Food And Drink
Naturally enough, we'll start with drink. When did it become more or less mandatory for certain drinks to be served with ice, even when you say clearly "no ice, please"? Automatically, if you ask for a "Ballygowan-with-no-ice-please" or "a gin-and-tonic-with-no-ice-please", the barman reaches with his scoop for the ice basin. In it clunks. You look him in the eye, before the rest goes in, and say again, civilly, "No ice, please." He is astounded. At table when you ask the waiter for the same, it invariably comes with ice in it. You then spoon out the ice-chunks and put them in the glass ashtray, which still seems to form part of the furniture, in rural places anyway.
Bar food: Surprisingly good all over the country. At the pub at the bridge of Kilcarne as you enter Navan, reports a friend, you order a ham salad, hoping it will be as good as last week's. It is. Two good thick slices of ham, green lettuce of fine crispness (iceberg, probably), tomato quarters, slices of green peppers, a whole hard-boiled egg, already sliced, a portion of potato salad, a slice of pineapple, just a few small onion slices, grated cheddar cheese - and a pile of chips on top. Too much for an ordinary sedentary mortal, but par for the course if you work for a living out in the fields of Meath. And all very neat and clean. Whew. For the second time, and costing less than a fiver.
Fancy food: Back to the arbutus tree and its strawberry-like fruit, which this year, in at least one case, has ripened for the first time in a successful way. And profusely. But only since about the beginning of this month. The advice of Jane Grigson in her (Penguin) Fruit Book was to put the fruits into pastry cases, baked blind (experts will understand), and perhaps glazed with redcurrant jelly "to give the blandness some zest", as she put it. Better still is what was done the other day by an experienced cook, who simmered the fruit very gently for at most a minute, drained them, put them into a pastry case filled, or almost so, with whipped cream, and indeed glazed them slightly with quince jelly, though probably any sharp jelly would do. Absolutely marvellous. Why don't we have years like this every year? Note: they get flavoursome only when ripened to a deep red. Y