My local butcher Michael Cuddigan explained to me the lamb is spring lamb from at Easter, then until Christmas it’s lamb, and strictly speaking it is hogget from Christmas until Easter. Mutton is virtually impossible to find nowadays, a nice leg of hogget cooked in the same way is very flavoursome – a wonderful dish for a cold winter’s evening. Ballymaloe House is one of the few places where hogget is on the menu – often braised with winter vegetables or wild garlic.
The way Listowel mutton pies are eaten is unique. The pastry is quite robust because of the small proportion of shortening to flour, but not at all fragile. A big pot of mutton broth is made from the bones with maybe an onion or two added. On race day, the pies are slipped, a couple at a time, into the pot of strained broth. They simmer away and are then served into wide shallow soup bowls with a ladle full of hot broth on top.
Years ago when my mother-in-law, Myrtle Allen, began to collect old Irish recipes, this was one of the first to arouse her curiosity. Mutton pies, made in Kerry, were served at the famous Puck Fair in Killorglin in August, and taken up the hills when men were herding all day. Traditionally they were cooked in the bastible and reheated in mutton broth, then served in a deep plate with some of the broth over the top. It sounds strange, but the old people who remember them are adamant that they were delicious. Below is our version. The original hot-water crust pastry was made with mutton fat, but we have substituted butter for a really rich crust.
Virtually every morning in Winter I start my day with a bowl of porridge. Search out Macroom stoneground oatmeal which has the most delicious toasted nutty flavour. It comes in a lovely old-fashioned red and yellow pack which I hope they never change.
Ireland’s national dish of bacon and cabbage is often a sorry disappointment nowadays, partly because it is so difficult to get good-quality bacon with a decent bit of fat on it. Traditionally, the cabbage was always cooked in the bacon water. People could only hang one pot over the fire at a time, so when the bacon was almost cooked, they added the cabbage for the last half hour or 45 minutes of cooking. The bacon water gives a salty, unforgettable flavour, which many people, including me, still hanker for. You will need to order the loin well in advance, especially with rind on.