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St. Patrick's Day & the Food Customs of Ireland

food customs of ireland

Irish or Irish American?

Saint Patrick's Day is coming soon, and many people will be thinking of making the traditional dish of corned beef and cabbage to celebrate the holiday. Perhaps they should think again. It turns out that corned beef and cabbage is an Irish-American invention, not a traditional Irish dish at all. Corned beef and cabbage was created by Irish immigrants in an effort to replicate the taste of boiled "bacon joint" and cabbage, a popular Irish dish, but not a traditional Saint Patrick's Day food. An interesting article about the origins of corned beef and cabbage, Saint Patrick's Day foods, and the food customs of Ireland can be read at the Irish Culture and Customs site. You can actually buy a bacon joint and learn how to cook it at Food Ireland, an American-based Irish gourmet foods company with online ordering. Food Ireland also sells the ingredients you need to prepare a traditional Irish breakfast.

Another example of famous Irish cuisine in America is Irish soda bread, dotted with raisins and caraway seeds. Again, this isn't typically Irish. When I visited Ireland seven years ago, I recall that the most typical bread was a simple brown bread, delicious with salty, ultra-creamy Irish butter. You can buy Irish butter quite easily in the U.S., in stores or online. A simple recipe for Irish brown bread can be found at 101 cookbooks, one of the featured blogs on Gourmet File. In today's New York Times, Melissa Clark investigates the origins of Irish soda bread, and offers her own recipe, which isn't traditional but sounds delicious.

During my travels in Ireland, another food that stood out was Irish Cashel Blue cheese, a hand-made, un-pasturized cows milk cheese from Tipperary. It's available in specialty shops in the U.S. and online from Murray's Cheese, which carries a number of Irish cheeses. Cashel Blue would be perfect in this recipe for a salad of fennel, apples, blue cheese and pecans from Food & Wine.

Ireland may not be the culinary center of the world, but I do remember great meal I had there. It was an open-faced prawn sandwich washed down with a pint of beer at a pub in the Burren, an ancient limestone-covered outpost overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The combination of faintly sweet brown bread, salty Irish butter, and delicate prawns from the Atlantic Ocean was simple and wonderful. Of course it may have been the remoteness and the beauty of the place, combined with the fact that everything tastes better on vacation, but I would be happy to go back and eat that again. For anyone interested in traveling to Ireland, a good website to look at is Bridgestone, which focuses on great cooks and small inns.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!