Skip to main content

Butchering the Big Fat Irish Butcher

It took me a long time to venture into my small local butchers in Kew. I had the idea that it would be all organic and out of the price range of most normal pocket-books. Like the organic store facing it, where a tin of organic beans can be yours for twice the amount of a tin from the Tesco Express, just a few doors down from the butcher. But, like many supermarkets, the butcher does a brisk(et) trade in the rotisserie chicken at a fiver a pop. The shop is so small that the small rotisserie, a narrow silver cabinet, is perched outside by the door, so that the juicy aroma reaches those commuters who emerge from Kew Gardens station, calling them to abandon their own oven for another day. Why make life more difficult, the waft seems to convey. It was this that finally called me in. And I was comforted, if a little disappointed, to observe the dearth of the organic fancy massaged-cow range in favour of all things butchery normal. Save for the shelf full of homemade liquid stocks at a few quid a jar. Or the few trays of medleys of meat on sticks in the main display cabinet. The rest were pies, waiting to be shoved in the oven and passed off as homemade; a mere technicality. But as I walked home this afternoon, library book of Tobin's short stories 'The Empty Family' borrowed from Kew Library (no closure in this affluent enclave I see, despite the main Richmond Library just a 15-minute walk up the road one direction, and East Sheen Library in the other direction), and collected my cooked chicken for two days worth of weekend eating (roast chicken salad and maybe a risotto), I felt a pang for the Irish butchers of my youth.
They are still there; the big Irish butchers, whose counters groan with ham shanks (hocks, these days), legs of lamb on hooks overhead, big bowls of whitened tripe in brine ready to be baked in milk and onions, mint-marinated lamb cutlets, dishes of mince, plates of plump bloody lamb, calves, and pigs liver, adjoining the piss-tanged kidneys that Joyce's Bloom would have been proud to fry, joints of pink pork - and the stock in trade - capons and chickens. I always recall the two or three seats by the door, where the older Irish and Caribbean men and women would rest whilst waiting for the queue to go down. Or a small child, chewing something sweet whilst mindlessly kicking their legs against the chair legs, staring at the sawdust on the otherwise immaculate floor. Me, perhaps, before I was old enough to do these butcheries on my own (9,10). I remember once my Da returning home on a Saturday, to where we lived in Hulme, armed with a cow's brain. My Mum opened the front door and threw the thing out, unwrapped, onto the communal veranda, telling him she wasn't cooking that bloody thing - tripe was bad enough. He'd have brought it back in and boiled it up and at least partook of it. He was ofally ambitious, my Da. He'd grown up with an old Irish abattoir butcher for a father. Just like his fatger before him - Edward Webb, born 1841 in Mayo - occupation: Victualler. Cousins, from whom the late Irish football player, Ted Webb, who died tragically young, still have their branch of the Butchery business 'Webbs' of Ballyhaunis, Mayo. Had I ever got the opportunity to persuade him to London, he'd have been in heaven at St. John's in Clerkenwell; although he'd have balked at the prices of its renowned offal dishes.
These Irish butchers would also have shelves of dried goods, showing off Kimberley biscuits, Gypsy creams, Nash's Red Lemonade. My Da would - a few times a year - bake his own Irish soda bread - which we ate cobs of, warm with Irish butter melting and melted in. Heavenly.

Next to the Irish butcher would always be the greengrocers. Rows of collies framed with their dark green leaves, like sunflowers; my Mum loved cauliflower; she would say it aloud whilst she or myself would break up the florets ready for the pan, stealing a few to munch on raw 'I love cauliflower, me,' she'd say, just in case anyone disbelieved her munching away. I too took a liking for raw collie. Why it was then boiled for too long is anyone's guess. There'd also be the darkest green savoys, a deeply pungent earthy counterpart to a boiled salty sheet of bacon ribs, or chunks of ham shank, both comforted - and the tastebuds neutered briefly - by the humble spud, often bought by the 55lb sackload, which my Da would carry on one shoulder from the greengrocers on a Saturday, before heading off in his good suit to the bookies, and then his second home of a small Irish pub, whose walls were adorned with portraits of Michael Collins - and the jukebox would ring out the rebellious lyrics against Maggie Thatcher. Oh, the days.

Popular posts from this blog

Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

Booker Shortlist announced

It's been a while... I know. Dog walking on the Downs, a bit of theatre, a bit of baking, a bit of writing etcetera etcetera. I also managed to read two complete books in the past month, which I was so pleased about. I had not read a whole book for about a year. The first was A Lie About My Father by Scottish poet/writer, John Burnside; a very well written memoir about father and son, but like all memoirs, some unreliability I felt. Poignant and tragic in equal measure. Then my husband returned from Cyprus (too hot for me this time of year, I can barely cope with England!) with Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong. He loved it. And then I read it and also loved it. I had originally picked it up several years ago but didn't get beyond Amiens, where the first section is set, but was really glad I did this time around. Another incredibly well written book in the style of a good Victorian! I felt a bit unsure about bits of Elizabeth, in the later section, but I have never learnt so muc…

Good Canary

Forgot to mention that we went to see Good Canary at Kingston's Rose Theatre last week. Star role played by the brilliantly intense Freya Mavor, who plays a speed addict. It's directed by John Malkovich - his UK's theatre directorial debut. Will try and post more about it later.