Margaret Murphy Coyne, Mullaghgloss, Renvyle formerly of Ballyheagan, Graiguenamanagh, Co. Carlow
On a Sunday after Mass Mammy would go to Tommy Curley’s shop in the village to buy her ingredients for the sheep’s pudding that she planned to make. It was important to get her order in early for the sheep’s stomach and blood to ensure they were collected soon after slaughter. The shop was in the front of the building and the cold room was behind a glass door with panels of glass on either side. There was a long wooden table in the room and we often watched through the glass as he chopped and trimmed the meat. The shop was spotlessly clean and tidy. Tommy dealt with the customers looking for meat while his wife Sadie and his son John attended to the others. The children eyed the selection of jars and cans of sweets and the confectionary that was kept behind a glass case.
The range was lit summer and winter
The empty sweet cans were ideal for the transportation of the sheep’s blood as they had a secure lid. Up cycling was the norm then before it became fashionable! Although her kitchen was basic by today’s standard, it was a hive of activity. She was generally downstairs by seven in the morning as she was a very early bird. The fire in the range was then lit, often from embers that were there from the previous night. The range was lit summer and winter and was used for all the cooking. She really knew how to get the best from it. Tiny clods of hard black turf were used for her frequent baking. It was however her sheep’s pudding that I am nostalgic about. We all loved it and Daddy praised it highly even though he generally wasn’t a big meat eater. He much preferred fish.
And of course the fresh blood
What impressed me most about Mammy was her method of working and her attention to detail. Hygiene was a priority and she wasn’t messy. Preparation of the large stomach bag of the sheep was often met with disgusting comments from us children. The sack had to be flushed with cold salt water. It was then steeped in water containing bread soda to soften, and make it easier to scrape clean. The ingredients were; finely chopped onions, suet, breadcrumbs, oatmeal, a little flour, spices, salt, pepper and of course the fresh blood. The mixture was put into the bag and space was left for it to swell while cooking. Mammy carefully stitched the bag and pierced it after swelling to let the air out and prevent it from bursting. The pot was huge and boiling water was added from time to time to prevent drying out. It plopped away over a steady heat for about three hours or so.
It was nourishing food and was delicious when eaten hot or cold. It certainly didn’t last long with our big family. We knew it was super food long before this became a buzz word and the artisan producers of Mammy’s generation were modest and unassuming about their culinary skills. It was authentic food and it needed little fanfare. Clean plates and a well nourished family were satisfaction to the hardworking housewife.