My Mum was born in April 1929. Her sister was born in March 1928. Not quite ‘Irish Twins’ but close enough. They were as close as close as sisters could be. When Mum was in Dublin studying to be a Primary Teacher, they were still close even though her sister was back home on the farm in West Kerry. Nothing prepared my Mum for the news that Teresa was moving to American with her boyfriend.
The move to America was familiar to many in West Kerry and off my Aunt and her beau went to link up with family and friends in Massachusetts. This was a familiar path. So much so that Tomás Ó Crohan in his classic book, The Islandman, speaks about people going to Springfield rather than to the United States.
That was in 1953. My mother’s heart was broken. They kept in contact. They saw each other. They wrote frequently. They sent food parcels. Every Christmas, my mother would pack up a parcel of Cadburys Chocolate, Walnut Whips and packets of Irish Potato Soup. And in return, my aunt would send over such gems as Shake ‘n’ Bake, instant Iced Tea, tea bags, charcoal mix for steaks and mix for corn muffins. While we had tea bags, and my mother hadn’t the heart to tell Teresa, the rest was the closest to Manna from Heaven that I have ever experienced. We were afraid to even touch these delights for fear they would run out too quickly.
Through those years, another gem would be sent back and forth across the Atlantic. A 45 single. My mother and her sister exchanged songs to cry to. The single would arrive and be popped on the record player. And as the lyrics unfolded, the tears would flow. This masochistic exercise was always lost on me and dismissed as ‘totally daft’.
On the first of my mother’s many trips to Springfield, she compiled recipes from the women she met. In a sepia stained notebook, I see my mother’s familiar writing – a hand written index set out with exact ruling at the front. ‘American Cooking Notes – September 1953’ appearing on the front.
I love looking through this piece of my Mum’s culinary legacy. It makes me smile at how my mother assessed the recipe. No star rating for this lass. Instead comments such as ‘very successful’ (underlined twice) or ‘No worry’ or red lined throughout!