My journey through the Blogging from A-Z Challenge continues today and as I approach the letter I, I am starting to understand why this thing is called a “challenge” and not a “walk in the park”. With the kids on school holidays and being at Palm Beach and wanting to experience more than just the inside of my laptop despite the blah weather, today I’ve taken the easy way out. I have cut and pasted most of this post from my other blog: Finding Bridget: https://bridgetdonovansjourney.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/welcome-to-bridget-donovans-journey/
After introducing you to my German heritage yesterday, today I’ll dip a very little toe into the Irish side. Although being a Curtin hailing back to the City of Cork, County Cork; I wanted to introduce you to Bridget Donovan, who I came across on a complicated goat’s trail off a goat’s trail even though she is my Great Great Great Grandmother. Bridget was little more than a name on her daughter’s birth certificate (her daughter Charlotte Merritt married James Curtin), which had turned up in the family safe many years ago. That was, until a Google search showed up a Bridget Donovan who was one of the Irish Famine Orphan Girls who went sent out to Australia as part of the Earl Grey Scheme on board the John Knox on the 29th April, 1850.
This was how I discovered the Irish Famine Monument at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks. No doubt, I’ve walked past the Famine Memorial many times since its completion in 1999. Yet, I missed it. If you know me, that isn’t exactly surprising. With my head up in the clouds or my attention focused through a camera lens, I frequently miss even the blatantly obvious.
It’s a pity because this monument is so much more than a static reminder of the Famine. Rather, it has become something of a living, breathing focal point not just for people exploring their Irish roots like myself but also for the modern Australian-Irish community, especially at it’s annual commemorative event. You could say any excuse for a Guinness will do!
While you might be wondering why anyone would build a monument commemorating an Irish famine which took place over 150 years ago in Ireland in modern Sydney, it is worth remembering that many, many Irish emigrated to Australia particularly during or soon after the famine. This means that the Irish Famine is, in a sense, part of Australian history as well.
Moreover, the Irish Famine wrought such devastation that it must be remembered. We should never forget that an estimated 1 million people lost their lives and a further 1 million emigrated and what a loss of that magnitude meant for the Irish people…those who left and also those who stayed behind. The politics behind the Famine is also something we should keep in mind because unless we learn from the dire lessons of the past, history will repeat itself and many, many will endure perhaps preventable suffering.
While I grew up as an Australian understanding that my Dad’s Curtin family had emigrated due to the potato famine, that was a simplistic view. The causes of the Irish Famine were much more complex than the potato blight itself and certainly our family didn’t emigrate until the tail end of the famine, or even a few years after the famine had “ended”. This is interesting food for thought and I can’t help thinking the Australian Gold rushes also attracted its share of struggling Irish searching for their pot of gold at what must have seemed like the end of a very long rainbow.
While I recommend visiting the Memorial in person, the Irish Famine Memorial’s website also provides helpful background information about the Irish Orphan Girls and the Irish Famine Memorial. It includes a searchable database you can find out if you, like me, can claim an Irish Orphan girl. There are over 4,000 up for grabs and the good news is that you don’t even have to feed them.You have a better chance than winning Lotto!
You can click here to access the web site: Mmhttp://www.irishfaminememorial.org/en/
About the Monument
Although I have visited the monument a couple of times, I have learned so much more about it since deciding to write this post.
The Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852) is located at the Hyde Park Barracks, on Macquarie Street, Sydney, Australia. It was designed by Angela & Hossein Valamanesh (artists) & Paul Carter (soundscape). I must admit that I didn’t notice the soundscape on my visits and I missed much of the detail and symbolism in the monument itself. My attention at the time was focused on the list of names etched into the glass and finding out that Bridget Donovan, as usual, was missing…lost, silent. The artists had selected 400 names to represent the over 4,000 Irish orphan girls so you had to be lucky for your girl to be chosen. However, the artists had chosen the girls above and below Bridget on the shipping list and had left Bridget out. I swear it is like Bridget has activated some kind of privacy block from the grave. “Leave me alone”. She really doesn’t want to be found.
