In early times Ireland was woodland. The inhabitants relied on the native mammals, birds, fishes and vegetation for subsistence. Eventually the land was cleared and cultivation began. Domestic animals were also introduced and the animals that were raised provided a new source of food. Today Ireland has a vibrant agricultural economy. This is reflected in the fine fare that Ireland has to offer today.
By the 17th Century there was a diversity of culinary traditions along with social status. The peasantry relied mostly on diary products and oats for their nourishment, while the well to do, relied more on meats and alcoholic beverages. By the 18th Century the cuisine of the wealthy became more varied with a greater French influence. As the 19th Century approached, the potato was the main staple of one third of the population.
After the Great Hunger, potatoes and oats were still the main staples of the Irish diet. Toward the end of the century, the first processed foods where introduced. Although the food in Ireland at this time was nourishing, it was mediocre in taste and presentation. Restaurants and eating-houses were on the increase in the cities. However, their menus often shied away from traditional dishes because they were thought as ‘famine foods’.
In the latter part of the 20th Century, the food in Ireland became markedly better. A new generation, of chefs emerged in Ireland making rapid advancement in the Culinary Arts. They brought back and air of confidence, a realm of creativity and established themselves in the world their marvelous preparation and presentation of food. Today, the cuisine in Ireland is often fresh, creative, and tastefully presented. Gone are the days of the unimaginative, bland, overcooked meat and potatoes. Fresh seafood, such as, salmon, trout and shellfish, and many others are locally caught and prepared fresh to the table. In addition there is a bountiful supply of fresh locally produced vegetables and meats.
A Full Irish Breakfast is very hearty and delicious. It can often sustain you throughout the day. This meal generally consists of eggs, rashers (bacon), bangers (sausage), baked fresh tomatoes, fresh mushrooms, white pudding, black pudding, fresh fruit, brown bread, or toast, or scones, with a bit of butter and marmalade. Add some juice, a pot of tea or freshly brewed coffee with cream and a bit of brown sugar and you truly have a meal. In Northern Ireland, the fully cooked breakfast is called an ‘Ulster Fry’ and includes the addition of a fried potato farl. Did you know bacon and eggs are of Irish origin?
Soups and sandwiches are a favorite for lunch. Many of the soups are a puree of sorts or a broth, served piping hot, and delicious. Broths were used in early times in Ireland, some included oatmeal and vegetables. Along the coastal areas seaweeds were included. Many hotels and restaurants offer a Carvery Lunch. This is a hot meal, served cafeteria style, usually including hot potatoes, vegetables, a couple of choices of meats with gravy, a selection of breads, and deserts.
The mid day meal in rural Ireland is generally the largest meal of the day. People living and working in the cities, follow a 9 to 5 routine, making dinner the more substantive meal.
Dining in Ireland can be an Epicurean delight. Often the food is fresh in all respects. The seafood can especially wonderful. Naturally raised lamb is used in many recipes from Irish Stew to Roast Leg of Lamb. Beef is the traditional Sunday roast, and is still prepared in many homes to this day. Potatoes are still an important part of the Irish diet. Potato in Irish is ‘pratai’, translated as praties.
The hospitality of the Irish is unsurpassed. This custom goes back to ancient times the Brehon Laws declared you must share hospitality with the bard or stranger who knocks on your door. If you did not, you were shamed and could be punished. The custom is still prevalent in Irish society today. Often times when visiting with family or soon to be friends, you are treated to ‘a taste of Ireland’ with a slice of homemade Brown Bread or Soda Bread. There are a multitude of recipes for both breads, which are relatively easy to make. There is nothing quite like enjoying a slice of hot baked bread with creamy butter and a dollop of marmalade, washed down with a delicious cup of piping hot tea.