Six ways with mackerel

The mackerel were more plentiful this year than last year although there were a couple of times during our second week in Ahakista when I had to rely on the kindness of men coming in on the pier with their buckets rather than my own skill with a hook and line off Owen island.

Our first day there was a Friday. 

We had arrived six hours late having been held up for two hours on the motorway five minutes drive from home. The hold up was caused by a man on a bridge threatening to throw himself off. It was an interesting experience being stationary on the motorway for that length of time. We could see what was happening and it was clear there was no danger that the traffic would suddenly start moving. Both carriageways were closed and as we waited people got out of their cars to sit in the sun on the empty carriageway across from us enjoying the silence. Conversations were started up and it was easy to imagine slight strange off kilter relationships being formed as we watched the man on the bridge two hundred yards in front of us. 

He was talked off after an hour but there was another long wait before we started moving the first sound being the roar of the motorbikes that had been able to make their way to the front of the queue.

As a result of the delay we missed the ferry we were due to catch from Holyhead to 8.00 in the evening. There was another at 3.00 in the morning and we got that instead. During the wait in Holyhead we had a Mike Leigh like meal in a curry house called Taste of India and bedded down in the car for a couple of hours the first in the queue to get on.

We should have arrived in Ahakista at 4.00 in the morning which would have given me time to get to Bantry Market and a pint at Ma Murphys. With the delay we did not get there until 10.30 and I had to forgo my pint. But the sun was shining and in the afternoon I caught 8 good-sized mackerel from the kayak. We ate them that evening. The fillets were fried quickly in a pan and eaten on toast.

On Saturday I walked up the pier to talk to Tommy after a year away. His boat had just come in and he was loading a crate of small crab into the back of his van. As we talked he asked if I would like some. They were velvet crab and I said I would take a few and try them for lunch. I cooked them for a few minutes in a pan of boiling sea water and we pulled them apart with our fingers. There wasn’t much meat inside of them but what we could find was good and sweet.

The following day, Sunday, I caught another 8 mackerel from almost the same spot. I had gone out in the early morning so we had them for lunch on the barbeque. I cooked them whole the skin black and crisp from the heat protecting the white meat. There is no better way to cook fresh mackerel than over an open flame.

Two days later I caught another bucketful and we had these raw as part of a mackerel tartare.

I had made mackerel tartare the previous year and was determined to do it again. this time I would make sure I skinned all of the fillets. It took me a few fillets to work out how best to do it. I held them down with my fingers at the thin tail end and then used a long sharp knife to nick down to the skin. It was then a matter of keeping the knife as flat to the chopping board as I could running it along so that the skin was left behind. The skin went to the birds. The skinned fillets were chopped with a handful each of gherkins and capers. I then stirred in some chopped cucumber which had been skinned and seeded and cured briefly in a mixture of salt and pepper. It was seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and bit of chopped dill.

We ate it for the lunch with pieces of thin toast.

Two days later I used another bucketful of mackerel to make an approximation of kedgeree. I had to dust down and give a wipe to the smoker which was on a back shelf in the garage. It worked as well as I remembered and once it was going the fillets of mackerel took only a few minutes to cook.

They were smoked with their skin on but I peeled the skin off before stirring the fillets gently into a large pan of curried onions and cooked rice. Any juices that were left over from the mackerel were poured over the finished dish.

We ate it sat by a fire on the beach watching out for shooting stars.

I cured the next haul of mackerel. The recipe was taken from a book of Lisbon cooking I was given earlier this year. I made up a mixture of salt and sugar which was flavoured with some fronds of fennel. Half of this was scattered on a metal tray. Skinned fillets of mackerel went on to and were then covered with the rest of the salt and sugar mixture.

This was left to macerate for 30 minutes or so. I then washed off the salt and pepper and we ate the fillets chopped into a tomato salad.

These were the last of the mackerel we caught. For the rest of the last week we were reliant on the kindness of men on the pier. 

It was a matter of waiting for a boat to come in and then walking up the pier to look and ask what they had caught. If there were too many in their bucket there was was always a chance of an offer to take some off them – particularly if I was able to get in the conversation the lack of luck we had had when out fishing.

I got four good mackerel this way one morning and this time gave them a longer cure. The recipe came from a faded photocopied page from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book of fish cooking which I brought to the Cottage some 15 years ago when I first started to think about putting a collection of mackerel recipes together. 

The salt and sugar mixture was much the same as I used last time but more ground black pepper was added together with a good handful of chopped dill. I cured the mackerel in an old sweet box that may have added another layer of sweetness to the cure. It went into the fridge for a day.