The web site provides a detailed explanation of the monument:
“On the internal side of the wall, the long table represents the institutional side of things. There is a plate, a spoon and a place to sit on a three legged stool. There are also a couple of books including a Bible, and a little sewing basket. In contrast, on the other side, is the continuation of the same table, but much smaller in scale. There sits the bowl which is hollow and actually cannot hold anything, representing lack of food and lack of possibilities. There is also the potato digging shovel, called a loy, leaning against the wall near a shelf containing some potatoes. The selection of 400 names, some of which fade, also indicates some of the girls who are lost to history and memory.”
Anyway, even if you can’t claim Irish blood, the Irish famine Memorial is certainly worth a visit and you can check out the Hyde Park Barracks Museum while you are there.
While St Patrick’s Day is usually the day when we celebrate all things Irish, we had a special Irish celebration of our own tonight. You see, we celebrated the 160th anniversary since our ancestor John Curtin arrived in Sydney onboard the Scotia on the 4th April, 1854. He was an Able Seaman and worked on board as part of the ship’s crew.
Not only did we celebrate his journey from Cork to Sydney, we also celebrated the end of a quest because it’s taken our family well over 30years to find the record of John Curtin’s arrival in Sydney. It’s been quite a frustrating business not just because we wanted to know more about how we arrived here but also because knowing when your ancestor came out to Australia is one of the very basics of family history research. If you want your research findings to have any kind of credibility at all, you need to know when you’re ancestor came out. That’s just basic, simple Simon stuff and we couldn’t find him. It was yet another gap and it certainly detracted from researching the Curtin family. I had other branches of the family history which were bursting with fruit. I didn’t need to waste my time with such a barren stump. I moved on yet there was always this nagging gap. How did John Curtin get to Australia?
Although we have quite an assortment of ancestors who have come from Ireland, Germany, Scotland, England, we haven’t celebrated any other arrival in quite this way, although we did take the kids down to Hahndorf in South Australia last year to see where my grandfather was from. He was a Haebich as in Haebich Cottage and his father, grandfather and great grandfather had all been blacksmiths in town. We have also taken the kids to London Bridge, near Queanbeyan to see where my great grandmother came from . You could say that I’m addicted to family history and I want to share this love with the kids and also give them a sense of who they are and our family’s heritage or story.
Anyway, we have been looking for John Curtin’s arrival since 1984 and I only found it two weeks ago. I’d really given up any hope of ever finding his arrival and we’d pretty much decided that he’d come out as crew and we were never going to be able to find him because the lists are all about passengers, especially assisted immigrants.
All good things come to she who waits. Well, actually they come to she who never gives up because I decided to have yet another look and fortunately some very nice people have been transcribing the shipping lists and low and behold they have actually added the crew! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! So when it came to actually finding John Curtin now, it only took seconds along with a few minutes for me to do the maths. Because there is such little detail about this John Curtin, we can’t be entirely sure that he’s ours but cross-references work out and it’s good enough.
Anyway, as I was doing my research, I realized that we were rapidly coming up to the 160th anniversary of his arrival and I wanted to do something special to celebrate. Ideally, I would have got my Dad’s family together. However, we didn’t have enough notice and now our family is fighting off a chest cold so we’re in no position to socialize. We’re actually wearing face masks round the house as a chest infection could really be bad news for my lungs and in general as my immunity has been repressed to contain my auto-immune disease.
So that’s a little bit of background to our Irish night.
I decided to have an Irish-Australian menu. So we had Irish Stew served with buttered Irish Soda Bread followed by Pavlova for dessert. I printed off the Irish Blessing and we said that together in lieu of grace. Of course, we needed a bit of Irish music so we put on Riverdance. I also put on a bit of a slide show of images of Cork City and Sydney dating from 1854.
I really recommend you do something similar to share your cultural heritage with your children. In the past, Australia has been a bit closed to cultural diversity and we needed to assimilate but now we can bring all our assorted ancestors out of the closet and celebrate who they were and indeed what is a part of ourselves…our very flesh and blood as well as our cultural heritage.
