Rowley Leigh’s taste of home
An idyllic childhood in a large house amid fields in Northern Ireland, and his mother’s unconventional meals, make up
grew up all over. I was born in Manchester but we lived in Bedfordshire, Gloucestershire, Northern Ireland – there were many childhood homes. The idyllic one was the last of these, a large house on a 10-acre plot of land, eight miles north of Belfast. I was four when we moved in and we stayed there for five years.
It was an odd house – it looked much smaller from the drive than it actually was. It wasn’t a mansion or a stately home, but it was a gentleman’s residence, and to me it seemed huge.
II had three siblings, two of whom were older than me. We were reasonably close, but I was fairly solitary. I liked reading, and collecting things. I remember our rumpus room: it had been the kitchen, with large flagstones and a boiler, but otherwise was quite empty. We spent a lot of time playing in there, but mostly we played outside. The garden was huge, there were streams and fields. We never went on holiday. We just played.
My father expected a proper meal three times a day. My mother was an enthusiastic, somewhat unconventional cook. She never tried to do the usual English things, but she did make fairly straightforward meals: scrag end of mutton with pearl barley, lamb’s liver, herrings in oatmeal … We probably had fish on Fridays, a hangover from my mother’s Catholic upbringing.
Her fish pie was a family favourite. She used a mixture of fresh and smoked fish – not smoked salmon, because that was rather special, but cod, or haddock, which was always bright yellow in those days. She always put hardboiled eggs in it, and