‘We took turns to spoon the mixture into the stomach, delighting as its horror film contours grew’
My most treasured food memory: Alanna Gallagher
Alanna Gallagher: 'Offal in all its guises made my mother weak at the knees.'
Throughout Food Month people will share with us their most treasured food memory. You can share yours at firstname.lastname@example.org
Food was bountiful on Achill Island in the 1970s. My father would "shop" for oysters, crayfish and lobsters while out scuba diving, always hopeful of striking Spanish Armada gold, for back then the whole west coast had gone treasure hunting mad in the hope of emulating the discoveries of Belgian diver Robert Sténuit’s Girona’s gold at Lacada Point in Co Antrim in 1967.
The lobsters were short-lived pets before my mother ended their days in a cauldron-sized pot filled with shuddering hot water.
She was a marvellous cook who made everything from scratch. We ate heathery-sweet Achill mountain lamb till it came out our ears, and ordered half a lamb at a time from the local butcher, Frank Charlie, who operated a mobile unit from his green van.
He would open the rear doors, throw the carcass over his house-coated shoulder and carry it into the house, where my mam, a slip of a size eight, would lift a cleaver the breadth of her head and butcher the beast down, shrieking with delight as she truffled out the kidneys secreted within its layers of fat.
Offal in all its guises made her weak at the knees. And years spent in Cork city had given her a liking for black pudding whose raw ingredients – a pig’s stomach and buckets of blood were also delivered by Frank.
The coagulating substance arrived in basins and buckets and had a short shelf life. The kitchen became like an emergency room, the table cleared to make adequate space for the messy operation.
One of us girls was then charged with folding in a quantity of oatmeal – mam used plain porridge rather than the pinhead kind, adding barley to give it a delicious, toothsome finish. As the pale oats were swathed in blood, onions were chopped and slowly fried in butter to draw out their sweetness. When cooled they were added to the mix. With the mouth of the stomach gruesomely held open, we took it in turns to spoon the mixture into its distending form, delighting as its horror film contours grew.
It was a bloody business and we were were not remotely squeamish. The end justified the means, although I don’t recall any of us ever wanting to lick the spoon, compared to, say, when a Victoria sponge was being prepped – then there would be killings to lick the bowl and all the utensils.
The quantities were industrial and when complete, the not-quite sphere, about the width of a basketball, was tied and steamed slowly, as you would a Christmas pudding, to coddle it, using the same pot that claimed so many lobster lives.
In a pre-social media world, I’m really not sure how word got out but after Mass on a Sunday, my aunties, uncles and cousins would all make impromptu calls to the house and the large, deep burgundy-coloured cake was cut in a manner similar to a large round loaf of bread and each protein-rich slice was gently pan-fried in more butter, turning its deep shade of night to a crispy black.
Served with hot strong tea and brown bread, generously spread with my grandfather’s recently-churned salty butter, a reflective quiet would descend on all those blessed to be seated around the table. Slice after slice sizzled and was greedily guzzled, the clattering cutlery mopping up every morsel.
The body and blood of pig that had taken a day to make would be devoured in minutes – a near religious experience that has been seared to memory.