Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Riff on an Irish Cocktail

This is my riff on  The Giants' Gate Cocktail created by a renowned mixology expert and bartender, Max La Rocca. I made it last week when The Sisters of Mercy (Angela, Stacia & I) were cooking for cohousing. Call this version The Idiots Guide to the Giant’s Gate Cocktail.
To show that I favour neither south nor north, I have included both whiskies as options. Sabrina, Andreas & I did the required research to determine that both were excellent.
Bushmills is a distillery in the north, and Guinness is a brewery in the south, but both are currently owned by the same company: Diageo , and both feature in this cocktail that debuted in 2010. The initial idea was to celebrate the 250 years of Guinness Brewery and the 400 years of Bushmills Distillery.Politics may divide, but perhaps a cocktail can unite. 

Max has more creations at: Listen to the Ice. As he says: Dream, Breathe, and Go Slow.
I have done the North American math for you, and have also adapted the quantities a bit to suit the particularities of my palate. You might like Max's version best. After all, he is the expert. Try both.

To do

Irish whiskey-soaked raisins for garnish
Soak the night before, and have on hand for other uses – great in Xmas tarts. Make more than you think you will need. They seem to evaporate. They don’t go bad.
Chilled martini glasses

1 oz
1 oz
1 oz

Rinse the glasses with the stout. Now, this presents a dilemma. What to do with the other 13 oz? Not a problem. A sensible person knows what to do. Kilkenny also works well.
Crush them and toss into the cocktail shaker.
1 ½ oz
1 oz
1/2 oz
Freshly squeezed lime juice
Cover the cardamom pods with the lime juice, and muddle them. I use the end of a wooden spoon, not having a real muddler.
Ice cubes
Add enough to fill about half of the cocktail shaker.
4 ½ oz
3 oz
1 1/2 oz

Add. The quality of the whiskey is what matters most. It may be heresy, and does wreck the theory behind the drink, but Jameson Select Reserve is a worthy substitute if it is what you have on hand (and you should). Black Bush is good too. We have tried all variations.
1 oz
½ oz
1/3 oz
Add. I use less than what Max suggests, but I prefer a slightly tarter finish. I add more to my husband’s drink.

Shake it up baby!
1 ½ oz
1 oz
½ oz
The finishing touch. Max La Rocca suggests a little combination of citrus juice and egg white in order to achieve a beautiful silky froth on top that will remind the drinker of the nice beer head one gets from a refreshing pint of Guinness. I don’t get that fancy. I just whip the egg whites with a milk frother, and either drizzle it on top, or even just add it to the cocktail shaker for one last shake before pouring.

Garnish with the raisins.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Urker Lodge

Thomas Jackson (1841-1915) aka TJ, a farmer’s son from the parish of Creggan, Co. Armagh was knighted because of his contributions to banking and philanthropy made while he was working in Hong Kong. As a child, he spent most of his growing up years at Urker Lodge in the parish of Creggan, Co. Armagh. His family lived there at his grandmother’s house, and his father ran the family farm. Because of the photos of this house which we have from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it is easy to get tricked into thinking that the Jackson family home was much larger and grander than it actually was when he was growing up.
The view from the road beneath looking up at the south and east facing sides of Urker Lodge.
 There are a number of ways to try to get a feel for the size and quality of Urker Lodge, but there is not a single method that is totally satisfactory. Significant changes to the buildings were made in the late 19th and then again in the late 20th century. The property also changed hands a few times.
In the mid-1970s, the house and land were sold to a buyer whose main interest was for the purposes of farming. No one has lived at Urker Lodge since that sale, although some of the rooms above the stables appear to have been used either as a shabeen or as an IRA meeting place. The placement of the land, close to the border, and with two viable exits makes it suitable for either, so neither of these uses would be surprising. It also seems that the risks of living in Bandit Country as well as the effects of the regional economic downturn, was effective in dissuading new tenants. Since then, the main roof of the house has fallen in, and the buildings are all in ruins.
Pictures from the early 1970’s when Urker Lodge was the family home of Michael and Christine Wright and their children are helpful for getting a better feel for the place as a home:

