As far as I was concerned, these two names meant tyres and nothing more.
Likewise, if you had asked me back in 2019 or 2020 what I knew about John and Sally McKenna, I’d have shook my head — though I do recall seeing something about the couple in a glossy coffee table book in some doctor’s waiting room somewhere.
Ah yes, that year of 2019, that’s when all the bother about Brexit was in the news. We can laugh about it now, a decade later, but back then some people actually thought it might happen, that the disunited Kingdom would actually leave the EEC — wasn’t it comical to even consider it?
In fairness to the three Prime Ministers they had that year, they came up with a British solution to a British problem. Mrs May and Messers (not a misspelling) Corbyn and Johnson asked for a Brexit postponement of 15 years to work things out.
It was an ingenious solution really because in five years’ time, in 2034, most British voters will have forgotten what ’twas all about and since the EU has become part of the Greater Union of Broader Understanding (GUBU), the English have no great grá to go anywhere.
But I digress, I meant to explain how ’twas that we now have got Michelin, Bridgestone and McKenna Awards for our Cooking Kitchen here in Bartlemy.
It all started, as I said, about a decade ago in that historic year of 2019. I first heard it on the radio and initially I thought ’twas some bit of daftness — an early April Fools’ Day joke maybe — but then I read it on the Echo and they’d always have it right.
Well, anyway, it was no joke or misunderstanding. Around the year 2015 they had introduced a policy in Cork and elsewhere around Ireland whereby open fireplaces were banned. You see, it was all to do with this carbon thing.
I didn’t really understand it at first but the whole idea was to spare oil, coal and turf — things that, in fairness, could run out if we kept going the way we were in the early 2000s.
So new houses could only have a stove where timber could be burned — timber being a renewable source of energy ’cause while burnt trees don’t sprout out anymore, new trees can be planted and they can be burnt in years to come.
Fair enough, says I, the rules didn’t affect us as our house was built before 1890 and we don’t burn coal. Grand job, I thought, encouraging the use of what they termed ‘renewables’.
The thing I read about and heard on the radio was that in America and parts of Europe and Asia, houses were now being built without any kitchen — no kitchen? What next, I thought — no toilet?
Apparently, back in 2018 and 2019, nearly half of meals consumed were ate outside of the home, in hotels, restaurants, fast food outlets, school canteens, petrol stations and so on. In 2019, they forecast that as more and more people were working in offices and factories in Ireland, that in order to increase productivity most workplaces would provide in-house meals for staff.
The idea was that on the way home from work then, people cold pick up a takeaway. And so it came to pass.
In the Census of Ireland of 2020, just 13% of the population admitted that they now cooked at home. More than 50% of those in the 20-45 age bracket stated that boiling an egg or making toast were culinary skills that were alien to them.
Well, lads, I put on my thinking cap and within a year we had the ‘Cook and Eat in Our Kitchen’ idea in action.
Now, our kitchen is fairly small, about 16ft by 14 — I often wonder how did eight of us eat our meals there in the 1960s? But we’re booked out for the next two years.
Each year, we fatten maybe four pigs and one beef animal. All we serve here is our own meat, the hens provide eggs, the orchard apples, the bushes fruit, and when it’s gone it’s gone and we close down until next season.
We opened our doors first at the end of 2019 and ’tis flying since. Because the kitchen table is small we have just four eaters at a time. We could have gone into the dining room where we’d seat 14 but I felt the kitchen was more authentic, rustic and also close to the cooker — a Rayburn dating from 1952.
I can hear ye say: ‘But don’t ye use oil in the Rayburn — what about the carbon?’
That’s a fair point but we got an exemption because we plant new trees every year, so our trees take in far more carbon than the Rayburn produces — it’s called ‘sequestering the carbon’.
When we opened initially, I had to explain to our guests that all the old Bridget’s Crosses and Palm Sunday sprigs hanging from the ceiling were not herbs for cooking!
The guests love to see the meat coming out of the oven. The aroma wafts around the little kitchen in a mouth-watering manner. They are amazed then to see us washing the spuds and actually boiling them and of course most of ’em wouldn’t know how to cook cabbage. Didn’t one couple think it should be fried in a wok — a what, says I?
Most of the guests have never actually cooked a meal — signs on the kitchen-less houses are all the rage now.
The piece de resistance, however, on the second Thursday of every month is the apple tart making and baking classes. Terms like pastry and dough, sure most of ’em never heard of either. Then, when the actual apples are sliced and put in the raw base — well, they’re just stunned. Then, after Mary puts the top on I do my favourite culinary trick. Holding a fork backwards, I gently press down on the edge of the pastry with one hand whilst rotating the tart clockwise with the other hand. Well, when the cooked tart comes forth from the oven about 22 minutes later they’re gobsmacked by the lovely pattern all around the edge!
Soup is the other star of the show. When we peel and chop the carrots, turnips, parsnips and onions, the question usually comes forward: ‘I thought soup came from a packet?’ Then, in the month of March when I go out and pluck a few handfuls of nettles and add them to the soup pot, they are half afraid they’ll get stung at meal-time! (After April the nettles get a bit tough).
We got all the awards the second year we were open. The citation read simply ‘An Old Way of Serving Good Food — In The Kitchen’. We were thrilled because we just wanted people, especially young people, to remember and enjoy a time long, long ago when every house had a kitchen where food was cooked, baked, boiled and ate.
I suppose, in another 20 years, as we approach 2050, kitchens will be in museums and people will be able to see amazing exhibits like plates, saucers, knives, forks, saucepans, pots and frying pans which will all be on view.
Ah yes indeed, times are a-changing.