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Putting on the Irish

Published March 22nd, 2012 in Eat for Health

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD, BCIH, BCHN

Family traditions are strange and sometimes wonderful things. As a kid the night of St. Patrick ’s Day meant putting out a saucer of milk for the little people, so we would have good luck and no mischief through the spring and summer months. Now this was not a tradition outside of our household, my grandparents would have been appalled being of a different denomination than us. This tradition which I have carried on in our family was something my mother learned from the Irish sheep herders’ fresh over from the old country. It is hard to say if she was gullible and easily swallowed blarney from real Irish mischief makers or if it was a true tradition in some counties in Ireland. Any way you look at it a cat is smiling on the porch.

This year as we planned out our traditional St. Patrick’s day feed –my husband and I decided to do real Irish foods instead of the standard corn beef and cabbage, which is an American invention. Many have the misconception that food in Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland is bland, tasteless and boring; all fish and chips, potatoes, cabbage and grease mutton. There is a certain amount of truth to this, but all of these countries also have a rich culinary history loaded with flavor and tradition.

The humble blackberry is found in early archeological evidence dating back to 150BC.,  crabapples, Elderberries, Sloe (a tart fruit that resembles tiny plums) where the name for sloe gin comes from, rhubarb, gooseberry, blackcurrant, strawberry’s, damson plums are all native foods found in Ireland. Cabbage and many forms of the braccus family grow wild as does asparagus and watercress legend says, is why St. Brendan the Mariner lived to be 180.

The potato is a new comer to Ireland, after Sir Walter Raleigh almost poisoned Queen Elizabeth and her court with potato tops; potatoes were fed to livestock or forgotten until the 1800’s. Before and during this time the turnip and carrot root crops made up the staple of Ireland and most of northern Europe’s root cellers.

Other traditional foods include eggs, pheasant introduced in Elizabethan times, venison, boar or pork, lamb, beef, sheep and goat dairy and later cow dairy, salmon, trout, shellfish, sea vegetables, wild mushrooms, herbs, buckwheat, millet, oat, and wheat, rye and barley after the Romans introduced them. Every manor house and cottage had an herb garden- herbs were the medicine cabinet, preservatives and used by the skilled to flavor foods.

The herb garden was home to shallots, leeks, rosemary, lavender, basil, parsley, fennel, caraway, thyme, edible flowers, chives, onions, and many more.

Most of these foods are loaded with anti-oxidants, vitamin C, essential fatty acids and minerals. The herbs also aid in digestion and helped the immune system. Cooking methods were simple; many dishes are prepared on the stove top, as cottages in antiquity did not have ovens. I have found simple well prepared foods are rich in flavor and nutrition. We will be in the kitchen for hours preparing these dishes for friends and family, not because they are hard, only new to us – reading directions required on first tries.

So what does a traditional Irish menu look like? Here is what we came up with after looking through old and new cookbooks: Irish Old Fashion Salad with Shannagary Cream Dressing, Creamy Watercress Soup, Poached Salmon with Irish Butter Sauce, Roasted Pheasant with chips, Butter Cabbage, Asparagus, Scones with Honey Butter, Baked Apples with Cream and it wouldn’t be St Patties Day without Irish Coffee made with Jameson’s Irish Whiskey.  Hardly bland and boring is it.  Oh and a saucer of cream, just in case.

For more traditional Irish foods check out “Irish Traditional Cooking”  by Darina Allen

May you be poor in misfortune, Rich in blessings, Slow to make enemies and Quick to make friends.  And may you know nothing but happiness from this day forward. Irish Blessing

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