AROMAS FROM THE REPUBLIC OF CORK
The open fire blazed half-way up the chimney; in the corner of the kitchen the new Bush wireless with the spectacular green eye played out colourless piano music not resting on any ears.
“I’m sick of that bloody stuff on Radio Eireann”
Said my uncle.
“Whatever happened to the old opera arias they used to play ……. Operas like Maritana ……. now there’s music for ye”
His eyes brightened as he broke into song.
“Now let me a soldier fall upon some open plain”
He stopped abruptly.
“Written by a Waterford man you know …… William Wallace”.
He clutched the black poker from the grate and gave the fire a good stoking before resting his head back on the old armchair again.
“Did you know that Cork City was famous the world over for its love and knowledge of Opera”
I nodded my head.
Ordinary fellows like plumbers, labourers and dockers sang Opera arias in pubs around Cork City that time and no one batted an eyelid.
“Ah but the world has changed …….. And Cork has changed too”.
He paused for a moment and tightly closed his eyes.
By now I was hanging on every word.
My uncle Johnny - a small rotund man with a cigarette voice and a heart as big as Africa was holding centre stage in the tiny kitchen. Behind him my aunt worked feverishly – the New World gas stove rising to the occasion as the smell of steak and onions filled the kitchen and began to stalk our noses.
My nose was young – just seven. My grandfather and grandmother had very old noses.
Johnny always loved steak and onions my aunt muttered into the stove. He was back home in Cork from Birmingham having lived through the war as a bomb-damage worker.
And he was now home with us for good.
As the aromas from the noisy pan tantalised my nose even more I began to think that like my uncle I could get to like steak and onions myself. I was glad I had come to visit them today.
In the half-light on a grey November day everything was bubbling up nicely – boiling water was gently poured on to the chump steak and onions and allowed to sizzle; next a cup of bisto all brown and creamy was added to the pan followed by a fistful of fresh herbs. The sprig of thyme held a special position and was added to the pan all by itself. The whole ritual was finished off with a generous sprinkling of salt and black pepper. The dollop of Colman’s mustard completed the proceedings. All were allowed to settle down and gently simmer.
I was growing hungrier by the second but never opened my mouth to ask how long more it would take - I just sat still and hoped it would hurry along. My aunt opened the yard door just in time to hear Shandon strike out four long bells – the afternoon was nearly done.
Soon my waiting was rewarded as the spuds bursting from their overcoats were spilled onto the large blue Queen Victoria plate and placed on the table in front of the fire. Even Inker the cat was growing hungry as he shifted from his corner and stretched out into the centre of the kitchen.
“You can’t bate those spuds, said my uncle “just balls of flower”. By now the gravy was reducing and this resulted in sending even more intense aromas coasting round the kitchen and sending my senses to fever pitch heights. I pulled my seat up next to my uncle as my aunt laid out the plates before us. The fresh Simcox loaf was sent along to mop up the gravy.
Heaven – no heaven on earth is the way I remember that taste.
My grandfather and my grandmother dozing on their chairs, the fire licking the chimney, my aunt’s bib with the one string forever falling down, the sparkle in the cats eyes and my uncle home in Cork City for good …………………
And me a garsun of seven tasting steak for the very first time.