We've been thinking of our mum's and the one's who are like mums to us a lot at The Church lately, and not just because it is International Woman's Day today or because Mother's Day is next weekend and we have been taking pre-orders for our Mother's Day special menu and extra special Afternoon Tea.
It is because we've been cooking with rhubarb.
A few weeks ago on the blog, we talked about the power of food to transport you and give a sense for the spirit of a place.
It is a strange thing, but when we talk about rhubarb here at The Church, almost everyone gets a warm, longing look in their eye - whether they personally like the taste or not.
"It was always made full use of in my Grandparents home. My Nanna, would make rhubarb and ginger jam and bottle rhubarb for out of season use. Grandad would make a rhubarb and ginger wine, and the leaves were used to scrub burnt pans!!"
And it turns out we aren't the only ones!
Chatting to family and friends (including one in the US who penned this beautiful poem about her mother) about this week's recipe, we've discovered there is something about rhubarb that brings memories flooding back for many.
And for the most part they are hob warmed and laughter filled memories of being in the kitchen as our mums, grannies, grand-aunts and neighbours made jam, pies, cakes or crumbles.
For a plant whose poisonous qualities fill the minds of gardeners, it fills the kitchen only with warmth, flavour and love.
"Mammy used to make rhubarb jam for Uncle Mick... I can still smell it...!"
"She still always has some in the press! Did she grow it?"
"[laughing] No! My uncle Mick tried every year and it was inedible. But he'd still give her the sad little stumps and she'd call over to Duffy's for some more and stay chatting for hours telling stories. Then she'd make it into jam with us and we'd talk some more. She'd always give it to Uncle Mick with a smile and we'd be sent off to bed as they sat up laughing and drinking tea."
Perhaps its power to evoke such strong memories is because its cooking (in pies, crumbles and jams) requires a bit more time and practice to perfect, giving us all the time to ask questions and open up conversations. The kind of conversations great, local food makes possible.
We've found this year's local crop isn't in many shops just yet (it is usually around now it starts to come in) but we managed to get a bunch from our local fruit and veg supplier to make one of our favourite recipes - Rhubarb and orange drizzle cake - so you'll have everything you need to reminisce when it is time.
When you do, we'd love if you could help with our history and heritage project.
Who knows what stories and memories might bubble up over a pot of stewing rhubarb.
Maybe someone in the family used to raid the orchard as a child?
Maybe they've heard of the tunnel linking Rockhill to Ballymacool?
Or maybe there is a tradition or bit of folklore from the area that should be kept for future. You might even remember some pictures hidden away in a family album somewhere.
Even if it seems unimportant or you don't think it will be interesting to us, we'd love to hear what you know or find out who can tell us more!
If there are none, well at least we can all have a nice slice of rhubarb and orange drizzle cake and make new memories.
JUMP TO THE POEM - Trust us, if rhubarb isn't your thing it is worth making a cuppa and enjoying Mary's moving tribute to her Mum. Thanks for letting us share it Mary!
Recipe: Rhubarb and orange drizzle cake with a compote of ginger spiced orange and rhubarb and freshly made vanilla ice cream.
Top Tips from our talented chefs:
Rhubarb is surprising flexible:
Chop it up with natural yoghurt, cereal or muesli for breakfast.
Make a cake, crumble or cobbler.
It's a great accompaniment to duck too, especially when you bring in some oriental flavours like ginger, five spice and a hint of chilli.
It also makes a rather superb gin and is great fermented.
What you'll need:
For the cake:
280g unsalted, soft butter
1 tblsp orange zest (finely grated)
225g castor sugar
4 large eggs, preferably free range and lightly beaten
225g self raising flour mixed with 120g fine semolina
200gm thin local Rhubarb stems - peeled and cut into 4cm strip pieces
Icing sugar to dust
For the drizzle syrup:
200gm local Rhubarb stems - peeled and roughly chopped
200gm castor sugar
250ml freshly squeezed orange juice
2 pieces of stem ginger in syrup very finely chopped
For the cake:
Line a loose bottomed 20cm cake tin.
Beat the sugar, butter and orange zest until light and fluffy
Slowly add the beaten eggs, alternating with the flour and semolina to prevent the mix splitting.
Add the buttermilk and pour the mix into the tin, level with a wooden spoon and sprinkle over a little demerara sugar.
Bake at 175ºC (gas mark 4) for 45 mins testing the centre with a skewer to ensure it is cooked.
Leave to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the tin.
Place the cake on a cooling rack, prick the top with a fork several times and drizzle with the rhubarb, orange and ginger syrup.
Sieve over some icing sugar and serve with the remaining syrup, clotted or whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
For the drizzle syrup:
Simply simmer all the ingredients over a low heat until the rhubarb is soft and the syrup has started to thicken and become sticky.
Her Hands - Mary L Kelly
The length of her fingers she said were right for playing the piano,
Though she herself had never learned.
Such exquisite, beautiful hands she had.
And she would sit and shape the edges of her fingernails
Into a fine point, triangles they were,
Though to me they never looked odd.
And, only later in life
Did she dare bother to paint them,
The work being less then.
After the Saturday night bath, in flannel jams, smelling of dial,
And if she were in the right mood,
You could climb over a body or two
On the sofa and lie across her legs.
She’d scratch your back for a few, up to the right,
That’s it, no, to the left more, ah that’s it,
Alright now, you’re done, she’d say,
And you’d make way for the next one.
Three pies of unbleached Ceresota, salt, and lard she made every Sunday for the Twelve of us. The apple exclusively of Jonathans, a can of cherry py–oh-my, but with stalks of backyard rhubarb, tapioca and sugar, she made magic.
You learned best at her hip,
Eyes level to the tins,
To flute the edges with four fingers.
But decades passed and when the bleeds in her brain left her hands shaky
And stiff, I took her file in my hands to clean away the remnants of food
From under now chipped and brittle nails, trying my best to shape the triangles,
Only to fail.
And I left them, with a perfect crystal set of blessed beads draped upon them, Wetted with our tears, those hands now hard and cold on our last morning,
And I, bereft, desperately in want of those still and yet beautiful hands.
That's it for this week on The Church blog.
If rhubarb brings back fond memories for you too, let us know in the comments below.
We are back in our kitchen on the Rockhill House Estate on Friday from 5pm - bringing you our Mother's Day Specials and all your favourites from The Church Restaurant, Bar and Café to takeaway and enjoy at home with contactless collection or contactless delivery in Letterkenny.
Until then, take good care of yourself...and enjoy your trip down memory lane,
The Church Team