May 072021

[Editor: Bill’s story reminds me a bit about when Jim Carrey was asked about how he survived the cold in Canada. Watch the video.]

We had a relatively large pantry, particularly considering the cramped floor space. It was windowless, unlit, very cold, with constantly damp thick stone walls which were always running wet. Puddles gathered on worn flagstones, but it did the job with the natural assistance of long winters. Our rented home had feeble gas lighting, and candles for when the gas was off due to an empty gas meter. There was no light in the pantry, so homemade candles were stored on the sturdy waist high bench across the back wall along with food and food processing equipment such as a hand-operated meat mincing machine. The Scottish national dish was mutton mince and tatties, because it helped to exercise our jaws, or so we were told.

Following the relaxation of food rationing after the war and season conditions, the two-yard square room, would be packed with ½ cwt (one half imperial hundredweight) or 56lb sacks of potatoes sitting on duckboards. Slats of hard timbers kept the potatoes off the constantly damp floor. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589 and, in the late 1500s, the canny Scots had recognised the benefits of potatoes: easier to grow and cultivate than other staple crops, such as wheat and oats. Cuddling up to the potatoes were sacks of onions, turnips and carrots, all with their distinctive comforting earthy smells. This conflicted with bags of cabbages and Brussels sprouts that rotted very quickly, so that the whole building, including the communal stairwell, regularly stank with cooking rotting cabbage, mingled with the fragrance of cat’s urine.