Ireland, it was only a 10 day adventure for us, but what an experience! I will not be able to share my experience in one blog, so it will be broken up into several installations.
Ireland is such a lush and beautiful country with so much of it still left untouched, including the food! Food is still made very similar to the way it was many years ago, real, fresh, and with unprocessed ingredients. Recipes are still handed down throughout generations. Ireland does have its share of processed foods, but not as much as in the states. For example, as we were driving around Ireland we saw a lot of livestock, and not one of them was in a small muddy pen. These wonderful animals were left to roam in some of the most beautiful terrain I have seen so far in my travels. ALL of their beef is grass-fed and free range! This is true for their lamb as well (another Irish specialty). I even noticed a difference in the milk. It tasted a little creamier. Beef is an important mainstay in their diet and has been for many centuries, as cattle played an important part in Irish food from the middle ages until the arrival of the potato in Ireland in the 16th century. The meat was predominantly food for the rich with the poor making do with the milk, cheese and butter which were supplemented with grains and barley for nourishment.
Oh, and speaking of butter. It was the most decadent and delicious butter I have ever tasted!! I can see why the Irish use a lot of butter in their diet. In a scholarly article from 1960, A.T. Lucas wrote that “recent international statistics show that the consumption of butter per head of the population is higher in Ireland than almost anywhere else in the world.” The Irish like their butter plain and flavored. From the 12th century on, there are records of butter that was flavored with onion and garlic.
Despite hearing the warnings from a few that have traveled before, the Irish gastronomy was quite tasty. Yes, they make a lot of dishes involving potatoes, but what they can do with a potato is amazing! The Irish diet is heavy on dairy, meat, cabbages, onions, garlic, and parsnips, with some wild herbs and greens, and potatoes. As far as fruit goes, they eat wild berries, like blackberries and rowanberries, and apples. If you lived near the coast, edible seaweed like dulse and sloke made for tasty salads and side dishes. Being that most of the Irish dishes are heavy with a lot of red meat and heavy dairy (creams, cheese, and butter), it is not too surprising that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the #1 cause of death in all of Ireland. I definitely noticed as the first thing I wanted when I came back to the states was a HUGH salad! The closest thing I had that came close to a salad while I was in Ireland was some red rocket (arugula / salad in Ireland) with tomatoes, but that is for another discussion.
In this installment, I will discuss breakfast which is as we all know, (say it together kids), “the most important meal of the day”. The traditional Irish breakfast, while be it yummy, is a bit of a heart-attack on a plate if eaten daily. I was assured by the locals that it is not and typically eaten once or twice a year… or daily for a tourist on holiday;)
The traditional breakfast consists of bacon/ham, poached or over easy egg, sausage, beans, potatoes, roasted tomato half, and black (blood) and white pudding. The puddings are not for everyone. I must say that I can be quite adventuresome, but I just could not try the pudding. It actually is not a pudding but a sausage made from pigs' blood, onions, herbs, spices, oatmeal or barley. It is then sliced and fried and served for breakfast.
If you are interested in trying this as St. Patrick’s day meal, the following are the traditional directions for preparing this dish (courtesy of http://www.foodireland.com/recipes/Breakfast/irishbreakfast.htm):
Place a knob of Irish Butter on a frying pan or skillet. (There is a noticeable difference in taste when you use Irish Butter over cooking oil )
Over a medium heat, fry the bacon until it’s done the way you like. Try not to cook it like American bacon which is usually done until real crispy.
Keep the Irish Bacon soft and well browned.
With four plates in the warming section of your oven, place the cooked bacon on one plate and keep hot. You can place a paper towel on the plate to absorb excess fat from the bacon.
Place the sausages on the frying pan and cook till golden brown all around.
Place in oven on a second plate - keep hot.
Empty contents of can of beans in to a small saucepan and place on low heat.
Slice the puddings and place on the frying pan.
Cut the tomatoes in to quarters and place on pan also.
Slice the Previously boiled chilled potatoes in to slices about 1" thick and place on pan.
Fry the tomatoes, puddings and potatoes till golden brown both sides.
Place in the oven and keep hot.
Finally, fry the eggs and grate Dubliner cheese on top if desired.
This breakfast is great washed down with Irish tea and served with brown bread.
Outside of the traditional breakfast, most Irish have a small breakfast consisting of a piece of toast and tea, or some fruit or oats, which were also a staple in the Irish diet. Oats not only fed the family but also supported the livestock. In fact, Ireland has now expanded and diversified its crops to include wheat, barley, and sugar beets, in addition to the favored potatoes and oats.
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