannon

In the little skillet pot.

Some cities seem to have a dish that is their foodmark. In Dublin, of course, you have coddle. There have been arguments about the making of coddle, which have almost finished in fist fights. Everybody seems to have his or her idea and, of course, they cannot bear competition.

Liverpool has its own famous dish. It is called scouse. There is general agreement on this. All the leftovers of the week are put into a big iron pot and the concoction is cooked for the weekend. Thus, the Liverpool working class are called Scousers. The upper classes are called Liverpudlians.

You may think that haggis is a popular dish in Glasgow. It isn't, but the black pudding is and always was. Haggis is an alarming dish and is served on nights commemorating Robert Burns.

Our ancestors were experts at making drinks from various wild fruits and they weren't all free from alcohol. There is a factory in Scotland which makes wine from a wide array of fruits, and it is real wine, probably as good and as strong as any wine made from grapes.

Long ago, there was a woman in our area in Castle Island, who was a kind of benevolent witch. Cathy scoured the fences and ditches, and made wine from various fruits. Her most powerful distillation was sloe wine -- she loved giving it to her neighbours. This led to a one-liner: "If you drink Cathy's wine, don't cycle."

Fogra: Ciara Mageean is the real star of Co Down. She has crowned a great year by taking silver in the 1,500m at the Junior Olympics in Canada. Congratulations go to her, from Kerry to Portaferry. You can read about Ciara in the current edition of Irish Runner


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