We ate the mackerel outside in the sun with the bounty from a trip to Bantry market. the longer cure had tightened the fillets of fish up and they had taken on a greater layer of sweetness. The only complaint was my failure to debone all of the fillets.

Doing without water

Most of last nights post was written five years ago as we received news from another family who had to spend 7 days in the Cottage without water because of a hole in the pipe from the well to the Cottage.

This year we spent the best part of two weeks in the Cottage without water. Following two months without rain in June and July the well really had run dry. When Jim the pump man testing the depth, with a long length of rope with a spanner on the end, he reported there was only 10 foot of muddy water down there when it should be at least 50.

A good two weeks of rain was needed to sort it all out. Although it did rain whilst we were there it was mostly soft low cloud and it it rarely came down hard enough to fill anything.

In the meantime there was no running water, no showers and no flushing.

Buckets of sea water were brought in for flushing purposes and we made use of the tap on the pier for anything else. There wasn’t much washing done and we relied on the fresh air and the sea,

Halfway through the two weeks I tried to give myself a clean in the orchard. I had two large bottles of water that had been warming in the sun. I took my glasses off and having positioned myself well out of sight of the road I stripped off and sluiced myself down with soap and the warm water. Halfway through the process I realised that whilst I was out of sight of the road I was in full view of anyone who might have been walking back down the pier. Fortunately with my glasses off there was no easy way to tell if anyone was there so I carried on.

Towards the end of the two weeks Jim rigged up a temporary solution to try replenish the well by connecting a blue hose to a  cattle trough somewhere up the hill behind the orchard.


It worked!

The difference between shovels and spades

We all knew we were going to be without water for a few days.

There was plenty round the corner in the sea but nothing coming out of the tap. The well had run dry and try as we might and no matter what buttons we pressed there was nothing coming out. If we turned a tap on there was a conciliatory grunt of air but nothing further. The water was done.

It took a breakfast and its dirty dishes for us to start missing it. The smell of milk could not be scrubbed away with hot water from the sea. It needed hot fresh water and soapy suds.

The pump in the orchard was working and Joseph Holland had shown us the screw to turn that sent water gushing our around our feet as we stood by it. The water was coming out of the ground but it wasn’t making it the few hundred yards from the pump to the Cottage.

Having talked it over in the pub we had called the number on the big sign on a wall on the drive through Drimoleague

Harte Bros Water Divining

& Well Boring established 1929

The diviner’s hand patted the air as he spoke. He had a pitched voice.

‘We’ll need a feckin’ hole’ he said looking at the distance between the pump house and the Cottage.

‘A feckin’ long hole. If we dig enough we’ll find the leak and then we can patch it up. We may not need to punch you a new well. Digging holes is the best way to do it.’

‘There was a man thought he could do it with food dye. He had more water than he knew what to do with coming out of his well. It was like a feckin’ great fountain so tall it went into the air. All he needed was one of those stone statues and he could have made something of his garden. But as soon as he connected the pump to the pipe to take the water to the house the water disappeared. So he should have dug a hole. But this man the feck didn’t want holes in his garden he had enough of that with the moles and their little black mounds on his green lawn. So he put a pot of purple food dye into the water to see where it came out. Well all of his pipe was fecked and the water was leaking all over his garden and in a week all his green grass he was so proud of had turned purple. And we still had to dig up his lawn to find the leak.’

‘So we’ll dig you a hole and we’ll find you your leak.’

He paused and looked at the ground.

‘And don’t you be thinking that I will be walking up and down here holding some sort of forked stick.’

‘They did a test with diviners. Put pipes with water in under a field and sent them out with their sticks and they walked up and down and dug holes to find where the water was. Then they covered up those holes and they sent some other men into the same field and just told them to dig some holes to see if they could find any water. Well the men who just went into the field to dig and carried no sticks with them found as much water as the men with their forked sticks. So why feckin’ bother I said to myself. Why carry a stick and try and pretend I know what I am doing when all I have to do is dig some holes to find water. A diviner see is a man who finds water. Well I find water by digging holes.’

‘So let us go to the pub and have a pint and see if there is a man there with a digger and we can start at the digging.


The talk in the pub cheered considerably when news got out that we had no water in the Cottage. It only took the one visit and a quick conversation at the bar with the diviner whose name I had not managed to catch and it appeared that everybody knew there was a problem. And it was one they could contribute to and it was on the doorstep so if a site visit was needed it could be done whilst another pint was being poured.

