James Whelan Butchers: Making Time


While my own trained skills lie in the art of food and butchery anyone who has ever worked behind a counter will tell you that over time you acquire a certain ability to read body language and detect mood. I can spot people staring at the chill cabinets with a bewildered look on their faces. I can often read it as that bothersome internal question “What the hell will I get for the dinner tonight/tomorrow/next Tuesday/whatever?” It is often a pained expression and one that suggests cooking is a chore best or a necessary evil at worst.

Engaging this particular breed of shopper in conversation you can usually sort them out in seconds with a few hints and tips.  It doesn’t take long for the smile to return to their faces and one idea from inside the counter tends to spark a number of ideas in their own heads and suddenly the furrowed frown disappears.  Further probing often reveals that they do have a genuine interest in cooking but don’t particularly enjoy it because of lack of time.  This suggests that cooking is long and arduous as opposed to a contemplative and enjoyable creative recreation that has the added benefit of nourishing our nearest and dearest.  We probably don’t think long enough on the words we use, but that very word, ‘recreation’ means to do something that ‘re-creates’ us.  In other words it lifts us up, nourishes our souls and sends us back to our normal routine in a better state of mind; in a word ‘re-created’ in order to start again.  Now many believe it is the eaters of the meal that get the best of the recreation and not the providers or cooks.  I beg to differ.

First of all let’s look at the time element.  Most of us complain about lack of time and yet research tells us that an average individual can spend a staggering 25 hours a week watching television!  Ironically it is possible that several of those hours are spent watching programmes about food.  Having watched Jamie, Nigella or Gordon in the kitchen we are so exhausted from all their work that we drag ourselves to the kitchen and prepare that TV dinner we bought earlier. We need to reconnect with real food.  If you don’t want to do it from scratch there are plenty of things to help along the way. At JWB for example we do a range of freshly prepared foods and meats that don’t take any length to cook.  They can be accompaniments or the star of the show, there’s plenty to choose from.  I think what most of those TV programmes fail to demonstrate is how quick and easy it is to rustle up real, tasty food without a professional kitchen and every gadget under the sun; try an omelette and test the theory of real fast food.

We have been seduced by the packet and pouch language of ‘instant’, ‘quick’, or ‘express’.  Celebrity chef Valentine Warner recently commented on such food advertising and said, “These are words that encourage a loss of knowledge and indicate an unwise dependence on having things done for us”.  I couldn’t agree more.  The other thing that is quite sad is the loss of experience in handing down skills from one generation to another.  There is something very natural and lovely that takes place between a parent and a child when teaching them a skill and particularly a food skill.  Baking cookies, boiling an egg or peeling and preparing vegetables can be a tremendous time with the added benefit of something good to taste at the end of it.  Teaching someone to open a pouch or how to pierce some plastic with a fork before bunging it in the microwave doesn’t even come close.  Nobel Prize winning Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, captured this elegantly in his poem, In Memoriam, which was about his mother.

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Of course we would probably claim that if we don’t have time to cook, we certainly don’t have time to mess around with children in the kitchen!  Dear oh dear, where are our priorities?  We send our children out into the world, educated as best we can, warned about the dangers of sex, drugs and rock and roll and yet we never check to see if they can make themselves a meal.  Obviously they are well able to roll up at a chip shop and ask for something, but that’s not really the point.  If they are unable to identify food in its raw state or assemble ingredients for a recipe then that knowledge will be a lot more difficult to pick up as an adult or perhaps a closed door to them forever.  No doubt they too in their busy grown up lives will say that, just like their parents, they don’t have time to cook! I encourage you to find your cooking mojo again.  Don’t see it as a chore but as a time of creativity and recreation and pass that idea of pleasure to your children.  For that reason the recipes below are simple and fit very nicely with our idea of ‘fast’, ‘express’ and ‘quick’ but without an overly processed product in sight. I welcome your feedback to pat@jwb.ie.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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