There’s Nothing Like that First 99 of the Season
There I was crossing Friar Street in Nenagh on Friday when I spotted it…the giant ice cream cone stationed outside the newsagent shop. These plastic beacons mean one thing…”THIS STORE SELLS 99s!”
I’ve taken on the task of testing 99s all across Ireland. The creation itself looks like a soft-serve ice cream cone with a chocolate stick poking out, but it’s creamier and maybe a bit tart, and an airy Cadbury Flake completes the chocolate duties. The first taste delivers an almost shocking blast of flavor…by the third lick, addiction kicks in.
They’re called 99s because back in the days of the Irish Punt (the pre-Euro currency used before 2005), they cost 99 pence (cents). Now, they cost about three times that.
My 99 tradition begins with pushing the Flake stick all the way into the cone. This causes the ice cream to freeze the chocolate. Then, I just keep wrapping my tongue around the ice cream until it’s time to nibble off a piece of chocolate…which crumbles a bit when I bite it. When guests arrive, I purchase their first 99, train them on some eating techniques and then I’m assured a constant supply of 99s for the duration of their visit.
The secret to a good 99 is buying from shops that sells a lot of them. The fresher and colder the mix, the better it tastes. Today, the woman behind the counter asked, “Small or large?” I hadn’t eaten lunch yet, so I felt perfectly justified with the large.
It was a perfect day for a 99, sunny and warm. As I walked out of the shop with my cone in hand, I spied Una, Anna Mae’s sister.
“Hello, Una. How you keeping?” My cone was already starting to drip. “How are the grandchildren?…Isn’t it fine weather we are having…What news do you have…” It’s very difficult to carry on a conversation with a 99 dripping in your hand.
Una invited me to her house for a quick cuppa. The proper thing to do would have been for me to dump the melting cone in the rubbish bin, but eating the first 99 of the season is a bit of a religious experience for me. It is like the first sip from the teacup in the morning or the first whiff of Freeman’s whiskey (that’s the whiskey you don’t have buy yourself regardless of brand…Mehal always tells me there’s no finer whiskey than Freeman’s).
Into Una’s I go. Questions… answers… questions… answers… dripping… dripping.
“Una, do you have a serviette?” (that’s a napkin). She handed me one just at the moment when the bottom fell out on my cone. Tragedy. The sweet cream dripped on my shoes and pooled at my feet, and stream found its way under my shirt and was rounding the corner to my armpit.
Una never even flinched and pretended not to notice. I realize now at my advanced age that ice cream was never intended to visit our armpit. After a quick cleanup with the serviette, I pulled my arms close to my body and let the melted ice cream soak into my shirtsleeves. Despite my sticky shirt situation, Una and I proceeded to have a delightful conversation and a luvlay (lovely) cuppa tea.
An hour later, I was in the car heading back up the mountain. I passed Knockahopple Cottage and drove onwards to Mehal and Anna Mae’s where I had yet another cuppa. This time with a lemon cream of some kind. Mmmmmmm.
Last evening, I went on a small roadtrip around my beloved mountain. Down Knockahopple Road, through Foilduff, down to the Rock Road and into Rear Cross. I always visit Shanbally Court Cairn, a 4,000-year-old Megalithic tomb, but I’m always there with guests. This stop was just for me.
Dusk was drawing near and the light made colors warm and vibrant. A red moss was beginning to cover the stones giving them a garnet hue. It was a magical moment. Just me, the tomb and thousands of years of history. Standing there by myself, I realized it’s a peaceful, spiritual spot… and it’s no wonder why the ancient people of Ireland chose it as a sacred spot.
I returned to Knockahopple by way of Kilcommon village and up the hill to the hedge school memorial. I had been at the hedge school for the unveiling of the school master bust on Sunday, but with the crowds, I couldn’t get close. By now, only the last hints of sunlight were in the sky, so I snapped a few pictures before going home.
I’m picking my friend Tony up at the airport tomorrow, so I’ll need to rest up.