Tralee Life Life In An Irish Town


Red Wine and Pork Chops


Early yesterday morning there is a knock at the door, where my friend Dan hands over a bag of the biggest pork chops ever seen, along with a thank you. Dan bought two pigs in the early summer and kept them in a pen at his parent’s place. Fed on standard feed, along with the apples from the orchard, scraps from the kitchen and acorns from the oak trees in the large fenced off area, the two boars were a fair size before going to the abattoir.  The ‘thank you’ is for me feeding the pigs at times when he was away, a job I loved doing and I grew fond of the two fellows now in a bag in my hand. It was a running joke when Dan and family were on holidays that the vegetarian was feeding the pigs, which were being fattened for Christmas.

Later in the morning I stop off at the farmer’s market to buy some bread. The cupcake craze of a couple of years ago, put me off going to markets, but the Bácus stall here has some professionally baked bread, which tastes like bread should do and is a nice treat for a weekend lunchtime. As it happens the baker is sold out completely; a good complaint and testament to the quality of his product. He tells me he was up at 5am baking and he never has enough to keep everyone happy. Baking, along with butchering is one of those trades under threat from the rise of the supermarket chains but both have fought back in recent years, with a product far superior to that bought off the shelf. Though I don’t have any bread, I do have Dan’s chops as a testament to what can be produced using a bit of love and care, along with some time thrown in for good measure.

Going to the market gives me a chance to talk with Chris Moloney, a friend who is also keeping an old tradition alive and seems to being doing a good job of it too. Chris may well be the last, or one of the last, door to door milkmen in Ireland, delivering milk in the old glass bottle. Twice a week he drops off the litre bottles on doorsteps around Tralee, collecting the empties as he goes. If I’m awake about 6am on a Tuesday or Friday morning I hear him at work around our development and the fresh milk is by the pots outside the front door when I come down to start breakfast. He bottles the milk at his own small dairy, collects the money monthly and even washes the bottles ready for the liquid bought locally and pasteurised at his plant. The full fat and skimmed are non-homogenised, so you get the cream floating to the top if you leave the bottle stand in the fridge. On Saturdays, he runs a stall at the market, selling the milk, signing up new customers and supplying existing ones who are not yet on his route.

If Chris isn’t the only one doing the door to door deliveries in a glass bottle, he certainly is the only one from Queens New York. I never tire of his accent and you can almost see the street scenes of the city of his birth as he talks. He is passionate about his product and it shows in the quality and the popularity of it. I once spent a couple of mornings with him on the route, as part of a documentary I was working on and I thoroughly enjoyed it. At about 3am he collected me and for the next three hours we drove around Tralee, in the cold of a February morning, dropping and collecting while Chris spoke about his life. Funnily enough one of his first jobs as a kid was a paper round in Queens, again getting up early to do his work. At the time, he never guessed that he’d be doing early morning rises to deliver milk, in an Irish town he probably had never heard of, when he’d be the age of people receiving the papers he was delivering.

As we spoke about everything from Dan’s pork chops to life in general, I spotted a guy approaching from our left with one of Chris’s bottles in his hand but full of a deep purple liquid, instead of the usual virgin white milk. Chris greeted him and thanked him for the rabbits. Apparently, the balding man, probably a bit younger than me, has a licence to shoot rabbits and does so for local farmers. After a recent shoot, he’d dropped off a couple to Chris, skinned and gutted, ready for the pot. Chris said his kids loved the ‘stu’ he made and they didn’t mind that they were eating Floppy and Thumper. In fact, his boy expressed an interest in shooting and hunting, which are skills necessary for proper management of the countryside. Not many people do it anymore but too many rabbits will destroy plants, resulting in fewer birds and more bugs. It is important that people learn the times when to hunt, how to do it cleanly and what to hunt at the right time of year. Stock management would probably be the degree course if there was one to follow. These are skills you pick up on the hoof, learn from someone who has done it all and who knows the importance of handing on their knowledge.

“What’s in the bottle?” Chris eventually asked.

“Take a sniff of it,” the man says, screwing open the gold cap with the ‘Ballymac Dairy’ sticker on it.

The smell of alcohol nearly knocked me back.

“Mulled wine?” I asked.

“Homemade red wine,” the man smiled a gentle smile, delighted with his product, “a present for you Chris.”

Chris took the bottle, obviously touched by the sentiment.

“Well it would be a shame not to taste it,” he said, getting three plastic cups out from his stall.

The purple liquid looked delicious in the mid-morning sun, just a couple of fingers in each clear cup did us fine. There we stood, sipping our drink, talking of wine, milk, rabbits and I even spoke of my homemade cider which I’m keeping for Christmas. It went down easily and though all three of us expressed an ignorance of what good wine should taste like, we all agreed it was delicious. For me that is all any drink, food or treat should taste like, along with leaving you with a desire for more.

Noon on a Saturday was a bit too early to be looking for more wine and I said my goodbyes when the snifter was gone. Back home Lisa had two loaves of homemade brown bread ready for lunch, which was just perfect after the wine. Dan’s chops are on the menu for tonight, the vegetarian won’t get any pleasure from eating them but I will from cooking the right recipe which the kids will enjoy.

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