Another dish of the poor, traditionally made with cheaper cuts, usually the neck (scrag-end) of mutton or kid.
When the recipe made its way into the big house and as a consequence into cook books in the 19th century it was transformed into a generic stock pot with other root vegetables, herb and spice flavourings (especially pepper), and meat from the better cuts of the animal.
In her book A Taste of Ireland Theodora Fitzgibbon had this to say. ‘It was originally made with mutton or kid (no farmer would be so foolhardy as to use his lambs for it), potatoes and onions. The pure flavour is spoilt if carrots, turnips or pearl barley are added, or if it is too liquid. A good Irish stew should be thick and creamy, not swimming in juice like soup.’
Irish stew changed dramatically during the 1800s when the blackface breed were brought from Scotland to graze hill habitats. A smaller animal than its lowland cousin, the blackface produced a sweeter tasting meat, prominent in the neck bones and meat.
Connemara hill lambs, which are slaughtered between 10 and 14 weeks, now give Irish stew a distinctive taste, especially if the better cuts of meat are combined with the neck bones.
This is the original traditional recipe tweaked to include more meat than bone, with herbs and pepper.
3 kg waxy potatoes, peeled, quartered
2 kg onions, chopped
1.5 litres water
1 kg hill lamb neck chops
1 kg hill lamb shoulder meat
30 g black pepper, freshly ground
25 g salt
1 tbsp parsley and thyme, chopped
Arrange neck bones in a large pot, turn heat to medium and allow fat to run out of the bones. Stack potatoes on top of the bones, then the onions and seasoning, more pepper than salt. Fill the pot with water three-quarters up to the level of the onions, bring to the boil. Cover, turn heat to lowest setting and cook for three hours. The result should be a thick potato stew containing pieces of meat and bones, with the onions completely melted.
Meat and potato pies are a traditional dish of northern England, especially the counties of Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, where meat and potatoes have always formed the basis for a hearty meal. Packed in a pastry the meal becomes portable.
These pies have never been a home-baked product, largely because they have always been ubiquitous in the cafe and chip shop culture of north-west England, Holland’s version being the most popular of the mass-produced brands.
Made with beef, potato and yeast extract in a shortcrust pastry, Holland’s meat and potato pies are also synonymous with sporting events.
Meat and potato pies, as they are known today, began as a workhouse product, are probably related to Irish mutton pies, and were hardly known as a recipe in cookbooks.
Charles Elme Francatelli’s A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes, published in 1852, describes a meat pie and a potato pie.
Of whatever kind, let the pieces of meat be first fried brown over a quick fire, in a little fat or butter, and seasoned with pepper and salt; put these into a pie-dish with chopped onions, a few slices of half-cooked potatoes, and enough water just to cover the meat. Cover the dish with a crust, made with two pounds of flour and six ounces of butter, or lard, or fat dripping, and just enough water to knead it into a stiff kind of dough or paste, and then bake it for about an hour and a-half.
Slice up four onions and boil them in a saucepan with two ounces of butter, a quart of water, and pepper and salt, for five minutes; then add four pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut in slices; stew the whole until the potatoes are done, and pour them into a pie-dish; cover this with stiff mashed potatoes, and bake the pie of a light brown colour.
Our version has an Irish stew filling and a peppered crust.
Meat and Potato Pie with Peppered Hot Pastry Crust
1 kg potatoes, peeled, quartered
750 g lamb, cut into 2 cubes
750 g onions, chopped
30 g black pepper, freshly ground
25 g salt
This is essentially an Irish stew recipe. The quantity is much more than you will need for the filling. Arrange lamb in the bottom of a large pot, turn heat to medium and allow fat to run out of the bones. Stack potatoes on top of the lamb, then the onions and seasoning, more pepper than salt. Fill the pot with water, three-quarters up to the level of the onions, bring to the boil. Cover, turn heat to lowest setting and cook for three hours. The result should be a thick meat and potato stew, with the onions completely melted.
450 g strong white flour
150 ml water
125 g lard
10 g pepper
10 g salt
5 g icing sugar
Bring the lard and water to the boil.
Sieve flour and salt into a large bowl, add pepper and sugar.
Pour the hot liquid into a well in the centre of the flour, and using a sturdy wooden spoon quickly form into a soft dough.
