Saturday, October 1, 2022

Irish Eyes


By Mattie Lennon

The Way We Were. ( And The Way We Eat!)

In "The Way we Were; Catholic Ireland Since 1922" Mary Kenny points out she was a latecomer to writing history, in what she describes as, “In the second part of my working life.” Be that as it may, she can hold her own with any historian that I can think of. Also, she holds a more balanced view of the Catholic Church than most writers, historians or others. She is true to her word when she promised to, “. . . brings to remembrance of Catholic Ireland . . . balance, perspective and measured reflection.”

She doesn’t pull any punches; “Alas, nuns didn’t educate me very well-the Loreto nuns I attended paced pupils the regarded as dunces in B stream classes to be taught by dunces, mostly lay teachers either distinctly under par, or, in a couple of cases, certifiably insane.”

Mary Kenny wouldn’t dream of writing about a subject that she didn’t have a comprehensive knowledge of, ”I regret that a very central aspect of Irish life-sport, and especially the Gaelic Athletic Association ( GAA)-is absent, but my total ignorance in this field would, literally, deprive the text of the authority of ‘ writing about what you know’” Kenny tells the reader that they can, “ . . . read whatever sections that that interest you in whatever sequence you choose.” Yes, it is that type of book but it would be a terrible mistake to skip any section of it permanently. In Profiles From my Time, she gives us autobiographical essays on twelve public figures. Gay Byrne gets a well-deserved twenty-two pages all to himself while Alice Glynn only gets ten.

We are given a list of and a lot of information on the stately homes burned during the troubles and some lesser known facts about the Irish State giving the vote to women before Britain did with the reason why the latter dragged its feet thrown in.

Chapter 5, The Women’s Revolution and the Advance of the Liberal Agenda, is 40 pages about how women were treated in Ireland from 1922, wouldn’t make any of my genders to be proud to be male.

Mary Kenny covers everything from Charles Haughey’s “Irish solution to an Irish problem” to her own mother’s approach to priests. “She liked a priest if he was cultivated; one Jesuit friend of my father’s was welcome because he had read Balzac. She was proud of her uncle, canon Michael Conroy of Athenry, who had a stable of hunters and a fine wine cellar. But she was critical of priests who were ‘narrow’ or, worse, ‘uncouth.”

This author shares openly and honestly about her own life without hijacking history, "I lived my life between London and Dublin_flying back and forth about ten times a year. My family life had placed me in England, but Ireland always represented the roots that called compellingly, and it was always an imperative to be there too. And then there is nearly always a tension, for women, between what they want for themselves and what they feel is their duty."

No matter how much history you have read about the Irish State, since its foundation, don’t miss this 450-page hardback if you want to really know, “The Way We Were.”

Published by Columba Books.

* * * * *

Something to chew on.

It all started at a Dinner Dance in Blessington last June. During the meal, a member across the table was gazing fixedly at me. I was sitting beside a neighbour and I said to him, “I think that person fancies me.” He initially informed me that the person to whom I had been alluding was not into necrophilia. He then said. “You are being watched because you are chewing with your mouth open and that is the height of bad manners. “

I said “It’s not bad manners. Civilisation has rotted our imagination and political correctness has made us victims of the convention.” Then, because I knew his area of expertise (he has a degree in animal husbandry) I continued, “It’s not natural to chew with the mouth closed, there are 200 species of ruminant animals on the planet and you won’t see any of them chewing with their mouth closed,” I then pointed out that the Late Norman Wisdom used to do it playfully to “annoy” his family.

The man then quoted some philosopher or other whose name I can’t recall who, according to him, said, “Just because you can thrill a toddler by chewing with your mouth open doesn't mean you should.”

This cross between a discussion and an argument continued between us until the dessert came around. At which point I said; “Listen. Before the year is out I’ll prove beyond doubt that chewing with the mouth open is the most beneficial way to eat.”

You see I already knew that an expert from the University of Oxford had established that eating with your mouth open is the best way to consume food, Prof Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist, found that it maximises flavour and allows you to derive as much pleasure as possible out of each mouthful.

Professor Spence and his team of researchers found that chewing food with your mouth open can make food taste better and can help “volatile organic compounds” reach the back of the nose which can improve the taste of food. As you know Volatile organic compounds are molecules that can create aromas and contribute to the flavour of food. So the benefit of them reaching the back of our nose means it can stimulate cells responsible for our smell, which can “enhance” the dining experience.

Charles Spence, points out that we have, “. . . been doing it all wrong. When it comes to sound, we like noisy foods – crunchy and crispy. Both crisps and apples are rated as more pleasurable when the sound of the crunch is amplified ”. So, to best hear the crunch of an apple, a potato crisp, a carrot stick, celery or a cracker, crispbread or a handful of popcorn, we should always ditch our manners and chew with our mouths open. The professor also points out that people should use their hands to eat their food where possible. “Our sense of touch is also vital in our perception of food on the palate,” he says.

The research shows that what you feel in your hand can change or bring out certain aspects of the tasting experience. Feeling the smooth, organic texture of the skin of an apple in our hand before biting into it is likely to contribute to a heightened appreciation of the juicy, sweet, crunch of that first bite. This can be extended to the feeling of grains of salt sticking to the fingers when eating say a smoked cod and chips with our hands or the sugary residue of buttercream on a hand after biting into a slice of such dangerous food as a wedding cake. The experts say the first taste is with the fingers/hand. Texture provides useful information about the freshness of produce such as apples.

Wine experts and professional coffee tasters know to let the air in while tasting, so why not try the same by eating an apple with your mouth open? It may help to make the most of the taste that comes from the retro nasal olfaction – that’s the smell that emerges from the back of back of your mouth into the back of your nose when eating and drinking.”

New York Post editor Maureen Callahan spotted a raft of celebs chewing with mouths open. I’m not going to name them but Ms Callaghan did in her piece in the Sunday Edition of the paper.

I contacted Professor Spence and asked him what sort of feedback he got from writers of food etiquette and allied politically correct institutions.

He said his discovery had hit a nerve. He told me, “I have received some of my first hate email!!”

The wine/coffee experts appear to be in agreement and had been in touch with him and Debrett's, who publish all kinds of handbooks on etiquette now allow their readers stroke fine diners to eat SOME things with their hands.”

I have come up with a poster for eateries that may want to attract less than polite customers.

Now, with Oxford approval isn’t it time that we, open-mouthed chewers, formed some sort of association. How about CAVE, C.A.V.E. “Chew and View Enthusiastically?”

Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


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