Ireland’s Food History is embedded in St Patrick’s Day Celebrations

It is a story of simplicity and complexity and of native ways blending with outside influences. It speaks of a largely rural community where a traditional pattern of food production followed seasonal changes. The gathering of food to the table on St. Patrick’s Day was of special significance especially as the holiday falls during the Lenten fast. It gave the opportunity to break from the austerities of a fasting regime. Meat made a return to the diet, if only for a day, and those who abstained from alcohol were granted the one-day privilege of partaking in a celebratory beverage, the “pota Phadraig”, in honour of the Saint. Over the last generation Ireland had seen the emergence of a vibrant food culture that recognizes the legacy of its food traditions. Today Good Food Ireland brings together these artisan food producers, craft butchers and bakers and influential chefs. It looks to the authenticity of food produce and production, to a tangible connection with region and locality and to a newfound interest in Ireland’s traditional foodculture. Regional food specialties such as the Waterford Blaa are now emerging, lost traditions like smoking and curing are being reinstated and traditional ingredients like oats, sea vegetables, and wild foods have developed a following. Ireland now offers all the best offood in terms of quality, craftsmanship, and seasonality with attention to ethical and sustainable standards. And what better time to gather in the bounty than on the national holiday – St Patrick’s Day.  Traditional Irish Foods There are a number of signature foods and dishes that may be identified as typically Irish. Pork along with ham, bacon, pork puddings and sausages are amongst the meats most closely associated with Irish food ways. Traditionally, small rural households kept two pigs, one for the table and the other to go to market. Essentially, then, the pig was the ‘gentleman who paid the rent’ and the one who supplied the household with fresh and cured meat throughout the year. For celebratory occasions, pork was an indulgence. If fresh meat was not available, home-cured hams and bacon were elevated to festive status and because these were close to hand, they became the meat associated with the special meal for Saint Patrick’s Day.   If ever there was an ingredient that could be held as an emblem for Ireland, it must surely be the potato. The esteem with which potatoes are held has almost become part of the Irish psyche. For many still, no meal is complete without the potato and no festive meal is set without an array of potato dishes – roasted, mashed, and creamed. Little wonder then that creamy dishes of colcannon and champ were considered festive dishes and the dishes brought to table for occasions of special celebration like Saint Patrick’s Day. As an ingredient, the potato is highly versatile and traditionally it was used across the social spectrum in the preparation of potato puddings and potato breads. The northern counties in particular developed a distinctive baking tradition based on potatoes with potato breads, potato apple cakes and potato oaten breads a characteristic feature of these regions. The story of bread in Ireland is a fascinating one and as intricate as the many and varied factors that has shaped Ireland’s culture. Home-baking and the tradition of soda bread and its making became part of the woman’s working day. This soft, cake-like bread was made with wholemeal or white wheat flour. For special occasions it was enlivened with fruit, spices, treacle, eggs and butter giving rise to an extended family of soda bread varieties – caraway sodas, fruit sodas or spotted dogs, treacle sodas, maize and wheat sodas and miniature soda breads in the form of plain and fruit scones. Today Good Food Ireland identifies a resurgence of small craft bakeries that turn out high quality yeast and sourdoughs. The status of soda bread remains strong making enriched soda breads the ideal accompaniment to the festive table.  In Ireland, the fish that enjoys greatest reputation is the salmon. For generations, it has been famed for its fine taste and nutritional qualities. It has become part of Ireland’s mythological and folk traditions. Magical and health giving, the salmon was associated with saints and heroes in stories of ancient Ireland. Good Food Ireland’s Burren Smokehouse and Connemara Smokehouse embrace Ireland’s smoking traditions producing hot and cold smoked salmon as well as spiced and herbed options.  Traditional Irish Beverages The repertoire of Irish traditional beverages extends to ale, beer, stout, whiskey alongside apple and pear ciders.  Ireland has seen the re-emergence of small microbreweries like Good Food Ireland’s Dungarvan Brewing Company in Co Waterford. The long tradition of Ireland’s apple orchards has led to revival of the artisan craft of cider making and Good Food Ireland’s Stonewell Cider, Armagh Cider, Llewellyn’s Orchard and Highbank Orchard are the best. Wild foods have always played an important role in the diet and food patterns of Ireland. Depending on season, the wild offers up green leafy vegetables like wild garlic, delicately perfumed wild flowers like elderflower and a myriad of wild fruits the most popular being crab apples, elderberries, blackberries, bilberries, rosehips and haws. Good Food Ireland’s Wild About has revived the tradition of using wild fruits in preserves,  chutneys and relishes to be enjoyed throughout the year. Their Raspberry Syrup is the prefect non- alcoholic indulgence on the feast of Saint Patrick.