Friday, December 7, 2012

Irish Food, Part One

by Sheila Connolly

Irish food has always had a lousy reputation.  Most "traditional" recipes appear to be some combination of potatoes, cabbage and carrots, with butter added.  Goodness knows I've eaten my share of watery stews and overcooked roasts there. 

But in the last decade, Ireland has made a quantum leap forward and has jumped into the foodie world with both feet.  Restaurants emphasize fresh local products (of course, when your country is less than two hundred miles across, it's hard for food not to be local). And the markets…oh, the markets.

My husband and I just spent two weeks in a very well-equipped cottage in County Cork.  The cottage is no more than ten years old, although it sits on the site of an old farmer's cottage (which belonged to a branch of the Connolly family, although probably not my branch, even though it's no more than a mile from my people…long story), and comes with a full kitchen, including microwave and dishwasher.  And views.  Endless views of rolling hills.  It was hard to get any cooking done while watching the rain showers sweep across the fields, trailing rainbows; or of an evening, watching the neighbors' lights twinkle on, a mile or more away.

The view from my breakfast table

But I digress.  I wanted a real kitchen because I wanted to cook. And cook I did.  We stopped at the local quick-mart type place at the only gas station in Leap, a tiny village on the south coast, nearest the cottage.  They were well-stocked with almost everything you could need (including socks and hot water bottles (yes, they still exist)).  The bread was freshly made and extraordinary, but you had to remember to get there early in the day if you wanted any.

Once settled in, we made a foray to the local supermarket in Skibbereen (pop. 2,000), of which I am in awe.  It is so much better than my local market. In every category.  I was blown away each time we went in, which was as often as possible. 


Friendly fishmonger with skate
But that was just the commercial side.  We also visited Union Hall, an even tinier town across the harbor, and home to the local fishing fleet.  They have a fish market, that locals tell us has a block-long line in the summer—not surprising since you can see the boats from the window.  In November we were the only patrons, and the fishmonger was chatty (as were most of the Irish people we met), and didn't mind my asking stupid questions about what I was looking at, most of which I had never seen in my life.  Whole monkfish (they have weird teeth).  Whole flounder, or maybe it was plaice, covered with perfectly round orange spots.  Local prawns.  And skate.  I had never seen a whole skate, or eaten or cooked one. I quickly remedied that. It's very mild and surprisingly pleasant.

And the farmers market in Skibbereen…I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  Goes on year round.  Has everything—fish, cheese, bread, cakes, meat, live chickens and quail, late apples, the largest cabbage I have ever met, and so much more.  I came back to my kitchen with venison sausage, having passed on the wild boar (with the fur on!), pheasant and wood pigeon.  I also bought an 1880 silver plated christening cup because it was pretty (there were sellers of what they themselves called "tat" there in addition to food).

My word, so far I have gone on about mainly the raw materials, with nary a recipe in sight.  Stay tuned:  I found an amazing pumpkin soup, and a pear-almond cake that had me asking the young cook for tips.  And posset.  I must try my hand at posset.

The first book in Sheila Connolly's County Cork Mysteries, Buried in a Bog, will debut in February 2013.  She may have to include recipes! Or at least go back and taste a few more.



  1. I'm looking forward to your recipes! I am a big fan of Irish soda bread (actually, I liked the kind at the Dublin airport but was told it's not the real thing). Will you have a recipe for it, perhaps...?

  2. Sheila, I'm drooling with envy over this trip. You're such a smart girl!

  3. What a nice trip! Thanks for sharing, Sheila. Now I'm unquestionably ready for Second Breakfast. :)

  4. Thanks for sharing, Sheila. I'm about to leap through the computer to that table laden with fabulous breads!

    ~ Krista

  5. Ah, you've captured the taste of Ireland. Now me mouth's watering!

  6. Sheila, the pictures are phenomenal. Love the rainbow. How perfect!

    Welcome back to the USA.