Dunno about you, but I avoided Pinterest for the longest time.
Not because it didn’t look good – quite the reverse, in fact. A world of virtual pin boards, teeming with pretty pictures and inspiring visuals, covering almost any subject you care to mention, Pinterest had (and has) a lot going for it in the looks department. No, I figured, you see, that I couldn’t afford to become seduced by another social network, that I should be strong in the face of its visual charm, that I should, in a word, resist, but resistance – as any reader of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will know – is useless.
This is especially true of Pinterest, with its image-based format so supremely suited to the short attention span of the average netizen. Once I had succumbed – for succumb I did – blog posts became the stuff of potatoey pin boards, making years of spudly content visible at a single glance and demonstrating that it was the waiting that had, in fact, been useless.
“Before long it becomes hard to imagine doing much of anything for ourselves — anything, that is, except the work we do ‘to make a living.’ For everything else, we feel like we’ve lost the skills, or that there’s someone who can do it better.”
Though Micheal Pollan might, I think, have missed the news about this weekend’s Grandmothers’ Day events at Sandbrook House in Ballon, Co. Carlow, I suspect, reading the extract from his forthcoming book, that he would have approved.
The extract paints a dizzying picture of an economic world, spinning ever faster on an axis of relentless specialisation, a process which, at the same time, binds us in a tourniquet of learned helplessness and leaves us hopelessly disconnected from the origins of our food. He articulates the case for loosening those bonds, “making visible again many of the lines of connection” with our greater food system through the medium of cooking (or equally, one might infer, through practising the many other food skills with which our forebears were familiar).
And it is that reclaiming of lost skills and passing on of inherited wisdom that underlie both yesterday’s Slow Roots symposium and today’s Slow Food Ireland family event at Grandmothers’ Day. It seems appropriate, then, to introduce you to winter buttermilk, one old way with food that I have recently discovered, and one which is, to my mind, well worth remembering.
The thing about winter buttermilk is that it is not, in fact, buttermilk at all.
What’s more is that, despite what its name might lead you to believe, winter buttermilk has a dairy content of precisely zero, containing neither butter nor milk nor moo nor cow, but flour and water and – perhaps somewhat inevitably, given my well-documented obsession – spuds. It also (and this is the important thing) makes for a damn fine loaf of soda bread.
Have one in your mouth, be peeling a second, have a third in your fist, and your eye on the fourth.
So went an old Irish saying, referring to a time in this country when meals for many were composed of potatoes and little else (and when five-a-day meant five kilos of potatoes, the average daily intake of an adult male in the years leading up to the Famine). The saying was recalled by Pádraic Óg Gallagher of Gallagher’s Boxty House on Bia Dúchais, a series on TG4 which explores Irish culinary heritage and whose attention, last week, focused on our relationship with the potato, from early adoption and dependency, to the blighted years of the Famine and, later, to the arrival of the Irish-Italian chipper and the modern potato crisp (five kilos a day of which, however tasty, is probably not to be recommended).