by Beppie Harrison
One of the nicest parts of visiting Ireland is Irish food.
Oh, there are fancy restaurants where you can try splendid food creations and some really excellent foreign cuisine—Dublin is a wonderful city for eating—but what I mean when I talk about Irish food is the kind of food Irishwomen, and, I suppose, Irish men, cook when they’re cooking for themselves. Take colcannon for one. Colcannon at home is a mixture of potatoes and cabbage, cooked together. Sometimes onions–there are as many recipes as there are Irish kitchens cooking it. I do remember seeing one in Bon Appetit magazine that had potatoes in it, yes, but Savoy cabbage in place of the common cabbage and leeks and a scallion for that delicious oniony taste many basic Irish cooks don’t appreciate. (Nor did my mother-in-law, a plain English cook of the old school. How she managed cooking without so much as a smidge of onion I still cannot fathom—and her food, although unadventurous, tasted good.) Also butter and cream, which I’m sure Irish cooks down the centuries used if there was any available. Most often, there wasn’t.
But you don’t need to go to fancy stuff to find what the Irish do brilliantly. Try bread. Well, really any European bread that you pick up at the local neighborhood supermarkets anywhere there is probably wildly superior to any bread you can find in the United States. Oh, all right. I’m sure there is fine bread commercially available in the U.S. somewhere, and bread at home hot out of the oven—or even cold the next day—is a treat too many of our children in these busy days miss, but by and large our bread is pretty pathetic. But in Ireland, anywhere you buy bread you can get unbelievably delicious solid nourishment that tastes wonderfully down home and real. Even in Irish supermarkets, although I would be wary of the plastic wrapped American style stuff. You want the unsliced loaves, wrapped or unwrapped. (You cut them into slices by turning the loaf so that you can see three “corners” at once, whereupon producing neat slices is wonderfully simple.) Fresh Irish bread with Irish butter spread over it is fit for kings. Real ones.
And Irish stew? Again that has been at times more potatoes and a smell of meat than the way we like it best, but nowadays it is most often potato and carrot slices, with onion falling apart in the gravy after long cooking, joined with delicious chunks of any kind of meat—here lamb, but beef works as well—that has been cooked long and slowly too, so that what might have started out tough as old boots melts in the mouth. That’s the beauty of plain cooking: you start out with the most unpromising ingredients and as people have over the centuries, found you can end up with an absolutely delicious Irish dinner.
Or breakfast, if you want to stick with Irish bread! And let me reassure you: these mouth-watering photographs are of honest-to-goodness Irish food.