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Amy and the Kilmainham Gaol Pavlova

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February 16, 2016 / Irish / By

Waiting for my turn to take a guided tour of Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol (yes, that’s the official Anglo-Irish spelling of the word), I had about forty-five minutes to kill in the rather cheerless little upstairs café. Of course it was cheerless: this was a maximum security prison before it became a museum to some rather bloody acts in the Republic of Ireland’s troubled birth, less than 100 years ago. The location might have been a little grim, but the food and coffee looked inviting on a cold February day. And the pavlova on the cake stand had an extra frisson of significance.

You see, it got me thinking about how and when we all came to be foodies. We were lucky enough, I’m guessing, to have been exposed to a range of good, well prepared, home-cooked food in our childhoods and the taste memories mingle with all sorts of other happy and secure memories to do with family relationships. In my case, one such taste and memory was Auntie Amy’s pavlova.

For those of you who don’t know, a pavlova is a meringue dessert cake with a sweet, hard shell on the outside and base, but a light and soft filling, topped with whipped cream and set with fresh fruit. Supposedly, it was named after the Russian ballerina Anne Pavlova who toured New Zealand and Australia in the 1920s and some enterprising baker created the cake in her honour. Whether that person was an Australian or a New Zealander is disputed: from my point of view, Australians claiming pavlova as their creation is just another example of Australian perfidy, up there with the underarm cricket ball and saying that the famous race horse Phar Lap and the actor Russell Crowe are theirs too. Here’s a recipe for a perfectly adequate, but ordinary pavlova.

Anyway, pavlova was my Auntie Amy’s specialty. It would appear at family dinners about once a month, at Christmas and probably Easter as well. Just infrequently enough to have you really hanging out for that next serving, which you knew was going to be at least a month away. Not one to hide her light under a bush, Amy also wasn’t shy about letting everyone know that she’d been working on the “perfect pav” for close on fifty years and nobody in the whole world did it better. She was, quite simply, terrific!

Now I haven’t eaten that many pavlova slices since 1979 – fewer than four or five. The Kilmainham slice might have been number five. I spent a long time just looking at it, thinking of people in my past and the special dishes that were such a part of them. And most of all, about Amy and her “pav”. It had always been my intention to get a few master classes on making pavlova à la Auntie Amy, because I always knew there was far more to it than a simple set of ingredients and a procedure or two. There was an alchemy – a fusion of the craft of the maker with the elements and it was that set of baking nuances that made the difference between an OK pavlova and a truly great pavlova.

You can probably guess the rest. I put it off and put it off and then came the day, in early 1979, when Amy’s great pavlovas were gone forever. So if we want to honor the people in our lives who turned us into the foodies we are now, for heaven’s sake do it by preserving their legacy for our own children and grandchildren. Apologies if this has all been a bit maudlin, but jails (and gaols) do that to you. Oh yes, and how was the Kilmainham Pav? Well, it was OK. But then I knew that was all it would be when I bought it. I’ll be at least another five years go by before I feel like trying again.


Country: Ireland

Province/State: Dublin

City: Dublin

Address: Inchicore Road

Zip/Post Code: Dublin 8

Location Tips: N/A

Phone: +353 1 453 5984


Price Guide:$$ (What's this?) N/A = home cooked meal,etc
$ = street food, fast food,etc
$$ = bistro, cafe, pub, bar,etc
$$$ = fine dining,etc

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