BAKING has been just one of the many pastimes that have been resurrected in the last year, in order to make our kitchens a happier place, and occupy our minds and keep us busy during lockdowns.
For some, however, like Catherine Ross Murphy, baking has been a lifelong passion.
During lockdown, this Macroom lady has managed to turn her culinary talents into a way of making a fortune for local charities, and has boosted the morale of many stuck at home, by producing a book with what she calls ‘old-style’ recipes.
Catherine tells me that her love of baking came from both her mother and her schooling.
She was always by her mum’s side when she was small and watched and learned from the matriarch, who was always on hand to make pastry for her neighbours and was renowned for her cakes and Christmas puddings.
“There was no measuring, just a fist of this and a fist of that!”
In both primary and secondary school, home economics was one of Catherine’s favourite subjects, and a subject she excelled at.
Catherine is originally from Dunmanway but moved to Macroom 43 years ago when she married her husband Con. She made her own wedding cake for the occasion.
When her three daughters, Siobhan, Ashling and Natalie, were small she baked with them all the time and now shares her knowledge with her grandson. She says it is a vital skill to have in life.
Catherine admits to being very shy and reserved until she asked to join the local Tidy Towns group in Macroom in 2009.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” she says.
“I was outside with like-minded people, in the fresh air and making the town look beautiful. We gardened and cleaned and chatted and I came out of myself in the process.”
Since then, Catherine has become an influential member of the Tidy Towns team and she was one of the drivers of the impressive fairy garden in the town.
When the winter set in and the gardening was set aside, she decided to put together a collection of her recipes to share with friends.
“I wanted to preserve the old style recipes,” says Catherine, “the original ones that our mothers and grandmothers used”.
She began by sharing some of them with her Facebook friends and when her sister suggested that she put them in book form, they decided that they would make 100 copies and give the profits to charity.
Catherine contacted Phil Barry, the secretary of St Vincent de Paul, for their permission and blessing and they began the work in earnest.
Catherine recruited her youngest daughter Natalie to help with the printing and binding. Little did she know that it would take off as well as it did.
“People loved it,” she says, “everyone was so happy to have the old style recipes to hand, and that they could make these with their children if they wanted.
“There’s no fancy ingredients, nothing complicated, but the results are delicious.”
The books sold so quickly that she ran out of paper, but the wonderful gang at O’Shea office supplies in Ballincollig dropped the paper to her free of charge.
So far, more than 650 copies of the book have been sold and Catherine will carry on putting them together and posting them out until April, when the work at the fairy garden will take over her days again.
When asked about the online tutorials on Facebook, she says that she wasn’t nervous about doing them at all — “it’s just like talking to yourself,” she laughs, “just do as you normally do and ignore the camera across the table.
“Although I’m glad I can watch them back before posting them online,” she adds, “as I once instructed my viewers to add mixed spice instead of mixed herbs to a stuffing!”
Catherine says the most popular and sought-out recipes are the one for traditional brown bread and the apple cake.
“It’s wonderful. I’m so happy that I started this project and so grateful that Natalie, when she’s not at work, continues to help me with it.
“It has helped so many with coping during lockdown and it has inspires people to put on an apron and make something yummy for their family. And it makes me feel so proud that I can help local charities.”
So far, Catherine has made an astonishing €3,365 for the St Vincent de Paul and has also made donations to other local charities.
The books are available in local shops, but while we are in lockdown Catherine is happy to post them out.