Irish Inspired

Karl Wells
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The venerable Irish newspaper, The Irish Times, has for the past several weeks been selling gift hampers through its website. One is called, St. Patrick's Day Irish Feast Hamper. The hamper costs 130 euros and contains baked goods like Irish porter cake, Irish whiskey cake and lemon shorties, as well as sticky chocolate toffee, berry preserve, Irish afternoon tea and more. I gather these hampers or "care packages" are meant to deliver a taste of Ireland into the abodes of general folk, people of Irish ancestry or Irish ex-pats.

I wondered how effective a piece of Irish whiskey cake or a spoonful of berry preserve would be in delivering a taste of the Emerald Isle as I drove down to Cape Broyle the other day (my personal prescription for enjoying Irish culture.) We are fortunate that Irish men and women settled a significant part of our island - The Irish Loop - in the 18th century. These pioneers from Waterford County and other parts of Ireland set down deep roots along our beloved Southern Shore. Irish culture has survived in their descendants to the point where you not only hear it in the voices, you feel Ireland all around you, even though our pastures aren't quite as verdant in summer and wild fuchsia is nowhere to be seen.

Riverside Restaurant's Southern Shore specialty, Cape Broyle Chowder.

The venerable Irish newspaper, The Irish Times, has for the past several weeks been selling gift hampers through its website. One is called, St. Patrick's Day Irish Feast Hamper. The hamper costs 130 euros and contains baked goods like Irish porter cake, Irish whiskey cake and lemon shorties, as well as sticky chocolate toffee, berry preserve, Irish afternoon tea and more. I gather these hampers or "care packages" are meant to deliver a taste of Ireland into the abodes of general folk, people of Irish ancestry or Irish ex-pats.

I wondered how effective a piece of Irish whiskey cake or a spoonful of berry preserve would be in delivering a taste of the Emerald Isle as I drove down to Cape Broyle the other day (my personal prescription for enjoying Irish culture.) We are fortunate that Irish men and women settled a significant part of our island - The Irish Loop - in the 18th century. These pioneers from Waterford County and other parts of Ireland set down deep roots along our beloved Southern Shore. Irish culture has survived in their descendants to the point where you not only hear it in the voices, you feel Ireland all around you, even though our pastures aren't quite as verdant in summer and wild fuchsia is nowhere to be seen.

Our Irish connection is something I've been keenly aware of since I was a tot, but I'll never forget the time it smacked me in the gob. Thirty years ago I was watching a documentary by John McGreevy about the great city of Dublin. It was hosted by actor/director John Huston. In one of the opening scenes the camera was fixed on a sea of people negotiating their way along a busy commercial sidewalk in Dublin. The image literally took my breath away. The Dublin faces I saw were identical to St. John's faces. I'd never thought about St. John's or Newfoundland faces being physically different before. But that's when I realized there was a difference. St. John's faces, 30 years ago at least, were not Paris faces or even London faces. They were predominantly "Irish" faces.

Restaurant known as "Harold's"

You can see Ireland in the face and deep into the eyes of Rick Hayden. You can hear it when he speaks too. Rick and his wife own and operate the Riverside Restaurant and Lounge in Cape Broyle.

The locals know it simply as "Harold's" because Rick's dad, Harold Hayden, started the business 39 years ago, and in their practical Irish way, Cape Broyle residents refused to call it anything else.

Steve Watson and I filmed segments for "One Chef One Critic - St Patrick's Day Special" (Airing Sunday at 7 p.m. on Channel 9) at the Riverside Restaurant and had the pleasure of tasting a Southern Shore specialty, Cape Broyle Chowder. I once heard Jane O'Callaghan of Longueville House Hotel, which sits on the Black River in Mallow, County Cork, say on a BBC cookery program, "You're in Ireland! It's all butter and cream over here!" Riverside's chowder reminded me of that comment. It was a beautifully rich concoction featuring scallops, cod, and shrimp in a creamy base and well worth a trip to Cape Broyle - not to mention the buttery freshly baked buns! Don't forget, Ireland was built on fish and potatoes, soda bread, tea and stout.

Recently, I read an interview with the ebullient Irish author Maeve Binchy on bookreview.com. When asked about the importance of "food" in Irish culture she responded,

"Everybody has always loved eating in Ireland and the family always gathered around the table - which was also where all the stories were told. It's a bit like the Jewish culture in a sense. But because we were not a rich country, we were not very good cooks in Ireland for years. We did lots of interesting things with potatoes, but that was about it.

And because most of Ireland is Roman Catholic and not allowed to eat meat on Fridays, we always regarded fish as a penitential thing, as second rate. However, nowadays we all absolutely love fish. I hardly eat anything else besides fish now. Also, Ireland has become much richer because of the European Union, so nowadays we can actually afford things like caterers. Now, people are really interested in food. It's quite lovely really."

Early interest

Actually, the respect for, and interest in Irish cuisine came a little earlier than one might assume - especially from Binchy's comments. Exhibit A: The Kinsale International Gourmet Festival. This year, 2009, marks the festival's 33rd anniversary. The Kinsale festival has been promoting Irish cookery for years. Exhibit B: Myrtle and Darina Allen, a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law team that founded the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork, Ireland. For decades they have been teaching and promoting Irish traditional cooking. When Myrtle received her Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws from the National University of Ireland in 2000, the dean of arts said, "Mrytle Allen became a tireless propagandist for Irish food." That is an understatement and believe it or not the Ballymaloe Cookery School has, to some extent, even influenced the food along the Irish Loop of Newfoundland.

Have you ever eaten at Lighthouse Picnics in Ferryland? If you have, you've tasted Ballymaloe. Sonia O'Keefe, who prepares the glorious food for Lighthouse Picnics, is a graduate of the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Sonia's food is a wonderful example of the organically based and carefully prepared food that Ballymaloe is famous for. On the same BBC program I mentioned earlier, I heard Myrtle Allen speak of the importance of ingredients being in season, local, and fresh. She spoke of livestock being fed on sweet hay and meadow grass instead of silage. "Local, slow and fresh" has been and is her mantra and in reality it's what good Irish cookery or cookery anywhere has always been about. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Myrtle Allen's Irish Stew

Courtesy bbc.co.uk

Ingredients:

3 lb mutton or lamb shoulder chops

4 medium onions

4 medium carrots

1-pint stock or water

Salt and pepper

4 potatoes

1/2 oz butter

1 tbsp chopped chives

1 tbsp chopped parsley

Method:

1. Cut the excess fat from the chops, shred it and render it down in a heavy flameproof casserole.

2. Toss the meat in the fat until coloured.

3. Cut the onions and carrots into quarters, add to the meat and turn in the fat also.

4. Add the stock and season carefully.

5. Simmer gently for approximately two hours (one hour for lamb,) adding the potatoes half-way through.

6. When the meat is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, degrease and re-heat it in another saucepan. Check the seasoning.

7. Swirl in the butter, chives and parsley and pour back over the stew.

Organizations: Irish Times, Riverside Restaurant, BBC Ballymaloe Cookery School Longueville House Hotel European Union National University of Ireland

Geographic location: Ireland, Cape Broyle, Dublin St. John's Newfoundland Emerald Isle Waterford County Paris London Kinsale Black River Mallow Ferryland

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