Thursday, March 12, 2009


Todays word really brings back memories for me.

My dad was a painter & decorator and worked all his life for a company in Ballymoney called Taggarts. Even then it was called Hugh Taggart & Sons, so it's probably still there as those sorts of companies always do well and like to have 'Decorating Homes Since 1668' or something on the sides of their vans.

He wasn't paid much and as money was tight, he also did private work after he'd finished his normal job.  Dad was one of a rare breed who did great work and hardly charged more than the cost of the materials. This was due in part to most of his 'customers' being from farming stock and so would haggle over everything to get the best deal. But mostly it was down to dad's nature as he was a gentle soul who although he was well aware we needed every penny, would find it hard to make any sort of profit out of his fellow man, or woman.  

It wasn't the best character trait to have when dealing with Ulster farmers !! 

So he worked long hours and it always seemed to me that he was either leaving for his normal daily work or returning late at night from a private job all the time I was living at home.  This was partly why Sundays were such magical days, to be enjoyed with family trips to the seaside - after the huge Ulster breakfast of course.

And so we get to THE word for today.  

A piece : a sandwich or sometimes a full packed lunch.

My mum would be up early to fix dad's lunch for him to take to work and more often than not, this would include a sandwich, even if it was just a jam sandwich. This would be called a piece. The previous night she might have asked my dad what he wanted "in his piece" but I suspect this rarely happened and dad basically got what she gave him !

When visiting relatives and friends, tea would be brewing in the pot and the triple tiered cake stand would be brought out almost before we'd all sat down.  To be in a house for more than 5 minutes without the offer of tea and a "wee something" was unheard off.  But for us kids, before we could get our hands on the sweet goodies on the cake stand, we'd be asked if we wanted "a piece" in the hopes we'd fill up on bread and jam and so not eat all the goodies.  

But we weren't daft and usually tried to avoid the bread and even the cakes as we knew that if we held out, an even bigger and better goodie would be forthcoming - a home baked pavlova or lemon merangue pie !!!!    I've no idea why these were so common in N. Ireland; maybe they were simple to bake or something but man were they good.  The merangue would stick to your teeth so you could still enjoy bits of it hours later on the drive home. A dessert that kept on giving.

Anyway I'm digressing, again.  The odd thing about "a piece" was it was never used, in my experience, with any mention of a filling.  So you'd never be asked if you wanted "a ham and tomato piece" or even "a jam piece."  It was just "a piece" and it's contents, if there were any, would remain a mystery until it was in front of you. Most times it would just be jam.

Finally, it's not an item you'd ever see on a restaurant or cafe menu but if you're ever visiting N. Ireland and are offered "a piece" at a friend or relative's house, at least you'll now know not to follow up with "a piece of what ?"

But before saying yes to the offer, always remember there may be a freshly baked lemon merangue pie lurking in the oven.


Daphne said...

An excellent piece with plenty of jam in it!

Katherine said...

Hmmm, so it's quite the opposite of the Americans who don't refer to the bread at all, just the filling. And even that in the form of an acronym. As in: "Would you like a BLT?"

Can you ask for 'a piece of pavlova'?

Katherine said...

I loved this post Ian! And I'm getting the very clear message that you are rather a fan of mer-ring-gyoo. I'd better get the recipe book out and start practising for when you come over.

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