Unintentional life lessons

Posted On March 14, 2019 By Kathryn

I grew up in the countryside, outside a small Irish town on a farm. I was one of five and my Mum’s ability to feed a mob was something I massively took for granted as a child and a teenager. It is only now, as a fully fledged ‘grown up’ and a parent, that I can appreciate the challenge of feeding five children, any number of farmers on any given day, and a constant stream of visitors flowing through our very open and welcoming home. Knowing what life is like with two children, I can only imagine the scale of the challenges she faced on a day to day basis, something she carreid off with such penache and grace. Our life was very much ‘farm to fork’ – I am not sure if it ever crossed Mums mind about the education she was unsubconciously instilling in us. 

We ate simple food, prepared in a simple way. Or dinners consisted of the classic meat and two veg combination. Foreign food rarely made its way to our table – I have no memory of eating pasta or rice as a young child, let alone any kind of accompanying bolognese or curry. What I do remember however, is eating a lot of fresh vegetables, and locally sourced meat, if not our own. I remember picking potatoes with my Dad and siblings. Carrots covered in mud, stood in a hessian bag at our back door. Autumn brought apples, picked from the trees beside the clothes line, devoured in seconds. Our one small rhubarb patch produced countless tarts, my Dads favourite. The glasshouse bulged with the intoxicating aroma of vine tomatoes. The unripe would set up home on our windowsill, everyday we would see them turn from green to red, amazed by the utter magic of it.  Lettuce would come into the kitchen, slugs and all. At times it frightened me – I never liked slugs, snails or worms. My Mum would pay no mind, reassure me that they were harmless, and to my amazement would bravely pluck them from the leaves, gently throwing them out the window, safe to return to nature. 

Each spring, we would each be gifted with a lamb, which we were completely responsible for. I remember my brother being as young as six when he had his first.  Every day before and after school we would prepare their bottles of milk and fill the troughs with grain. We took such pride in looking after these animals and we simply adored them. There then came a time when us younger ones (I was the second youngest) were told that the lambs needed to move to a bigger farm because they were getting too big for ours. We would then eat lamb for the best part of the summer and for the longest time my innocent mind never put two and two together. My dad reared cattle which were sold for meat. We were fully aware of this, and of the day that they would be be collected from the farm. At times, this was upsetting, but it was life as we knew it. Not only did we not question it, we had resect for it, a respect that ran through our blood and was a part of who we were. A respect, and appreciation, for the circle of life. 

It was normality, and I don’t think my parents every actually recognised it as an education . It was life and that was how we lived it. On the contrary, it was without doubt, one of the most valuable life lessons I have learned. It taught me how to appreciate the connection between humans and nature, and how intertwined they are. The food the seasons gives us, the land that gives it to us. The animals that live off this land that become an intrinsic part of our diet. In essence it taught me how to appreciate the very simplest of things, and how they can make life so rich. Back then it was basic. But looking back, I feel it was so incredibly privileged. 

One recipe that embodies my childhood is the recipe for soda bread. Consisting of nothing more than flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt, sugar and buttermilk, it is simplicity at it’s very best. Humble and basic, but truly extraordinary that such an amazing loaf of bread can be made in such little time, with so few, everyday ingredients. The aroma of this bread filled the walls of my home on a daily basis, and as children we were truly fortunate to eat food like this. I will do my best to instil the same education in my girls-  tricker given that we live a city life, but not impossible and I will always endeavour to bring as much of the country to our home as I can. This is one recipe I will make sure they grow up with, knowing and loving it as I did. Hopefully when they grow up, they will, as I have done, realise how luck they are to eat bread, home baked, straight out of the oven.

Click here for the recipe.