If you have Irish heritage—or even if you don’t—you’ve probably tried Irish food. Especially in the United States, Irish-themed parties and celebrations are common. But believe it or not, St. Patrick’s Day specialties, such as corned beef and cabbage or soda bread, are not as Irish as we may think. Both foods, due to immigration and some creative culinary changes, have Americanized versions that may be more common in the States than in Ireland.
Wondering what sort of Irish foods your ancestors enjoyed? Look no further. Here are six traditional Irish foods directly from Ireland itself.
Shellfish: A Traditional Irish Food Staple
The natural climate and location of Ireland provide ample resources for delicious shellfish dishes. Once the short Irish summers begin to fade into autumn, shellfish are most plentiful. Whether oysters, clams, mussels, cockles, or prawns, a safe bet is that they were a part of your ancestors’ diet.
Since there is no shortage of seafood on the island, dishes such as these began as food for poorer families. However, as time has passed and technology has improved, shellfish has become a luxury. In any case, Ireland is still the place to try fresh shellfish and other seafood.
Common Irish seafood dishes include the following:
Irish Stew: Simple and Savory
Irish stew combines the two staples of a traditional Irish diet—meat and potatoes. The stew is a mix of root vegtables, herbs, and, more commonly today, lamb. Historically, traditional Irish stews were made with mutton.
Similar to seafood, Irish stew was once a meal for poor families. It was often watery and made with whatever ingredients were easy to acquire—even if the mutton wasn’t edible until it had stewed for a fair amount of time. Today, we have the freedom of being more creative and can add stock and pearl barley for a better texture and consistency.
This traditional Irish stew recipe will help you get a taste of historical Irish cuisine!
Boxty: A Traditional Irish Meal
Boxty, in short, is a potato pancake. It’s made from a mix of buttermilk, baking soda, and a lot of potato gratings. Typically, boxty is cooked just like you might imagine–in a frying pan. However, this Irish food is very versatile. It lends itself to boiling, like you would do with a dumpling, or even baking, like you would do with a loaf of bread.
As with many other traditional Irish foods, this meal was common among the poorer families of Ireland. Potatoes were a staple for survival; boxty was simply another way to cook them. Of course, nowadays boxty has blossomed into a fun meal. It still lends itself to a variety of different dishes, including replacing the tortilla in a tortilla wrap.
Try this boxty recipe for yourself!
Colcannon: Irish Mashed Potatoes
Colcannon is a mixed mash of butter, greens, and—you guess it—potatoes. This meal is so common in Ireland, you can usually find a recipe on the back of grocery packaging. If you are a fan of vegetables, then it will probably become a favorite of yours as well.
But there is more to this Irish food than you might think. Traditionally, it has a bit of a playful role in marriage and matchmaking. During holiday festivities, a small trinket would be hidden inside, and any young lady who discovered it in her bowl was thought to be the next in line for marriage. Additionally, girls would put their first and last spoonsful of colcannon into their stockings. But they didn’t hang them over the fireplace with care. Instead, they hung them over the doorway, where—it was believed—the maiden’s future husband would reveal himself as the next man to cross the threshold.
If you want to explore the colcannon legend for yourself, try this recipe!
Barmbrack: An Irish Sweetbread
No Irish food is complete without dessert, and barmbrack is the perfect after-meal treat. It’s a sort of sweet bread similar to fruitcake, and it contains raisins and dried white grapes. On an everyday basis, it is often eaten with a warm cup of tea. However, families traditionally enjoy it during Halloween.
Why? Similar to the colcannon, the dish comes with a sort of fortune-telling game. The games used to be more elaborate, and the chef would hide all sorts of tricks such as twigs and cloth in the food, most of which indicated bad luck. However, today the only secret treasure that has remained for most families is the ring, which, as with the colcannon tradition, indicates a wedding on the horizon.
This recipe will let you play your own barmbrack tricks!
Coddle: An Irish Way to Use Leftovers
We’ll end with the leftovers. Coddle was invented as a way to create a meal from whatever was left in the pantry. It was especially important to religious families who would not eat meat on Fridays and didn’t want anything to go to waste. Coddle has a lot of variety and typically includes all the Irish staples such as potatoes, onions, herbs, and other vegetables.
Coddle was also a popular meal during the cold winter seasons because it was simple and warm. It could also be prepared in advance, meaning wives wouldn’t have to wait up to cook for their husbands on a late night. Interestingly, people today still use it when they are in a hurry. It’s filling and easy to cook ahead of time.
Coddle is a quick and easy meal to put together; this recipe might help you on a busy night!
Learn More about Your Irish Ancestors
So there you have it—six traditional Irish foods. Want to learn more fun details about your Irish ancestors? Come check out the largest online family record database at FamilySearch.org, where you can find names, dates, photos, and stories of your heritage for free, with no trial period or paid subscriptions. Get started today!