A History of Traditional Irish Food

Traditional Irish food is hearty and comforting, and historically makes use of the gifts from the sea and the root vegetables produced from the rich soil of the island.  Irish food is best described as humble, but don’t let that description fool you. While the origins may be humble, food from Ireland definitely takes its place among some of the tastiest in the culinary world.

Bread and potatoes form an important part of the Irish diet. Bread usually accompanies the main meal, while potatoes have been an important part of Irish cuisine since the 18th century.  It can be prepared in a number of ways and continues to feature prominently in many traditional Irish recipes.

Ireland is not rich in fruit, but it does incorporate apples, dates, raisins, rhubarb, and lemon in many of its dishes. The country also has a thriving meat and dairy industry. Its climate allows pastures to grow grass for about ten months a year, making it an ideal place to raise cattle, sheep, and pigs. If you’ve ever tried real Irish cream or butter, you can attest to its clean, rich flavor.

Of course, beer and whiskey are also steeped in the Irish culture. Guinness is a dark beer known the world over for its dry, stout qualities, and is the number one-selling alcoholic beverage in Ireland. It is not only a favorite beverage, but also a prominent ingredient in everything from cakes to stews. And who doesn’t love a good Irish coffee? Made with just a wee nip (or maybe more) of good Irish whiskey, this rich and creamy coffee warms the body and soul.

Like many of the countries that are part of or lie adjacent to the United Kingdom, Ireland is a tea-loving nation. Having a “cuppa” at various times of the day is part of normal life, and being invited to tea is a very special occasion. Tea is usually accompanied by sweets such as scones or biscuits (cookies).

Here in the United States, we tend to think of things like Shepherd’s Pie, Irish Stew, Soda Bread, and of course Corned Beef and Cabbage when it comes to traditional Irish fare.  While those dishes are definitely part of the Irish culture, if you do a little digging, you’ll find that the following are also near and dear to a native Irish heart.

Colcannon Potatoes – Potatoes take center stage in this dish, as a creamy mashed rendition alongside cabbage and spring onions. It’s a classic comfort food – creamy, buttery and plentiful. And adding bacon to this traditional Irish dish only elevates it to the level of unavoidably irresistible. Much like Irish Soda Bread, every family seems to have their own rendition of this Irish classic.

Boxty – A combination of raw grated potatoes and mashed potatoes, Boxty is a resourceful way of combining the potatoes already cooked with the potatoes waiting to be cooked. Mix both together into a patty, fry them up and top the potato pancake with a dollop of sour cream and a generous sprinkling of spring onions. Traditionally, boxty is paired with bacon and fried eggs and served for breakfast, but there’s never a wrong time of day to enjoy this Irish potato pancake.

Barmbrack – Often called “Brack,” this is a sweet bread loaf made with juicy raisins or dried fruits. It is made even more delicious when it’s soaked in tea and whiskey. Brack is often enjoyed with an afternoon tea.

Boiled Bacon and Cabbage – Admittedly, this dish sounds bland and boring, however it’s one of the most popular favorites across the country. The boiled bacon is actually salted pork shoulder boiled with onions, carrots, herbs and cabbage. Finished off with a delicate and creamy parsley sauce, it’s an unexpectedly delicious and traditionally Irish meal – and one that isn’t centered around potatoes and doesn’t even need to see a potato touch the plate.

Black and White Pudding – Don’t let the name deceive you, this is not a dessert! But it is a staple in Irish cuisine. This is actually a type of sausage that is given the name based on whether or not the sausage has been made with blood. Black pudding – which actually has a purplish hue – is a type of blood sausage, while its sidekick white pudding is simply made without the blood. Often served in a traditional Irish breakfast.

Full Irish – This Irish breakfast is hearty and fit for a king! Also known as an Irish fry or Ulster fry, a full Irish breakfast is a traditional cooked breakfast that contains some or all of the following: rashers, black pudding, white pudding, pork sausages, baked beans, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, fried eggs, and leftover potatoes. It’s similar to a full English breakfast and is usually served with tea, orange juice, toast, butter, and marmalade.

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