Since St Patrick himself traipsed around the country there has been arguments about traditional Irish food.
St Patrick didn’t partake of potatoes as the Americas hadn’t been visited nor did he dye his beer green as far as we know, but what he did have was a wide selection of gorgeous, fresh, tasty food to choose from.
One dish which is always mentioned is watercress soup. St Patrick apparently loved watercress soup which by fortunate chance is green. A perfect start to your St Patricks Day feast.
Watercress Soup, serves 6
3 tblsps butter
1 1/4 cups potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 1/4 cups finely chopped onion
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 bunches of chopped watercress having removed the coarse stalks
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan. When melted, add the potatoes and onions and toss until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a low heat for 10 mins. Add the stock and the milk, bring to a the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are soft. Add the watercress and boil with the lid off for approximately 4 to 5 mins until the watercress is cooked. Do not overcook to keep its lovely green colour. Puree the soup. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Throw in some shamrock shaped croutons.
Nettle soup is also traditional from an even earlier period in Irish history, the young tips of the spring nettle were beneficial and tasted good, but be careful when you pick them!
Next of course to the bacon and cabbage; this has become most definitely the chosen dish for St Patrick’s Day. Other dishes such as Irish Stew are also firm favourites.
This extract is from The Vision of Aislinge Meic Con Glinne, an 11th century text.
“One of these eight, then, was Aniér MacConglinne, a famous scholar he, with abundance of knowledge. The reason why he was called Aniér was because he would satirise and praise all. No wonder, indeed; for there had not come before him, and came not after him, one whose satire or praise was harder to bear, wherefore he was called Anéra [i.e. Non-refusal], for that there was no refusing him. …… A great longing seized the mind of the scholar, to follow poetry, and to abandon his reading. For wretched to him was his life in the shade of his studies. And he searched in his mind whither he would make his first poetical journey. The result of his search was, to go to Cathal MacFinguine, who was then on a royal progress in Íveagh of Munster. The scholar had heard that he would get plenty and enough of all kinds of whitemeats; for greedy and hungry for whitemeats was the scholar. This came into the mind of the scholar on a Saturday eve exactly, at Roscommon; for there he was pursuing his reading. Then he sold the little stock he possessed for two wheaten cakes and a slice of old bacon with a streak across its middle. These he put in his book-satchel. And on that night two pointed shoes of hide, of seven-folded dun leather, he shaped for himself.”
Pigs have formed part of the Irish diet since the Neolithic times along with milk, honey, cheese, butter, cereals and plenty of vegetables, and they are still central to it. A pig was kept for food while cattle and sheep had wool and milk to preserve them. Pigs feature in almost every old tale and travellers through Ireland in later centuries always noted the pig at the hearth. ‘The gentlemen who pay the rent’ is a common expression for pigs. There is also a tradition that they should only be slaughtered when there is an R in the month. And February and March fit the bill.
Cattle being valuable were not usually slaughtered but the practice of bleeding cattle and mixing the blood with milk, grain and butter was common feature of fair and festival days. Black pudding, made from blood, grain (usually barley) and seasoning remains a breakfast staple in Ireland. William Wilde, Oscar’s father and a Roscommon man, remembers Rathcroghan being ‘reddened with the blood thus drawn upon a May morning. Crowds of locals would then gather round turf fires and cook the blood mixed with oatmeal and onion.’ (William Wilde, Popular Superstitions. 1852.)
The potato was introduced to Ireland by the same man who brought us tobacco, Walter Raleigh first grew potatoes on his estates in Cork but they were not widely used until the 17th century. They rapidly became the staple diet of the Irish people as the land was taken from them and they only had rough land to cultivate. The potato grows well on bad land. The Irish were the first Europeans to use the potato as a staple food.
The bacon and the cabbage are boiled together, the cabbage only going in at the last, and the potatoes cooked separately in their skins. This is served with mustard and sometimes a white sauce with parsley is an accompaniment. More modern times have seen brown sauce join the gang but always there is butter.
The sweet thing at the end of the meal should by right of ancient usage be made with honey. Honey, butter and salt were the always part of an ancient feast. Honey for the mead, honey with the apples and even honey with the meat. Honey roast ham is not a modern invention.
Almost all Celtic countries have a dessert that's a variation of this: cream, oatmeal, honey, nuts and whiskey.
This is called Cranachan
1/3 cup / 50g flaked almonds
2/3 cup / 50g medium oatmeal
1 1/4 cup / 300 ml whipping cream or double cream
4 tblsp honey, to taste
4 tblsp / 60ml Irish whiskey
1 tblsp / 15ml lemon juice
Toast the almonds and oatmeal in a dry frying pan until golden.
Whip the cream in a bowl: stir in the honey and whiskey. Fold in the almonds and oatmeal, and finally the lemon juice. Fresh fruit can be used to decorate the individual desserts.
Add green food colouring to any or all of the above!
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!
(Ban-ock-tee na fay-lah paw-rig ur-iv)
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Article by Bernadette D'Alton