Here’s our menu from tonight:
I have always understood that the pavlova, named after the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, was created by Australian chef Bert Sachse from the Esplanade Hotel in Perth and prepared for her while on tour.
However, like most great things which are considered uniquely and indisputably Australian, there’s often a foreign element. Hey, even Vegemite and the Australian Women’s Weekly are foreign owned. So it also appears that the Kiwis (AKA New Zealanders) are trying to take over our pav. Is nothing sacred?!! That said, a pav just isn’t a pav without kiwi fruit on top so I reluctantly got to give the kiwis a bit of credit.
This recipe comes from Margaret Fulton who, now aged in her 90s, has to be considered the Grandmother of Australian cooking. I grew up cooking from her cookbooks as a child and even though we have never met, she feels like some kind of surrogate cooking Supergran and I’m sure most Australian women would feel much the same. So much more than a name, she’s part of the family, albeit on the shelf.
This pavlova is my signature dish. It is relatively simple but I always receive gushing praise and have somehow become the “Pavlova Queen”.. With its crisp crunchy crust and soft marshmallow interior, it’s amazing and I find so many people truly love pavlova and nothing compares to the classic home made version. It almost makes everybody deliriously happy.
6 egg whites at room temperature
Pinch of salt
2 cups caster sugar
1.5 teas vanilla
1.5 teas vinegar
Pre-heat oven. There is quite a difference in settings depending on whether you are baking the pavlova in a gas or electric oven. If you are using electric, pre=heat the oven to a slow 150° C (300°F). If you are using gas, preheat it to a very hot 230°C (450°F).
Grease tray. I use a pizza tray covered in foil and spray it with canola.
Separate egg whites into glasses and transfer each egg white to the main bowl in case a bit of yolk slips through the net. You don’t want to waste the lot!
Beat egg whites at high speed until soft peaks form.
Add sugar one tablespoon at a time beating well after each addition.
Stop beating after all the sugar has been incorporated.
Fold in vanilla and vinegar.
Pile mixture onto the tray and swirl it around creating attractive curls.
Cooking instructions vary depending on what type of oven you have. If using an electric oven, put the pavlova in and bake for 45 minutes and then turn the oven off and leave it in there for 1 hour. If using a gas oven, turn heat to the lowest temperature. Put the pavlova in and bake 1.5 hours or until crisp on top and a pale straw colour.
When pavlova is cooked, remove from the oven and cool completely.
Now you essentially drown the pavlova in cream. You can either buy the tubs of very thick cream which you can pour straight onto the pavlova or you can whip some cream up yourself. We always add a bit of icing sugar and vanilla to our whipped cream. Just to make the pavlova healthy, despite all that sugar and cream.
Top the cream with fresh fruit which is typically slices of kiwi fruit , banana and strawberries along with some passion fruit. My sister-in-law used frozen raspberries, defrosted of course, and these went very well with it as well. She actually put the raspberries underneath the cream and that looked very good.
Pavlova is best made the day before and it’s not something you can easily squeeze into the oven in between cooking other things what with juggling oven temperatures and it needing a slow oven. I have been making this pavlova for many years and haven’t had a flop until recently and I think that’s from trying to cook it straight after having the oven hot for something else.
Rowena Newton based on a recipe from taste.com.au
¼ Cup plain flour
1.25kg lamb chops, trim off fat.
¼ cup olive oil
1 brown onion finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 carrots, sliced
1 kg desiree potatoes, cut into 2 cm pieces
6 cups of beef stock
Thyme sprigs to serve
1) Wash, peel and dice potatoes and wash and slice carrots and put aside.
2) Finely cut onion.
3) Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large heavy frying pan on medium heat and when bubbling add onion and thyme leaves. Cook stirring for 3 or 4 minutes or until tender and transfer to a bowl.
4) Place flour and chops in a bag. Shake until chops are coated.
5) Increase heat to high. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in pan. Add half the chops. Cook for two minutes on each side and transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining oil and chops.
6) Leave half the chops on the bottom and cover with half the onion mix, half the potatoes and carrots and then cover with the remaining chops and cover these with the remaining onion mix, potatoes and carrots.
