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Open Features: Salmon Poaching And Cattle Markets – Part Two

...While my father was a devotee of the buttermilk I made it my business to steer clear of that particular beverage. It is very definitely an acquired taste. The only time I willingly came in close proximity to the brew was on an occasion when my Great Aunt Mary told me that it was just the thing for removing freckles...

Alan McConnell’s words conjure up life in rural Ireland in a quieter age. Watch out for the concluding part of Salmon Poachers And Cattle Markets next Sunday.

By the time my mother took over the final process of the churning and I returned to the kitchen Laura had left to carry a “clocking” hen over to Conaghans’ at my mother’s behest and Artie was gathering himself to take his leave and get on with his mail round. I had no doubt but that before he finished for the day there would be very few in our townland and the next two forby but wouldn’t have heard of Ben Byrne’s feat in depriving the poachers of their net and their catch.

However, my immediate concern was to get back to my Zane Grey and I settled down again to ride the range in my imagination. Hardly, though, had I taken up my book and caught up with the mysterious bushwhacker than my mother emerged from the pantry carrying a delph basin containing the fresh butter. She added water to wash out the remaining buttermilk then, when drained, added salt and worked it in to the butter. She always seemed to know just the right amount of salt needed to ensure that the butter had an ideal flavour.

Anxious to know if I had missed anything while at the churning in the pantry I asked my mother if Artie had any other news apart from the Byrne and Diver episode.

“Nothing much,” she answered, busily mixing away. “He was curious to know if your father was at Frosses fair. I told him he was but never named that he was in a good way to buying one of those bastes that Frank Slevin was putting up for sale. What Artie doesn’t know won’t do him any harm. Now, go you like a good lad and empty the buttermilk out of the churn while I get this butter into the mould. Your father will be looking forward to a sup of the fresh buttermilk when he gets back from Frosses.”

I was loath to leave down my book again but there was nothing for it but to head into the pantry and tip the contents of the churn into a crock kept in the pantry for just such a purpose. Later my mother would skim off the flecks of butter remaining on the surface.

While my father was a devotee of the buttermilk I made it my business to steer clear of that particular beverage. It is very definitely an acquired taste. The only time I willingly came in close proximity to the brew was on an occasion when my Great Aunt Mary told me that it was just the thing for removing freckles. As at that time my face displayed an abundance of these, testifying to those summer days of unlimited sunshine that we like to think was our lot in the days of our youth and which now seem to be so sadly lacking.

Anyway, for a week or so I dutifully followed her advice and bathed my face with buttermilk and at the end of that time the quantity of freckles had not diminished by one whit. Indeed, I think the concoction only encouraged them to multiply!

Aunt Mary kept a straight face when I complained that her recommendation had proved to be of no avail. However, I thought I detected a certain glint in her eye when she commiserated with me saying, “I’ve never known it to fail before but I guess there’s always a first time for everything.” To this day I’m convinced that she was “taking a hand at me!”

Having drained the churn I returned to the kitchen to find that Laura had returned and was in the act of divesting herself of the large double compartment basket in which she had conveyed the “clocker” to its temporary home at Conaghans. Older readers will remember these baskets, much favoured by farming wives on their trips to town. A lid that opened against he central handle covered each compartment of this roomy receptable.

Having laid down the basket Laura addressed my mother, “I met Robert on the road on my way back and he was full of Artie’s story about the river watchers. It’s not losing anything in the telling. Robert told me that Mr Byrne was pulled into the river and nearly drowned.”

“Ach, get away with you”, was mother’s response, “Sure by the end of the day the countryside will have it that the poor men have been drowned or at the very least are lying in hospital. It’s like the time we had the goat born with only one horn and it was all over the place that we had a unicorn.”

This speech delivered she bustled over to the fire and began busying herself with unhooking the pot over from the crane. “No matter about Artie and his news I’d better be getting your father’s dinner ready and Laura, start setting the table. And we need a go or two of water, Willie for the crock’s nearly empty. And you can put that book away. Boys a dear but your head’s never out of it or some other. I don’t know if it’s such a great idea for Miss Probus to be calling here every month if these books are going to keep you from attending to the little work we can get out of you.”

At these words I hastily stowed my book behind one of the cushions on the sofa and resigned myself to fetching two pails from the pantry and making my way the short distance to the pump down by the turf shed.

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