Irish cuisine has been greatly influenced over the years by the foods that have been produced in the country. In the early years people relied heavily on grains, mainly oats and barley, eaten either as a porridge or ground down to make flour which was in turn made into bread. Meat often played a secondary role to crop production as the cattle and sheep were normally kept for milk produces such as cheese making. Most households kept a pig and some chickens to provide the family with food. For those living close to the sea, fish and shellfish was an important part of their diet, especially mussels which could be gathered without the need for a boat. The main vegetables grown were cabbage, carrots, turnip, onion and parsnips, and until more recently the only fruit, besides wild berries, was apples. When potatoes were introduced into Ireland in the 16th century it was seen as the perfect crop, it grew well in Irish conditions, the potatoes could be stored over the winter months and the crops produced large harvests. Unfortunately the reliance on the potato was to bring disasterous consequences with the potato blight and crop failure in the middle of the 19th century bringing devistation. Many poor people died of starvation and many emigrated.
The potato had become such an important part of the Irish diet that there was not enough of other foods to keep everyone fed. More than 1 million people died during the famine and over 1 million people emigrated. The only crop that failed was the potato, barley and oats were plentiful but these were cash crops for export and the wealthy farmers continued to export their crops whilst their labourers starved. After six terrible years of famine potatoes continued to be an important part of the Irish diet, but there was also more meat following the introduction of cheap cornmeal from America which was fed to the animals. Oat production increased and vegetables such as cabbages and turnips were more widely grown.Although the majority of the population remained poor they were at least able to eat nourishing foods. Throughout the 20th century more foods have been introduced into Ireland but the traditional dishes remain, they are mostly a very healthy and tasty diet. The Irish still remain the highest consumers of potatoes in Europe. Today every different type of food is readily available in Ireland and there are a lot of well known chefs promoting dishes that use the good, wholesome Irish produce in various ways. Eating out is now an everyday thing with so many restaurants and eateries springing up, which was previously unheard of. Breakfast is an important meal of the day in Ireland and an Ulster Fry is not to missed. It was often eaten every morning but mostly people reserve it for the weekend now. It will comprise of Bacon, sausage, eggs, mushrooms, black or white pudding, tomato, and crisp, golden fried soda bread and potato farls, all served with plenty of the ever- present tea. Porridge is still popular today, taken with milk and sugar or if a little bit of luxury is called for then cream is added too.
Unlike most of the rest of Britain, Ireland still has many of the smaller shops in the market towns and villages, bakeries have a loyal following and bake their breads fresh each day. The soda farls (Farl is an old Irish word for a ‘fourth’ traditionally the bread was baked as a circle and then divided into four on the griddle), pancakes and potato farls do not keep very well and need to be made fresh each day. Wheaten bread is another truley Irish fare, it is a type of soda bread but made with the addition of wholemeal flour. Buttermilk, a by-product of churning butter, is used in many of the breads as this gives the light distinctive flavour and texture of the Northern Ireland breads. Besides the griddle breads and wholemeal breads there are fruited teacakes and loaves and a delicious selection of cakes, sticky buns and tray-bakes that adorn the bakery shelves, all of which are very popular for elevenses or for an afternoon break. Brambrack is a fruited loaf which was traditionally at the centre of Irish Halloween custom, objects were baked into the loaf which signified different messages to the person finding the object. Many people in Ireland still regularly bake their own bread and as soda bread needs no kneading it is a quick bread to produce. Bread is an important part of the Irish diet and accompanies almost every meal.
The most famous of all the dishes is of course Irish Stew,a hearty dish made from lamb, potatotes, carrots and onions ( the Ulster variety is made with steak instead oflamb), and is traditionally served with thick slices of buttered bread.Every family will most probably have their own recipe for Irish Stew, but the secret to a good stew is to keep it simple. Here we have an example of a simple traditonal recipe:
2 large onions 4 large carrots lamb, mutton or stewing steak 8 large potatoes salt and pepper Cut onions and carrots into chunks . Wash, peel and cut up the potatoes.Put plenty or water into a large pot and add the meat and potatoes, bring to the boil and then start to add the carrots and onions, keep on a low boil. Cook for about an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Many of the traditional Irish dishes are made from simple ingredients which are low cost yet provide tasty, filling meals. Another popular meal is Bacon and Cabbage, a boiled bacon joint, cabbage cooked in the bacon flavoured water and served, of course , with potatoes. Champ is another comfort food with it’s origins in Northern Ireland, creamy, buttery mashed potatoes with chopped spring onions -scallions. Even though many of the Irish dishes include the humble potato, oats play an important roll too.For example Herrings rolled in oats before frying give the fish a delicious crunchy coating. There is also a large selection of Irish cakes, scones and desserts to be enjoyed. Buttermilk scones, apple pies, whiskey fruit cake or oat cakes. We include a few recipes below and hope that you will send in some of your own favourites to share with us on the recipe page.