by Rachel Gaffney
Is it any wonder that Godrevy Lighthouse in West Cornwall, England, could inspire To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf? Once you visit you will know the answer to this question. So, how does a young girl growing up here, a member of “The Society of Friends” (Quakers) become Ireland’s leading authority on food, hospitality and travel? I wanted to know.
I waited with my morning cup of coffee, freshly sharpened number two pencil and pad of paper with a few questions scribbled down but truth be told, I knew the conversation would dictate the questions. It always does. The phone rang and I answered. I thanked Georgina for taking the time to call and speak with me and she responded with a soft and gentle voice. Over the years I had become a fan of this lady. Her honesty jumped off the pages and still does. Most recently I read her account of a food symposium in County Wicklow. “Unlike the previous sessions, there was a sense of disquiet among the audience, many of whom dearly felt that some of the serious issues raised had not been adequately addressed.” For me, this kind of honesty is refreshing.
It was early morning. My household was still slumbering, making this time with Georgina all the more special. Before I had finished my first cup of coffee, we had already begun to talk about her life in Cornwall. I was eager to know where she was coming from. As Edmund Burke, famous Irish author, statesman and orator said, “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”
They lived on a small farm. “The kind that all but disappeared over the last couple of generations but is now coming back, as we’re recognizing the value of what has been lost,” Georgina explained. Her parents had chosen this life. They opted out of their respective religious backgrounds and were admirers of Rudolf Steiner (Austrian philosopher and founder of biodynamics.)
Georgina recalls the small dairy herd, a breed called Red Polls, a couple of Guernseys and Jerseys. “I loved the dairy side of things, the coolness of the dairy with its ultra clean smell of disinfectant, making butter, clotted cream and cottage cheese, not on a commercial scale, but for the house.”
I now knew ‘Doll,’ well I felt as though I did after our conversation She was the lovely old cart horse who had come with the family when her parents moved from Yorkshire, in 1947. When the day old chicks arrived, chirping frenetically, she loved warming them under the lamps in the big greenhouse and collecting eggs from the runs, sorting them into grades for market and packing them into their layers in the strong hinged wooden boxes of twelve dozen.
While Georgina pottered about, apple and pear picking, bottling and canning, her mum taught domestic science to senior secondary students. Being Scottish, she (the latter) had a very down to earth approach and as we know, the Scottish (much like the Irish) have a great tradition of baking. Georgina’s first cookery books were her mums college references The Edinburgh Book of Plain Cookery Recipes.
One of their earliest domestic duties was to prepare something wholesome and simple before their mother arrived home from work and at Christmas the kids were encouraged “to up their game a little!” Using their fathers produce they became quite adept at pie making, canning, preserving and cooking.
She attended Queens College Belfast, where she studied English and French. It was here that she met William, the son of a doctor’s family from Co. Down. He was the obvious reason for staying on in Ireland, but “I felt absolutely at home after only a few weeks in Belfast and might well have stayed anyway,” she told me.
Trinity College Dublin was where Georgina completed her Higher Diploma Education in English and French. Her first job was teaching Business English and Restaurant French at Cathal Brugha Street, now known as DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology.) This course was to “give catering students the skills to deal with their businesses correctly, in terms of correspondence.”
The students on the Chefs and Cooks courses were from rural areas and were very young. “We did general literature with them, including poetry—I remember how strange they thought it was that Seamus Heaney (who was a lecturer—and a very good one too—when I was at Queen’s) would think something like digging turf was a suitable subject for poetry.” (Nobel Prize Winner ~ Literature)
When Georgina married and had her first child she knew she wanted to work from home. Her initial thoughts were to write a column about crafts. Turning your trash into a treasure.
She contacted Janet Martin, the Women’s Editor of the Independent newspaper. Janet was interested and agreed to come chat with Georgina about this idea.
It was the mid seventies and Georgina had just prepared a light lunch. “Quite an ordinary lunch really, just a simple quiche and salad,” she recalls.
It was this lunch that turned the tides for Georgina Campbell, for the editor knew instinctively that this simple lunch was not simple at all. It was baked with love and fresh ingredients. They were looking for a food writer and Janet Martin knew that her search was over as she had found someone to champion home cooking.
Georgina’s memories are fond memories. From speaking with her it is clear that she has an inherent love and respect for the land and those that care for it. If Georgina Campbell recommends it… then you know it has to be good.
Georgina Campbell is the author of Ireland for Food Lovers, Irish Country House Cooking—The Blue Book Recipe Collection and her current book Georgina Campbell’s Ireland—The Guide. The latter is sold out and a new edition is currently being reprinted, according to the web site, www.irelandguide.com.
Georgina Campbell’s Irish Apple Cake
This lovely moist cake is very popular in farmhouse kitchens in the late autumn, when there’s an abundance of apples. For the same reason it’s often served at Halloween, although it isn’t associated with Halloween customs in the way that Barm Brack is. It can be served cold, as a cake, or warm with cream or custard, as a pudding.
1 cup self-raising flour
2 pinches of salt
2 good pinches of ground cloves
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature (preferably Kerrygold unsalted)
4 cooking apples if available, if not Granny Smith apples
1/2 - 3/4 cup sugar, to taste
a little milk to mix
a little sugar to sprinkle over
Grease a 1 lb. loaf pan. Preheat oven, 375°F
Sieve the flour, salt and cloves into a bowl, cut in the butter and rub in until the mixture is like fine bread crumbs.
Peel and core the apples; slice thinly, add to the mixture with the sugar—the amount depends on how much sweetening the apples need. Mix in the egg and enough milk to make a fairly stiff dough, then turn the mixture into the prepared tin and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 - 35 minutes, until crisp, golden brown and springy to the touch.