The first surprise was that we actually drank the water. There were one or two who had assumed that I managed get by on a solid diet of Murphys but then the concern shifted to the fact that we would put the clear stuff that came out of the tap and drink it and sometimes make a cup of tea out of it.

‘But feck it is filthy stuff straight out of the tap. Do you not do anything to clean it? How deep is your well? It it isn’t more than a hundred or so feet down there’s more piss than water that’ll be down there. Have you not counted the cows on the hills here?’

‘Before it comes out of your tap it has been there down in the ground and feck alone knows how long it has been there gathering dust. What does it taste like? Does it not have a colour to it? Some of the houses here they have a filter for the water so it is clean before you have a bath or use it to flush your toilet. Feck alone knows why you need clean water for that but there is some that don’t like to flush with dirty water. And you can’t get a good soap up unless the water has been cleaned.’

I thought of the water that came out of the tap in the Cottage. It has a thick brackish taste to it sometimes and it can be cloudy, almost ruddy, in a clear glass, but that normally clears after a minute or so. We have been drinking it for fifteen years now and still seem to be doing okay. But that was when it was coming out of the tap.

‘If it isn’t coming out the tap that’ll be a leak. And for a leak you will need to dig some holes. It’ll be a long pipe you have there so have you got a good shovel in your garage?’


Six men stood in the road including myself. We all stood there hands in our pockets looking down at the tarmac. The sky was bright and sunny and all the activity on the pier had shifted to the hundred or so yards between the low pump house and the Cottage. That activity was now focussed on the road that separated the Cottage from the orchard where the pump house was situated and the length of pipe that must run underneath it.

Having taken advice in the pub a series of holes had been dug. There were five of them running down the orchard and one across the road by the Cottage. Each of them had revealed a length of the black pipe that run from the pump and there was no sign of a leak.

There had been some debate as to exactly where the holes should be dug.

Some of the men thought there should be some science to it and so they suggested stamping at the ground with their feet. Tom Cronin said that if it sounded hollow with the ground being so dry that was a sure sign that there was the leak. So there was a stamping of feet and one of the men told Tom Cronin he was a feckin’ fool as all of the clumping sounded hollow to him and there was nothing to it but to dig some feckin’ holes.

We looked at the diviner but he just shrugged his shoulders and patted the air with his hands and told us to dig where we thought best and if we found the leak then there it was.

With that advice in our ears I was asked for a shovel. I fetched one from the garage and gave it to the man.

‘That’s not a shovel’ he said. ‘That’s a feckin spade you’ve given me. You can’t dig a hole with a spade. A shovel has a point you see. A spade you can use for digging potatoes but you need a shovel for digging holes.’

There was some delay whilst some shovels were found and we then set about digging the holes. There were done in a couple of hours but there was no sign of a leak.

There was a pause then for some further talk and as it was warm we took that talk in the pub. The pipe ran under the road to the Cottage and so the next place to dig was outside the Cottage near where the pipe ran in. There was concrete there and one of the men mentioned that his cousin had a small digger that would go through the concrete if he gave him a call he would have it on the pier whilst we finished off the next pint.

Twenty minutes later we stood by the Cottage and watched as the small digger tore at a patch of concrete. The pipe ran just under the surface but it was dry there as well.

Tom Cronin had the answer now and he pointed to the road. ‘There’s the leak he said. It’s in the feckin’ road. Look we’ll dig it up now and we’ll have your water back soon enough.’

I tried to suggest that perhaps we should not be digging holes in the main road up the peninsula.

‘You’ll need to wait for the council then’ he said. ‘If you wait for them you’ll have no feckin’ water for a year. Look any car coming down for the next hour we can turn it back and they can take the back road. The digger here will have the road up quickly enough and we’ll find your leak and then we’ll put the road back again and it’ll be no worse than any other part of it.’

I baulked at digging up the road even if it came with the promise of clean fresh water in the Cottage after more than a week without. Although Cork and its council felt a long way away I was sure they would come knocking if we started digging at the road.

‘Can we not pull at the pipe?’ I said.

Tom Cronin bent down then and took the black pipe is hand and gave it a hard yank. It came out loose in his hand. He pulled hard at it again and the rest of it came out a few drops of water spilling out of the end.

He scurried across the road and pulled out the other half. More water spilled out of that end. So we had the pipe in half, one piece each side of the road.

‘We have it. We have it!’ he cried. ‘There’s the feckin’ leak. It lies under the road and now all we need do is dig it up and put it together.’








