A fine meal from an autumnal bounty

“LAZY autumn days in all their glory...” was a line of a song I heard as a youth.

Hazy, autumn days is what we’ve been having these last two glorious weeks, when rain seems almost a memory. There’s little ‘lazy’ about autumn for the mammals and birds that put away stores for winter. Squirrels hoard nuts, wood mice hoard beech mast, and jays bury acorns to be dug up in hard times.

We hoard, too; the fine Cep mushrooms we picked in Kerry a few weeks ago are now preserved as dry, white strips in glass jars, stored in the kitchen cupboards. Blackberries and crab apples have been turned to jam or jelly. There are still some blackberries on the briars, especially sweet and juicy, albeit smaller than those of summer. The hollys, rowans and hawthorns are red with berries, and the branches of the blackthorns thick with sloes.

The bounty of autumn also swims in the sea. My son tells me that The Dock, in the centre of Galway city, was boiling with mackerel and sprat last week. He could step out of his apartment, which overlooks it, hook a sprat – many lay dead on the waterside steps, driven ashore by the voracious mackerel – sling his line in the water and land a mackerel in seconds. The sprat themselves would make fine fare, too, almost as big as the young mackerel, slim, eight inch long ‘Joeys’, as they are called. It is a fine thing for a student to be able to catch himself his supper. Meanwhile, I’d recommend anyone interested in our local seas to visit a new website (www.irishmarinelife.com).

Here in west Cork, we had a delicious and unexpected collation delivered by air last week. Hearing an early morning knock from the balcony above our bedroom, we assumed it was a cat, or even a clumsy fox tipping over a flowerpot. However, when my wife later went to look, she found a fine, fat wood-pigeon squab, its beak not yet fully feathered, lying, with its neck broken, on the deck.

On the big window above was the ghostly outline of the bird, with wings raised high in, perhaps, a last, vain attempt to brake its onward motion. It was probably being chased by the sparrowhawk we spot in the garden now and then. Surprisingly, sparrowhawks take more rook-size birds than do peregrines. Rather than pluck it, I skinned the breast. Fried with some Chinese spices and served on toast, the chunks of tender, slightly-gamey flesh filleted from the breastbone made a lunch both novel and tasty.

Lake-making is catching on in west Cork and possibly elsewhere. Ian Wright, usually busy at the Irish Natural Forestry Foundation at Manch Estate, Balineen, tells me the demand is such that he is presently creating lakes at six different locations and has even installed a lake on Heir Island, in Roaringwater Bay. The lake is part of the landscape – no plastic lining is used, only ambient clay or peat. The landowners know the water will bring wildlife to their properties; often, once the lake is set, they grow trees and shrubbery around about. Among the creatures attracted are newts – interesting little water lizards, increasing rare these days.

Meanwhile, at Springmount, Cloheen, near Clonakilty, John Kingston has established a new lake on his property at Cloheen Marsh. In the mid-1990s, an attempt was made by business interests to replace the marsh with a golf course. An unspoiled environment of great importance to many bird and mammal species, it was, happily, saved as a result of local protest. Kingfishers now come to hunt at Mr Kingston’s pond, darting out like small, iridescent rockets to hover over the brown water, before diving headlong, and, if fortunate, returning to their lookout post with a fish. The water-body is fed by a stream, and rudd, trout, and possibly salmon parr are now established. Otters are also present and can be heard whistling,. The whistle serves as a sort of “I’m here. Where are you?” signal, as on a mobile phone, but they twitter, too – quite modern.

Séan Collard, son of Mike Collard of Future Forests, Kealkill, found a Boletus edulis (Cep) mushroom weighing four pounds, fourteen inches in diameter across the cap, and with a stem diameter of four inches at base. It was un-wormed and in fine condition for slicing and drying. Lucky Séan.


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