7) Pour over stock.
8) Bring to the boil, skimming off fat where necessary. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour 30 minutes.
9) Remove lid and simmer until sauce has thickened to desired consistency. I ended up simmering it for at least an hour and the sauce became more of a gravy, which we preferred to a watery soup.
10) Serve with buttered slices of Irish soda bread straight from the oven.
Irish Soda Bread
This recipe comes from Katherine and I apologise for pilfering her recipe but I have translated it into Australian and will give her credit when I’ve found her site again.
I’ve never tried authentic Irish soda bread so I have no idea what it’s supposed to be like. Unfortunately when I made this for our special Irish celebration tonight, I was rushing to get the pavlova into the oven and as a result neither were cooked properly. When I sliced into the bread, it was still raw in the middle and because the pavlova was now cooking in a very slow oven, I had to use the microwave to finish the job off and nuked it for 5 minutes. No doubt, I would have been tried for murder in Ireland for committing such a crime but the bread seemed to recover and went well with our Irish stew. The family all enjoyed it whether it was authentic or not.
Although I haven’t tried the real thing, I did a Google search and found what looked like a fairly authentic recipe which had quite a preamble initiating the uninitiated into the fine art or is that complications of making the real deal. All these warnings and specifications did make me feel rather wary about taking on the great Irish Soda Bread challenge. There seemed to be so many things to go wrong and this dough really does seem very fussy and demanding compared to throwing everything into the breadmaker or simply buying a loaf of bread at the supermarket. But there’s nothing like making your own bread and wanting to have an authentic Irish night, I had to have a go.
There are a few things to watch out for:
1) Irish flour is soft and low in gluten so the bread will have a different consistency when other flours are used.. If you can’t get Irish flour, use unbleached flour or Plain Flour. Do not use bread flour. It is very high in gluten and simply will not work in bread which do not use yeast.
2) NO Kneading and only use a light touch to mix the dough ie use your fingers rather than your full hand to mix the dough.
3) Work fast and get the dough into a hot oven the minute the dough is shaped. The reaction between the bi-carb and the buttermilk starts as soon as the two ingredients meet and you want that happening while the bread is cooking. Wait too long, and your bread won’t rise
4 cups Irish white flour or plain flour
½ teas Bicarb soda
½ teas Salt
2 cups unhomogenised Buttermilk
Pre-heat oven to 230 degrees C . Wait until oven is hot before you add the bread.
Sift flour, bicarb soda and salt into a large bowl and mix.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in about 2/3 of the milk. Quickly and with a light touch bring the flour in from the sides and mix with the milk, until al the ingredients come together into a dough. Use your hands for this, never use a spoon or mixer.
It is impossible to be exact about the amount of buttermilk needed, it will depend on the nature of the flour. The dough should not be sticky and should come together into one lump of of soft, slightly floppy dough.
Once the dough had come together, do not knead it. Simply place it on a floured board and rub flour into your hands so they are perfectly dry and shape the dough into a flat round which is about 5 cm thick.
Place on a baking tray. Dust the handle of a wooden spoon with flour and press into the dough to form a cross. This gives the bread its tradition cross-shape and also helps the bread to cook through more easily, although I have read that this is to let the fairies out. This process should only take 5 minutes and you need to get the bread in the oven immediately. Quick. On your marks. Get set! Go!
Set timer for 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 200 degrees C The initial high temperature ensures a good crust. Set timer for a further 20 minutes and take the bread out and knock on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it’s done. If not, pop it back in the oven for a further 5-10 minutes and check again.
This bread should be eaten on the day that it’s made which shouldn’t be a problem. It also makes good toast.
Cook your pavlova well before bake your bread. Pavlova might be a dessert but it needs an hour to rest in the oven after cooking for you do need to allow quite a bit of extra cooking time and the pavlova didn’t like me mucking around with the oven temperatures either. I am known for my pavlovas which have a deliciously crunchy crust with soft marshmallow inside. This pavlova decided to be fussy and it had no crunch at all and was pure marshmallow which still tasted great but it wasn’t the same.