One of my favorite things to study in history is Ireland –specifically between about 600-1600 AD. So even though it’s not a popular period and a little obscure to study and apply today, it was only a matter of time before something made it into my blog. Well, folks, today is the day. Join me as we go way back and learn what you might be eating if you lived in Ireland in the more obscure times in history. This list may grow and be updated as I learn more things, so check back periodically if you find it helpful. For now, here’s a start.
The best way to starve out the Irish would be to kill the cows. Thus was the thought among the Brits who were in charge of quelling the Irish rebellion. Though we often equate Irish cooking with the beloved spud, potatoes are a relatively new addition to European diets, coming only the late 1600s. Although dates are relatively hard to nail down for foods and their techniques, we can pull an idea of what Ancient Irish ate through their writings – and their stomachs. Several mummified corpses have been pulled from the bogs of Ireland and their stomach contents reveal their last meals. (Imagine if the last thing you ate turned out to be your contribution to how people understand our culture 800 years from now.)
With that lovely thought, let’s look at the groupings of what you may have eaten if you were born in Ireland anytime between the pre-Christian Celts up until the 16th century. The main diet, much like ours, consisted of
Irish depended heavily on diary-foods (called Bandidh, which meant “white foods”) preferring to use their cows for dairy production and only eat the cows who stopped producing for meat.
- Milk: They drank it both fresh and sour
- Thick milk: slightly sour skimmed milk
- Curds: They created curds by adding an acid product to their milk. Records show they used foods like lemon juice and vinegar for this. The acid would cause the milk proteins to clump together. You could get the same effect by simply waiting for the milk to sour.
- Whey: After the curds were finished, they would separate them, leaving behind a liquid called whey. To this mixture, they would add water and serve as a sour drink.
- Butter: Butter was a staple and there was a large variety of flavors. A common additive was onion and garlic.
- Cheese: Cheesemaking is believed to precede the arrival of Roman-British influences and Christianity. None of the ancient indigenous cheeses of this island have survived.
- Bog Butter: It’s hard to pin bog butter down but there are records of it from both the 12th century and a writing from 1675 AD by a Mr. Dineley who wrote about butter that was “mixed with store of a kind of garlick, and buried for some time in a bog to make a provision of a high taste for Lent.” The tradition of wrapping butter in a cloth or enclosing it in a ask and sinking it deep into a bog is thought to have started to preserve butter. However, it began to absorb and take on a boggy taste which quickly became a favorite: the boggier the butter, the better.
Grains and cereals
- Flummery (jelly made by boiling the sowens)
- Wheat (though it was a treat)
- Only apples were actually grown on purpose.
If you lived by the coast you could eat certain foods such as seaweed.
This is not a comprehensive list, but I would like to add to it as I come across tidbits in my reading, so if you’re interested or researching for a novel, be sure and check back. While researching this, I also stumbled on Dr. Bill’s website where he puts into practice eating like ancient humans and it looked interesting so I thought I would share it. You can see it here. So what do you think? Would you try any of these foods? Would you like to see more of them? Let me know in the comments below. I read each and every one of them.