The first sign of sunshine and everybody’s trotting out to buy gym gear and weights to try and lose the jelly that grew on us over the endless Christmas. It seems we’ve suddenly been reminded that we have flesh and skin under all those layers we got to hide under for cosy weeks and months. Is it too early to think of picnics? Of course it is but who cares. Picnics claimed to go all posh in recent times with photo spreads in magazines telling us to ditch the sangbos and opt instead for delicately packaged pork pies and fancy crap in expensive plastic boxes. I know, I did the photos. Despite claims that we, as a race, were evolving to finer foodstuffs, research proved otherwise.
Trawling the beaches of West Clare, my favourite one being Spanish Point, though you can fire in Kilkee, Lahinch and Fanore, I noticed it’s backwards we’re going with food, not ahead. The average family of picnickers seemed to have all manner of shite food with them. Taytos, Mars bars (the Lidl ones too, not the real ones) and cans of Fosters were abundant. As I spied on families, as I often do from behind my Prada shades, I waited patiently for the main course, a salad perhaps, maybe a little barbeque would be stoked up to feed the wains some good grub. Alas no, beer and crisps was it, and that was just for little Jimmy.
My ma made the best picnics ever.
When it would be announced that we would be heading off for the day, a sense of fear would grip me as the process of putting the whole hosue into the car began. Chairs, cushions, blankets, a camping stove, kettles, frying pans, then the food had to be organised. Da liked to have something decent to eat so, short of boiling a pot of spuds on the beach, Mum had just as much work to do as at home. Except with the added bonus of having everything covered in sand and sixty miles away. If we were lucky we’d get to the seaside by about 4pm. Withered and starving, barely able to muster the interest to get changed, Irish style, under a towel held closed by my sister. The Mammy would set to work with the dinner, grilling and frying and dishing out endless baps, sausages and cups of tea.
On more laid back picnic days we had cold food, but with more fanfare. The picnics of old were luminous affairs, whipped out of an array of tins that would make an army bunker collapse with envy. If you felt like it, you might roll up a slice of ham and flank that, no less, with some corned beef or brawn; mad pink shit from the murky depths of MSG hell. The meat would be cosied up to by a dollop of Heinz tinned potato salad or vegetable salad. I loved this stuff, perfectly, evenly-cubed chunks of carrot and spud, peas and salad cream. Remember Salad Cream? Long before the days of swanky mayo this yellowy dribbly sauce was à la mode on the sexiest salads across Ireland. Sexy and salad didn’t go hand in hand though. What next? A few slices of tomato, a hard boiled egg that may have been halved, quartered or even sliced in one of those fancy egg slicing devices. We had one at home, slicing the eggs was my job, as was dickying up the food in general. Next up is the beetroot, crazy dyed purple sliced of LSD in a jar. Did anyone like this stuff? If not nobody said so. It left everything on your plate a wild pink colour when it mixed up with the salad cream and bits of egg yolk.
Runny butter on warmed up by the sun sliced bread was the perfect ronder-offerer of the meal. Nice and squishy, you could drag it across your plate to mop up all that runny, salty, saucy, yummy goo.
There’s one last vital ingredient to the Irish salad that I haven’t mentioned. No salad was complete without this,…. Any takers? I’m not giving it away. Answers on a Bockcard to….