A wee taste o’ the Irish

March 18, 2010 9:27:00 AM

Jan Swoope - jswoope@cdispatch.com

 

It never fails. When St. Patrick’s Day rolls around each March, it seems there is a touch of the Irish in all of us.  

 

Shamrocks, spuds, Guinness and leprechauns tend to be the first things to mind when we hear of the Emerald Isle, but when it comes to food, it’s worth knowing the old country’s culture is built on more than just potatoes. 

 

To understand Irish cuisine, it helps to look at the history of the land itself. In the seventh century, when monks first documented Ireland’s agriculture practices, the potato wasn’t even buried beneath the landscape at that time, writes James Patrick Kelly for The Daily Fork. 

 

For centuries, Irish diets were influenced by crops grown and animals raised in its temperate climate. Its earthy cooking — sometimes called a peasant cuisine — was centered around filling dishes like corned beef and cabbage, a meal often associated with the sainted Patrick’s special day.  

 

Eire’s beef, mutton and pork, shellfish, domestic poultry and geese, as well as native berries and nuts, were at the heart of the dinner table. The potato was introduced in the sixteenth century and became increasingly ubiquitous, at least until the devastating potato blight of the 1800s, a crisis of far-reaching effects in both Ireland and America, where many of its people immigrated. 

 

 

 

Fresh outlook 

 

In today’s Ireland, there is a new pride in traditional Irish cooking, combined with new approaches spurred in part by cooking guru Darina Allen. Her Ballymaloe House and Cookery School took the top Good Food Ireland Award. The school located near the sea, in County Cork, is situated in the middle of a 100-acre organic farm and has invigorated an emphasis on cooking with high quality regional ingredients. 

 

“The connection between farming and cooking is vital,” Allen has said. 

 

Large cities like Dublin and Cork are becoming world-class food towns, offering inventive cuisine. A European influence is increasingly evident throughout the green isle. A survey of “best restaurant” sites such as tasteofireland.ie/index/html reveals listings for La Picolla Italia in Carlow, Et Voila French Bistro in Wexford and a Spanish restaurant and tapas bar in Galway. 

 

Some things, of course, don’t change. Potatoes remain ideally suited to the country’s soil and climate and are used in dishes ranging from soups to cakes. Those Irish recipes handed down from generation to generation still have their place of heritage in a busy and modern Ireland. 

 

Enjoy these recipes from http://www.littleshamrocks.com/Irish-Recipes.html. And a Happy St. Patrick’s Day — Beannachtam na Femle Padraig, in Gaelic — to you.