Four days in Genoa

The original intention behind our booking a few days holiday in Genoa was to get access to some sun and to eat good food. To this end the apartment we booked ourselves into had the benefit of a sun terrace and before the weather forecasts started to come in the week before we left there had been talk of bikinis being packed. The weather forecasts were for unrelenting rain.

For once the forecasts were correct and apart from the evening we arrived and the afternoon we left there was very little blue sky and sun. The intervening days were characterised by grey skies, cool air and rain which went from damp drizzle to torrential downpour that turned the streets into rivers.

It was a a good job that the food was so good.

Some of the highlights:-

  • for lunch our first full day we spent 45 minutes pounding a few street corners down by the port area looking for a small hole in the wall place that did the best fried fish and glass of white wine in Genoa, Friggitoria Carega on Via di Sottoripa. It was only towards the end of those 45 minutes that it occurred to me it was a Monday lunchtime and the fishing boats would still be out after the weekend and it would be another few hours before fresh fish would be available. It was open two days later when we walked past and we had been standing outside its shuttered front wondering how it was we could not find it when all our maps told us we were there. We never got to eat their fried fish.


  • Via di Sottoripa was an old covered street that ran parallel to the port area. It looked and felt much as it must have done two, three, four hundred years ago. Hole in the wall places to eat under the arches and gaggles of young men eyeing up the passers-by.


  • that evening we booked ourselves into a restaurant down by the old port district, Antica Osteria di Vico Palla. We had gone in to book the table mid-afternoon and it looked closed up for the season, lights off and chairs on the tables. By the time we got there 8.00 o’clock in the evening the chairs were back on the floor and all the tables were full. One of the two Men Behaving Badly was sat across the room from us. The menu was all in Italian and written on the blackboard propped against the wall. Apparently I looked flustered as we sat down and the bearded waiter offered me water. I shook my head and instead he brought us the first of a number of carafes of white wine that we went through. We were struggling with the menu until the bearded waiter came to translate. Of course we then struggled to keep up. Seeing our bemusement he offered to bring us some plates of fried fish whilst we made up our minds. Along with the fried fish we also got a plate made up with slices from a variety of savoury tarts. After that I tried to order a soup of anchovies and tomatoes but some how ended up ordering a squid, spinach a chickpea stew. I think I had started off by trying to order both but the bearded waiter was concerned that my eyes were bigger than my stomach. It was very good. On ordering a glass of grappa at the end of the meal two bottles were plonked in front of me together with an empty shot glass and so far as I could tell I was invited to help myself. One was clear and one was a pale yellow. The yellow one was better. The meal finished with much joking around the proper pronunciation for requesting the bill with the bearded waiter taking great delight in introducing one of his fellow waiters as “il conto”.


  • the next evening we went to a place called Osteria dell’Acciughetta for what was probably the best meal of the break. This was a small restaurant further up fromVia di Sottoripa on Via del Pre – another small narrow street that had something medieval about it. This time I was able to order the full three courses, going through a plate of ceviche, a serving of jet back spaghetti with squid and finishing with roasted octopus with tomatoes. Our waiter described herself as the owner and every time she came to the table talk spilled out of her. Towards the end of the meal the young chef came of the kitchen to say hello to some of the tables left sitting. There was a certain amount of “are they or aren’t they” with the conclusion being that they are. This time when  ordered a glass of grappa it was poured into a delicately fluted glass and the bottle was kept well away from me. The grappa and the inevitable limoncello that was had by the rest of the table were on the house.


  • the following day we had lunch in a place called Spaghetteria Etc…in a very wet Camogli half an hour by train down the coast. Spaghetteria Etc…did exactly what it said on the sign. There were about 24 different ways of eating spaghetti on the menu. Inside the restaurant there were three or four other tables finishing their lunch some of whom wanted to pay. There were six of us ordering six different spaghetti combinations. Looking around it quickly became apparent that there was just the one woman who was running the place. From where I sat I could see into the kitchen. The first thing she did having taken our order was open a large bag of spaghetti and tip its contents into a pan of water that must have already have been boiling. She then put half a dozen large flat pans on to heat. As they heated she came out of the kitchen to sort out the bills for the tables that wanted to pay. There were complications as the card machine was not working and one of the tables had to find the cash to pay. In between sorting these things out the woman popped calmly back into the kitchen to attend to the pans. Olive oil was heated and ingredients were taken out of small plastic containers and warmed through. The pans were shaken. The cash was collected and the bill paid and in-between time another couple of tables were filled and the orders taken. Drinks were brought to our table and eggs broken into a jug for those having carbonara. The pasta was drained and our table’s food came together just over 10 minutes after the order was taken. Through it all the woman worked with calm half smiling efficiency ignoring the fuss made over the need for cash to be found to pay the bill and always with her mind on how many more minutes were needed for the spaghetti and what needed to be done so as to ensure nothing was burnt in the flat pans. I had spaghetti with anchovies and bread crumbs.


