One thing I knew full well, however, even at such a young age. The King of Ireland’s Son was one of the best books I had ever buried my nose in. The first time, I read it by myself, snuggled up in the ‘back’ bedroom with a plate of Christmas Ginger Cookies and Irish Almond Tea Cakes balanced precariously on the mattress beside me. Oblivious to the winter winds blowing outside the window, I ranged in imagination up, over and across the hills of the Emerald Isle in the company of a colorful host of frolicking fairies and fearsome feys.
In March, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Dad and I read it together, with me reading the narrative and him putting on a thick Irish brogue for all the speaking lines – high-pitched and squeaking for the creature characters, low and growling for the villains, melodiously sweet for the maidens, and in his own dear voice for the heroes.
Throughout my childhood, I read The King of Ireland’s Son again and again and again. As Dad aged into his twilight years, hardly a visit passed that he did not beam at me, blue eyes twinkling, a delighted smile creasing his cheeks, and say: “How about that King of Ireland’s Son – the best book you ever read – eh?” Yes, it was, Dad. It most certainly was. And a fine, fine way to pass a cold winter’s day. Sláinte!
Christmas Ginger Cookies
1 beaten egg
3⁄4 cup sugar
3⁄4 cup shortening
1⁄3 cup molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1⁄2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
Granulated sugar in a bowl
In a large bowl, stir together egg, sugar, shortening and molasses. Beat well to combine. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, ginger and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, and stir until completely combined. Refrigerate dough for 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a teaspoon as a scoop, shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball in granulated sugar and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet 3 inches apart. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until cookies have acquired cracks across their tops. Remove cookie sheets from oven, and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks until they are completely cool. Store in an airtight container. Makes approximately 50 cookies. Note: Keep dough refrigerated between batches.
Irish Almond Tea Cakes
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 1⁄2 cups almond meal
3⁄4 cup granulated sugar
1⁄3 cup flour
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
pinch of nutmeg
1 1⁄2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 stick plus 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup plump dried currants
1 1⁄2 tablespoons dark rum
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter as many mini-muffin pans as you have (recipe makes 48 teacakes) or line tins with paper mini-muffin cups.
With a whisk, beat the egg whites in a bowl just to break them up. Add the almonds, sugar, flour, salt, nutmeg, and corn syrup and stir until batter is smooth.
Melt butter in a small saucepan until it just comes to a boil. Add the hot butter to the batter and whisk it in gently but thoroughly. Stir in the currants and rum. Spoon approximately 1 tablespoon of batter into each mini-muffin cup.
Bake 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point, until the cakes are puffed and golden – a knife inserted into the center should come away clean. Remove tins from the oven and let the cakes rest in the tins for about 2 minutes, then turn them out onto racks to cool to room temperature. Cakes will keep in a covered container for 4-5 days. Wrapped airtight in plastic wrap they can be frozen for up to 2 months.