Foods of Ireland by Barbara Sheen. 64 p. Farmington Hills: Kidhaven, 2011. 978-0-7377-5114-7
From Kidhaven’s A Taste of Culture series, Foods of Ireland surveys the contemporary and historical diets on the island, where exists a striking contrast between Ireland’s longstanding poverty and the wealth of its indigenous commodities.
Dairy provides the “white meat” of Ireland, and since the early Celts, milk has been preserved as butter, cream, and 65 types of cheese. Today, the Irish eat more butter than any other Europeans, and a museum in Cork is dedicated to the foodstuff. Christian monks brought oats and wheat to Ireland in the fifth century, leading to staples such as soda bread, oatcakes, and porridge.
The complicated history of the country is reflected in its cuisine. From 1541 to 1921, Ireland was ruled by Great Britain, and only won independence in 1937, and much of its culinary heritage is one of subsistence. The staple most closely associated with the Irish, potatoes, are native to Peru, but were introduced to Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh. Today, potatoes feature in local incarnations like boxty, coddles, champ, and colcannon, with an average individual consuming 304 pounds of the tubers each year. The failure of that crop led to the notorious mid-19th century famine, with a death toll of more than one million and with twice as many believed to have emigrated.
Another area where the Irish lead in consumption is that of tea, which has been imported from Asia since the eighteenth century. The Irish ingest an average of six cups of the stuff daily, more tea than any other national group, and the traditions of elevenses, and the meal of high tea largely evolved around the drink. Visitors are warned about the national taste for strong Kenyan varieties.
Many types of meat in the Irish diet will be unknown to American readers, including rashers, the component of the breakfast fry-up often mistaken for bacon, as well as bangers and black and white puddings. Pigs are the only livestock native to Ireland, and the Irish call every part of the pig, except the legs, bacon. Corned beef and cabbage is American, not Irish, a new world version of the traditional Irish dish, bacon and cabbage.
Many other Irish recipes evolved to make the most of undesirable cuts, such as Irish stew with mutton and goat cooked slowly to soften the meat. The text explains seafood is not an integral part of Irish cuisine, perhaps because its traditional association with religious fast days.
There is a chapter on baked goods, ranging from scones to sweets made with apple to gurrcase, a soft of bread pudding baked in pastry. Culture is interwoven throughout the volume, as traditional foods are associated with holidays such as Samhain, a autumnal festival celebrated for two thousand years that features fortunetelling by means of barmbrack, a spiced bread with an object baked inside. St. Patrick’s Day is also featured among the holidays, and the passage includes mention of pints of beer and pubs. In turn, other passages describe Shrove Tuesday potato pancakes and aged Christmas cakes, as well as the derivation of the expression “take the cake.”
Ample recipes provide simple directions for student cooks, ranging from buttermilk pancakes to cheese toast, soda bread, and a crockpot adaptation of Irish stew. Graphical content includes maps and icons reflecting commodity distribution and a global map.
Notes reveal source materials was drawn from Lonely Planet travel guidebooks, the Saveur culinary magazine, and some online resources. There is a glossary, which defines specialized vocabulary, such as tenant farmers and praties, indicated by boldface within the text. Resources also include child-friendly websites and an index. Recommended for school libraries.