  • a couple of days earlier we had been sat late in the afternoon in a bar called Caffè deli Speech just round the corner from Cathedral di San Lorenzo. It was a quiet couple of hours as the children had taken themselves off to the aquarium down by the port. The bar was short and thin with only a half dozen tables. There were old cracked mirrors and a tiled ceiling. As we sat with our beer and tea an English man went up to the bar and asked for a recommendation of somewhere nearby he could go eat. He was told to go to Trattoria Ugo – so we ate there our last evening. It was down one of the tight streets which make there way through the old town. More alleyways than the streets they are only just wide enough for a small Italian car and either side the buildings loom up four or five stories high. We arrived in heavy rain and as we came up to the door the manger was stood outside having a cigarette. At first he seemed to think we just wanted shelter from the wet and he told us they were full. We persuaded him we had booked a table and we were ushered in and asked to wait as one of the long tables was cleared. We were then sat down. Dark brown paper placemats were put in front us printed up with the menu. A couple of specials we written in chalk on a blackboard. Some of us were feeling the effects of three solid days of good food but I was determined not to miss out on what they might have. This meant another plate of spaghetti – this time with anchovies and tomato – as close as I got to the anchovy and tomato soup I tried to have on the first night – followed by a bowl of small octopus in spicy tomato sauce. More grappa and limoncello were had to aid with the digestion. I had to pay up at the bar. Calculating what I owed involved me trying to remember what it was we had eaten so the manger could count it all up. As I passed over my card I realised I had forgotten the grappa and limoncello. The manager smiled at me and said it was all on the house.


  • the following day we had the morning free before squeezing in time for a quick lunch and the trip back to the airport. The sun was trying to come out between downpours and we walked through some of the dark narrow streets we had walked along the previous evening coming at them from the alleyways that run down from the Via Garibaldi – the main street for the museums and palazzos. Over the few days we had been there I had been conscious of having half caught in my eye looking up some of the darker alleys the flash of a black pair of tights or a high heel. All this became more overt on the Thursday morning and it was a surprise to find ourselves walking down a street 50 yards or so from Via Garibaldi where women were quiet clearly standing on the street corners and almost side by side with them were shops selling razor blades and sponges, second hand clothes, groceries, fresh fish and sweets. We walked back up towards near where we had eaten the previous evening along Via Cannetto il Lungo. Here almost every other shop front seemed to be given over to food and every fifty yards or so there would be another fishmonger selling three or four different varieties of squid or octopus, mackerel that looked only an hour or so old, bowls of mixed fish including incredibly small red mullet and everywhere silver bright anchovies.


  • we stayed in an area called Quartiere del Carmine. The apartment appeared to have been carved out of an old convent. To get to it we had to walked up a narrow stepped alleyway from the Piazza del Carmine, almost at the top there was an arched doorway on the right that led into a small courtyard for the church of San Bartolomeo dell’Olivella. There were two olive trees outside the main door which led to more steps and a further more formal courtyard which could have been the old cloisters. There were more steps that then led up to the first heavy door of the apartment. A further narrow staircase then led up to the apartment. From the windows of the apartment there were views back over the city to the sea and in evening we could see the lights of the cruise ships as they moved off to their next port city. Down in Piazza del Carmine there was an old market building which had been put back into good use. Half of it had been given over to a a grocer’s stall, a fishmonger and a cheese stall and the rest to a cafe/venue. Unfortunately we missed the music that got played on a Friday and Saturday evening but we made it down there for breakfast a couple of mornings and for drinks in the evening before going on to our evening meals. The cafe appeared to operate as a kind of co-operative using up in the evening whatever food had not ben sold from the stalls that occupied the other half of the market building. On the first evening we went down there I was settling into a glass of campari and soda when the man from behind the bar tapped me on the shoulder and put a plate of focaccia stuffed with ham on the table. He was there again the following night except this time the plate of ham was accompanied by a plate of mixed savoury tarts, vegetables ball dips and light doughy balls coloured with a green herb that had been deep fried. None of this had been asked for and it wasn’t clear how it should be paid for although the campari and soda was slightly more expensive than I thought it might be.

It should be said that along with the eating all the food we walked through some grand Palazzos and saw a lot of pictures of John the Baptists head on a plate.