Irish cooking, though simple, draws on a tradition established over years. The Irish people know well how best to use fine foods produced from the land. It is not surprising that potatoes come first, being nourishing and satisfying for everybody. But it is not potatoes Irish cooking is about. Ireland' s famous beef and lamb dishes have become well known to the world. Most of us have tasted or at least heard of Irish Stew or Beef with Guinness.
The Irish celebrate their various holidays (not just Christmas or Easter) with pecially-prepared dishes. St Bridget, the patron of cattle and dairy work, had the reputation of being the best mead and ale maker. She loved to cook, and like many saints she could feed the multitude with very little.
In Irish folk tradition St Bridget' s Day (1st of February) is the first day of spring. In some parts of Ireland, people still bake oaten bread in the shape of a cross. They put it on the window-sill together with a sheaf of straw for the saint and her pet cow, so that St. Bridget will bless the house.
On that day, people cook Boxty Pancakes to a very special recipe. You' ll need 225 g of cooked potatoes, and the same amount of peeled raw potatoes, white flour and 225 ml of buttermilk. Half a teaspoon of soda, a pinch of salt and some butter for frying. Simply add hot, mashed potatoes to grated raw potatoes, then mix in the other ingredients. Heat a frying pan, grease it with butter and cook your pancakes.
Another Saint, responsible for converting the pagan Irish to Christianity, is St Patrick. On his day, Irish people both in Ireland and abroad cook corned beef and cabbage. The recipe is easy, but to feed eight people you will need almost 2 kg of corned silverside beef, 3 large carrots cut into large chunks, 6 chopped onions, I teaspoon of dry mustard, fresh herbs like thyme and parsley, some salt and ground pepper and obviously a cabbage.
Cook your beef with the carrots, onions, mustard powder and herbs, simmering for about one hour. Then discard the outer leaves of the cabbage, cut it into quarters and add to the pot. Cook for a further 1-2 hours or until the meat is tender. Cut the cooked beef into slices, arrange the vegetables and enjoy your St. Patrick' s Day festive dish.
And now ... why not treat your family to some Irish festive food on St Patrick' s day?
SOME IRISH RECIPES
There is an old Irish saying," Food should be eaten as fresh as possible while drink should be well matured" And to that end home-cooked food in Ireland is second to none and accounts for the wide variety of Irish breads and potato-based dishes.
Traditionally, bread was baked every day. It was made either on a griddle pan or in a pot oven. This pot was a deep, straight-sided, flat-bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid. The dough was placed in the pot, the lid put on and the pot placed over a fire on a tripod. To ensure an even heat, glowing peat was put on top. The griddle was a flat iron pan which was also placed over the fire on a tripod.
Those who have tasted bread cooked in this manner claim that no other bread tastes quite as good. In these days of built ovens, we can recreate this taste using modern methods. It might not be quite traditional, but I am sure the taste must be very close to the original.
IRISH SODA BREAD
This is a wholemeal bread baked in the oven.
500 g coarse wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
600-700 ml buttermilk or sour milk
Kibbled wheat or pinhead oatmeal to sprinkle on top.
Large loaf tin, lightly oiled and floured
Preheat oven to 200C
Mix ingredients very well, except kibbled wheat or pinhead oatmeal, making sure that the baking soda has been well distributed. Add the buttermilk and stir thoroughly. The dough will be wet. If you have to use fine ground wholemeal flour you will probably need to use more buttermilk. Pour the dough into the loaf tin and smooth the top with a spoon dipped in milk. Sprinkle over the kibbled wheat or pinhead oatmeal and slash the loaf down the centre. Bake for 40 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
The potato was introduced to Europe in the 17th century by Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Irish people took to the new food with enthusiasm. The climate and soil were ideal and the plant yielded more food than any other crop.
By the end of the century it was the mainstay of the Irish diet. This dependence on the potato led to the deaths of millions when in 1845 and 1846 the potato crop failed due to blight. The resultant famine halved the population of Ireland.
Today potatoes are still an important part of the Irish diet and appear in many forms, boiled, roasted, baked, or in dishes like Colcannon.
1 kg potatoes
8 spring onions
150 ml milk
salt and pepper
Peel the potatoes and cook until just tender and then mash. Chop the cabbage very finely and cook gently in a little boiling water. Chop the spring onions, both the white and green parts, and cook gently in the milk. Drain the cabbage well and combine it with the potatoes, milk, onions, butter and salt and pepper. Beat together until the mixture is fluffy.
Traditionally Colcannon was piled on a large plate and a small hole or 'well' made in the middle for even more butter. People sat around the table and took forkfuls of colcannon from the communal plate and dipped it in the well of melted butter.
No meal is complete without a pudding or dessert. Classically Irish desserts are always rich with cream, fruit and flavourings. Irish whiskey, creamy liqueur or Guinness are very common ingredients.
'ATIN N DRINKIN' CAKE
240 g butter
480 g flour
360 g brown sugar
240 g sultanas
240 g raisins
120 g halved cherries
2 teaspoons cinnamon or allspice
The grated rind of 1 lemon
300 ml Guinness
1 teaspoon baking soda
20cm cake tin
Preheat oven to 170ºC
Grease and paperline a 20 cm cake tin. Rub the butter into the flour and add the other ingredients. Beat the eggs and Guinness together, add to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 1 - 2 hours. Leave to mature for two weeks in an airtight tin. If you cannot wait that long, even a week will improve the flavour of this Porter Cake. Remember ..." drink should be matured" !
Recipes by Grainne Na Hefferain . Grainne works for the International Study Centre in Dublin and runs a farm where students go on excursions to experience country life.