Divide dough into eight equal pieces (approximately 90 g each), cut again – two thirds for the base, one third for the lid.
Push the dough into the bottom and sides of small deep pie tins, diameter 8 cms.
Preheat oven to 220°C.
Pack the tins with the filling, roll the remaining dough out, place over the top of the filling, crimping the edges. Pierce a hole in the centre of the lid.
Reduce oven temperature to 180°C, bake for 90 minutes.
Domesticated and cultivated in the highlands of Peru thousands of years ago, the potato (papa to the Incas) made its appearance in Europe with the Spanish in the 16th century (1539), quickly spreading throughout western and northern Europe to become a field crop despite resistance from the peasantry in Germany and Russia, where potato production would eventually become the highest in Europe and the world.
The tradition of boiling potatoes whole in their skins and serving them with butter or buttermilk is gradually dying out. A dish made from mashed potatoes and buttermilk was called THE STIFFNER in the west of Ireland, but it is now a rare sight on a plate. PURÉE DE POMMES DE TERRE, baked potato mashed with butter and milk, is hardly seen anymore.
ROAST POTATOES have managed to survive, largely as an accompaniment to roast meat dinners in Britain. In eastern Europe and Russia potatoes were boiled and roasted in animal fats – goose, duck, etc – a tradition that is still holding out, despite health concerns.
MASHED or PUREED POTATOES remain popular. You can still go into a shop in south London and order a plate of JELLIED EEL or PIE, POTATO MASH and PARSLEY SAUCE. Mashed potatoes and carrots, and spiced with nutmeg, called STOEMP in the Netherlands and Belgium, is a clever interpretation of an early food tradition brought into the region by the Spanish. In Ireland kale and potatoes are mashed together to make COLCANNON. The potato and garbanzo (chickpea) pate called TOPIK made in Armenia is having a makeover.
They were added to stews and soups. IRISH STEW, initially with mutton, potatoes and onions, now with lamb, potatoes, onions and seasonings, has also survived the test of time. In the Alpine regions of Austria and Italy BOZNER HERRENGRÖSTL, a potato and veal stew, has done the same. Less so in Scotland with STOVIES, a stew made with potatoes and onions and leftover meat.
SODD is a spicy meat and potato soup in Norway. Potato is an essential ingredient in SEAFOOD CHOWDER. KÄSE UND KARTOFFEL SUPPE is always on the menu in Germany and neighbouring countries. In Scotland CULLEN SKINK is smoked haddock, potato and onion soup.
MEAT and POTATO PIES are not as popular as they once were in the north of England because the recipe is being lost with the generations. In Slovenia they make a wonderful potato pasty called IDRIJSKI ZLIKROFI. And back in England the CORNISH PASTY, made with beef, onion, potato and swede, is managing to hold its own against fast-food competition. Potato is a main ingredient in the Swiss mountain dish called CHOLERA, which also contains apples or pears, cheese and onions.
FRENCH FRIES, aka CHIPS, appeared on Paris streets in the mid-19th century and soon became synonymous with street fried fish.
In England the two were combined to become FISH AND CHIPS.
In Switzerland the tradition of grating raw potatoes and baking them on hot griddles to make RÖSTI can be traced to the Zurich region in the 17th century. MALUNS are toasted potato lumps in Switzerland, served for breakfast.
In Italy they were prepared pureed with flour and blanched in hot water to make GNOCCHI. Potato dumplings are still popular in northern and central Europe. In Austria dumplings made with apricot and potato are called MARILLENKNÖDEL.
Northern and central European countries got into the habit of making POTATO PANCAKES but it was the Spanish who made the TORTILLA, potato omelette, an essential element of the frying pan or griddle.
Slowly dying out is the tradition of making POTATO CAKES on a griddle. Once common across northern Europe, it is only in southern Europe, in Andorra, the Basque Country and Catalonia that it is still popular, albeit as the bacon, cabbage and potato cakes known as TRINXAT
Baked in the oven they became the base for POTATO GRATIN. Various ingredients, from anchovy to cheese and bacon, go into these baked dishes, such as TARTIFLETTE in France.
KÖTTBULLAR, meatballs in Sweden, are made with potato and meat – beef, pork or veal.
