On wine and food, my father and a potato.

Photo by Eiliv-Sonas Aceron on Unsplash

My father died this past November. He was 94 years old and a proud farmer (Irish) in his heart to the last day.

He was a very funny man, popular, irreverent. He invented gadgets and alternative methods to do everyday things, sometimes quite brilliant. He was unapologetic with creative mischief and practical jokes. He gleefully delivered awful puns, I’m smiling here as I recall some of his best clangers.

He was barred one year from the shooting range at the Summer Carnival. He won too many prizes the year before so they sidelined him! Now that was a badge of honour amongst the gun club members in the parish.

He was a fiercely loyal friend and neighbour. An only child, he cherished and valued his friends, many also from farming families.

When his mother died, he contemplated emigrating to South Africa to farm rabbits. There were four of us by then which is probably what scuppered that idea. I don’t remember him talking about it very often. However after his death, I found paperwork with visas and a Government welcoming letter folded, saved in a chocolate box. He died never having left the island, but you know what? I don’t think it bothered him one bit.

In fair weather, he often brought me, as he said ‘for company’, when he went out and about on the tractor. We would check cattle drinkers were full, make sure there were no gaps in hedges where they might break out. We went from field to field along our mile-long lane and between stops he talked about moving to milking machines versus milking by hand. He showed me which cow was due to calve next: Ginger, Minorca…I still remember some of their names. He wondered would there be many mushrooms in that field this year ‘you miss horses for the mushrooms’ — everyone knew mushrooms flourished in fields where horses were. All of this as if I were important. He was my hero.

On Sundays he would read the newspaper aloud while Mother cooked. My younger siblings ignored that nonsense, continued to scrabble over comic books. Me? I hung on every word. He read about the Congo and fighting in the Far East — how do they stick (tolerate) that sand. There were a lot of sharks in Australia and then in America, there were rockets going to the moon ‘isn’t that a terror?’ All of this whirled in my world in his voice and I was gone, far and away.

Everything revolved around ‘The Dinner’ (lunch). There might be a pork roast or chops, or in winter, it was often pheasant or duck. My father was a lethal shot (remember the carnival?). Vegetables came and went depending on what was ‘up’ in the garden. However, the success of the meal was always set by the spuds. The grail was a steaming bundle boiled until the skins split and the inner flesh was dry and floury.

Floury spuds.

Mother always used a Blue Willow tureen for the spuds on Sundays.

She would chop scallions if we had them and there was always home churned butter, salty and wondrous as it melted over the feathery warm potatoes.

Mustard pot, maybe 2 inches high.

There was usually a little pot of mustard. Nanny, my grandmother, was in charge of the mustard with its tiny spoon. I loved that spoon.

salt cellar

A ‘salt cellar’ (teeny glass dish), and a pepper pot (always white pepper) and everyone had a skin plate, a side plate that held skins as the potatoes were peeled.

It was theatre. We were very serious about our potatoes.

Father would peel the first one, ‘What are these today Maggie ?’ — as in what variety: Arran Banners, Kerr’s Pinks, Roosters, Whites.

‘Whose are they?’ — as in, who grew them. ‘McGorman not Kiernan? I didn’t know he had Pinks this year. Be God.’

‘They are not soapy anyway.’ (‘Soapy’ spuds were dreaded, a sticky, clammy texture from being grown in a too-wet field.)

‘They’re probably out of the field near Bell’s at the bridge. Great drainage and shelter. And it’s good ground. Jaysus, these are great, balls of flour.’ And with that, we laid in with gusto and marvelled at how great the spuds were.

This kind of scrutiny happened to much of our simple country food. New butter from someone — ‘what breed of cattle have they?’ Strawberries were interesting. Were they garden grown or (gasp!) from a glass-house — ‘Glass house berries have no taste at all in comparison to the garden’. Were they from a walled garden or an open one? ‘The strawberries from the back of Leslie’s stone-wall are the best in Ireland’. Cooking apple varieties were considered by size. ‘Sure they’re as big as turnips, what good would that be in a tart?’

I didn’t know it then, but I probably learned to discern at that table. It was good practice for my grown up self headed into a life working with wine and food.

The family, my siblings and I, did lots of travelling later, sending letters with stories home from Europe, America, Australia. He would read those letters out loud too, to anyone who would listen.

And so it was when I first walked vineyards in California, Oregon, Washington, listening to grape growers talk about water tables and soils, how vineyard aspect affected fruit and thus the wine—I knew. I truly understood what they meant and I loved it all. The agriculture, viticulture, food culture.

I had begun learning a long time ago, far from the vineyards.

With my father, and a potato.

--

--

--

A student and teacher of wine and food chemistry. A mum. Animals, words and land lover.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Holiday Traditions

The Story of 'The Hated Child'

Never Could Have Made It

Where Love Lurks in the Shadows

Remembering Our Friend on the Longest Day of the Year

Nevertheless, She Persisted

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Patricia Rogers

Patricia Rogers

A student and teacher of wine and food chemistry. A mum. Animals, words and land lover.

More from Medium

Nurses: Do You Still Know Your ‘Why’?

Nurse reflecting on one’s purpose

Learning Balance: Moving Edition

Hip Hop Motivational #20 (You’ve Come a Long Way)

Why is “Friends” the TV series unbeatable?