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The Food of a Nation – may not be what you think..

Published April 4th, 2014 in Bon Appetit - Just Plain Good Food

Many of us owe much to those brave souls who traveled to America – the promise of a new land with nothing more than the cloths on their backs, what they could carry in a wooden chest, trunk, or satchel.

Not only did these individuals travel to the unknown, they also carried with them the flavor of their homelands in the foods, herbs, and recipes they brought with them. Much of our culinary history reflects this in the foods still commonly eaten in America. Many foods we equate with a culture, like corned beef and cabbage with the Irish, which in reality is an American creation. With this being March, and St. Patrick day just a few days away, I thought I would look back at those foods we celebrate this month, and those that are truly Irish.

According to the History Channel – “The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in New York City, in 1762. Over the next 100 years, Irish immigration to the United States exploded. The new wave of immigrants brought their food traditions, including soda bread and Irish stew. Pork was the preferred meat, since it was cheap in Ireland and ubiquitous on the dinner table. The favored cut was Irish bacon, a lean, smoked pork loin similar to Canadian bacon. But in the United States, pork was prohibitively expensive for most newly arrived Irish families, so they began cooking beef—the staple meat in the American diet.”

“Members of the Irish working class in New York City frequented Jewish delis and lunch carts, and it was there they first tasted corned beef. Cured and cooked much like Irish bacon, it was seen as a cheaper alternative to pork. While potatoes were certainly available in the United States, cabbage offered a more cost-effective alternative to cash-strapped Irish families. Cooked in the same pot, the spiced, salty beef flavored the plain cabbage, creating a simple, hearty dish that couldn’t be easier to prepare.”

When one thinks of traditional Irish fair to tuck into, you do not think colorful, flavorful, or even interesting. After all boiled potatoes and cabbage do not inspire gastronomic delight, as some foods do.  “Irish Traditional Cooking” by Chef Darina Allen, brings to light a completely new side to Irish foods, and the history that is as rich as the cream from a Kerry cow.

Ireland’s earliest hunter-gather inhabitants enjoyed a diet of wild pig, fish, eel, birds, eggs from wild birds, wild greens, fruits and herbs. From archeological finds there is evidence of drying and smoking of meats and fish, roasted hazelnuts, water lilies, wild crab apples, pears, sloe ((type of small plum like fruit from the blackthorn tree) – think Sloe Gin, which is made by soaking the fruit in alcohol most commonly Gin) and berries. These industrious folks would have enjoyed many more wild foods such as sea vegetables, mushrooms, wild rice, and grains.

Later came the domestication of cattle, sheep, goats and the development of farming, all of which added more nutrition, calories and diversity to the Irish of 3000 B.C.. Nary a potato to be found on the emerald shores, till the potatoes from as a Spanish shipwreck washed ashore, or Sir Walter Raleigh in the 16th century, brought them from America back to Ireland. It was not until later in the 17th century potatoes really took hold in Ireland as a staple for the poor, prior to this they were believed poisonous, once again thanks to Sir Walter Raleigh and his cooks feeding the potato tops to “Good Queen Bess” and her court.

Today when food historians and chefs look back at Irish food, we see a flavorful blend of asparagus, collard greens, watercress, wild onions, hearty broths, flavorful meats, and seafood, fresh fruits and berries with wild honey and rich cheeses and cream butter….yuhmmm

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Buttered Cabbage

It is amazing how good this tastes, so uncurl your lip and give it a try.

Serves 6-8

1 lb. fresh savory cabbage

2-4 Tbsp. Kerry Butter (found at most local markets)

Salt & Pepper

Remove all the tough outer leaves of the cabbage. Cut head into fourths; remove stalks from center, then cut each quarter across the grain into fine shreds.

Put 2-3 Tbsp. water into your cast iron pan, together with butter and a pinch of Celtic sea salt. Bring to a boil, add cabbage and toss over a medium heat, then cover and cook for a few minutes (don’t overcook this only takes 1-2 minutes). Toss again, add a pinch more salt and fresh ground pepper, top with a knob of butter (1Tbsp.) and Enjoy.

May Your Door Be Latched with Contentment, May Happiness be with you now, and Bless You Evermore –

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