Then there is KARTOFFELSALAT, served hot and cold in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. A good potato salad is still a mystery to be solved, because those who know the secret are reluctant to share it.
In many countries they were the base ingredient to make raw alcohol (poteen and vodka).
High in carbohydrates, protein, minerals and vitamins.
Food in Ireland has always been defined by invaders, the Celts of eastern, northern and southern Europe, the Vikings, Anglo-Normans, Saxons and Britons, by countless migrants and by the relationships coastal and river people developed as traders with seafarers and travellers.
Early food was based on grains – barley, einkorn, oats, spelt – on dairy produce, on game meat, on inshore, lake and river fish, on eggs (domesticated and wild), on honey and on wild berries and fruit.
Porridge made with milk and oats is one of the oldest traditional dishes. Oats were used in numerous ways, in soups and stews, in confections like honeycomb, and as the essential ingredient in griddle bread. They were fermented to provide the leaven for bread, before bicarbonate of soda and baker’s yeast.
Cooking, curing and curdling methods were influenced by the invaders. The Vikings specialised in air-dried fish but it is likely that the tradition of salt-dried fish was brought from the Iberian peninsula. Whatever the origin, drying fish was a tradition around the Atlantic fringe.
Cockle, eel, haddock, herring, langoustine (Dublin bay prawn), mackerel, pike, salmon, trout and winkle provided protein for coastal, lake and river communities. Sea vegetables such as dulse and sloke were eaten as snacks, in bread and soups.
Meat from domesticated and wild birds (duck and goose in particular), small animals (hares and rabbits) and large animals (boar and deer) was common, and defined traditional dishes.
The potato had a profound effect on traditional food. Usually cooked whole in their skins, a method that retained minerals and vitamins, the potato was used as a thickener for soups (early chowders, for example), as a bulking agent in stews and as a companion for countless dishes – boxty, champ, colcannon, pratie.
Nothing was wasted. Offal was mixed with pig’s blood and oats to make black pudding. Pig trotter’s were served whole or as an aromatic thickener in soups and stews. Sausage making utilised pork meat and biscuit rusk in a combination that was unique (the continentals put rusk in their meatballs – a tradition that never caught on in Ireland).
Mutton became an important food in the late 18th century. The consequence was Irish stew, made initially with mutton, potatoes, onions and salt, then much latter with other root vegetables and herbs.
Bread making went through countless adaptations in the early 19th century as new ingredients were introduced, and produce and products from overseas – bicarbonate of soda, dried fruit, molasses, soft wheat, spices and sugar – led to the beginnings of many of the dishes now associated with Irish traditional food.
Cakes and confections proliferated, influenced by migrants from France, Italy and Switzerland who introduced home bakeries and ice cream parlours.
Breakfast became the most important meal of the day, and epitomised traditional food, continuing to this day. Depending on the region, breakfast included a combination of foods from bacon rashers, black and white puddings, fried eggs, pork-rusk sausages, potatoes in their various disquises, white soda bread and steak sausages followed by wheaten soda bread and scones with butter, jams and preserves, milky tea or coffee with hot milk. Fast breakfast was fadge – bacon, eggs and potato cakes.
The concept of meat, vegetables and potatoes on a plate probably started in Ireland. Now bacon / gammon / ham, cabbage and mashed potatoes / chipped potatoes or roast stuffed pork, carrots, gravy and mashed potatoes / chipped potatoes or sirloin steak, crispy onion and mashed potatoes/chipped potatoes are thought of as traditional dishes.
Barm / Round Brack
Colcannon (mashed potatoes with kale)
PEOPLE PLACE PRODUCE
Barm / Round Brack*
Battered Lobster Tails / Prawns (Scampi)
Beara Pan-Fried Mackerel, also Donegal
Black Pudding, also known as Cork Drisheen, Mayo Drisheen, etc*
Bookies Sandwich (rump/sirloin and crusty white bread / soda bread to a specific recipe, now being applied to the Waterford Blaa)
Breakfast Bap / Roll (bacon, egg, sausage)
Brotchán Foltchep (leek and oatmeal soup)
Cabbage and Bacon / Gammon / Ham
Carrageen, Mackerel and Potato chowder
Champ / Stelk (mashed potatoes and scallions), Donegal