Photo Credit: Christine Wright.
In the late 1960s, when Christine Wright was overseeing significant alterations and additions to Urker Lodge, she found grain between the floorboards on the second floor of the existing house. This seems to indicate that at some point in the earlier life of the building, that the upper floor had been used for hay and other feed storage. Another clue is that she found an archway that had been built over, the same kind of archway used for stables.
This leads me to suspect that in the early 1800s when Urker was first being used by the Jacksons, the family home was likely not much more than a thatched bungalow, typical for the time and place. It is also probable that the building had an earlier life as an outbuilding for livestock, either cows or horses. Significant additions would have been built after this, but the first lot of them were probably done before 1864. Even so, most family members agree that the Urker Lodge of TJ’s childhood was a far cry from the house that had 7 rooms, with 13 windows out front as well as 19 outbuildings - as enumerated in the 1901 census.
One way to get a bit of a fix on the size of the home is to compare the valuation of Urker Lodge and its outbuildings with other valuations in similar townlands. Details from family letters add to what we know, and help us to compare Urker Lodge with other family homes.
For example, TJ’s aunt, Mary Jane Oliver, lived with her Aunts Mary Bradford and Barbara Donaldson, at Cavananore. In 1864, the Cavananore house and outbuildings were valued at £23.0.0, at a time when Urker’s buildings were only valued at £9.0.0. On the other hand, Killynure, a single-story cottage where TJ’s mother was born and raised, was worth even less than Urker: £6.0.0. Because the value of the outbuildings are lumped in with the value of the house in the 1864 valuations, one has to be careful not to jump to too many conclusions about the size and condition of the dwelling spaces, but evidence suggests that the family home at Urker Lodge had already gained a 2nd story by 1864, and also that its outbuildings were not as extensive as those at Cavananore.
In order to envision this, it helps to start with the layout of the buildings as they were surveyed in the 1864 Griffiths Valuations. I have made a schematic of the layout from the digital maps available on line:

The numbers correspond to photos posted on my web site.

This map was the basis for my schematic.

Beneath is the earliest photo we have so far of any part of Urker Lodge, even though the buildings are only visible as a backdrop. It was taken within a year or two of 1890.

Photo Credit: Gika Jackson.
This photo provides a few clues. Firstly, there is a noticeable change in the roof tile. This indicates at very least a reroofing, but more likely an addition. This change in roof tile lines up with one of the walls of the greenhouse. We can situate where this greenhouse was because the window placement matches nicely with the two lower windows visible in a photo taken in 2010. The outline of the wooden frame on the extreme left in the 2010 photo is also a match with the placement of the greenhouse in the photo above. Since the 1864 map indicates that there was no building on this corner of the lot, this section of the building was most likely a post-1864 addition, and most likely funded by money that TJ sent home. Another clue to the date of the addition is that there also seems to be less lichen on the roof tiles above it.
The framing for the old greenhouse is to the left, and the windows shown in the 1890 photo are in the middle. Photo Credit: Ian Jackson.
By the time of the 1901 Census, Urker was rated as a 1st class building according to the valuation point system. Even so, this 1st class building still did not have an indoor toilet or any other running water other than the outdoor pump, nor were there the amenities of either electricity, or natural gas. None of those amenities were available in the region until half a century later.
By 1901, Cavananore, which had been valued more highly than Urker in the 1864 valuation, now had less of everything compared to Urker. It only had 4 rooms with 5 windows in front and 17 outbuildings, and was classed as a 2nd class residence. Even though this seems to indicate that Cavananore had less than Urker, I am hesitating to jump to conclusions. Ten years later, Urker seems to have shrunk more than seems credible. It now has only 4 rooms instead of 7, with 8 windows in front instead of 13. The assessments in the revision books don’t reflect this change, so it is hard to say what happened here.
This may be as far as we will ever get with all this. In the New Year, Christine Wright, who is an artist as well as a previous resident of Urker, is going to do some sketches of what she can recall of the interiors as she found them before the renovations. This will be exceedingly helpful. I have also assembled a page on my website of Urker Lodge photos taken by myself and Ian Jackson when the buildings were in ruins. If anyone reading this can add to the stories of Urker Lodge, I am all ears.