I’ve been a bit remiss about posting lately but, busy as things are, I did get along to two of Regina’s three history of Irish food classes so far. And it’s been so interesting that I’m making sure I’ll keep the next seven Wednesdays free.
Week one began with an overview, including a quote from Prof Louis Cullen, which said that Ireland had “one of the most interesting culinary traditions in Europe”. Who would’ve thunk it? It’s to do with all those successive invasions and waves of migration/immigration, apparently.
Then we got on to the course proper, which began with the earliest evidence of food in Ireland in Mesolithic times. Evidence gathered at sites in Derry and Kerry indicate that, far from being on the brink of starvation, our hunter-gatherer forebears were pretty knowledgeable and organised when it came to feeding themselves.
What did they eat? Nine thousand years ago in Derry, Irish people were tucking into salmon, eel, trout, wild boar, hare, thrush, pigeon, capercaillie, wild apples, wild pears, hazelnuts and, possibly, water lily seeds. To keep them going in winter, they smoked the fish, dried the fruit and made sure they had big old stores of hazelnuts.
Two thousand years later (4,600-4,300BC) in Kerry, they were eating an astonishing amount of fish and shellfish (“a diet almost identical to Greenland Eskimos” according to one expert). They didn’t eat much else but it’s still bizarre to think that fellas running around in animal skins were eating a far more varied selection of fish than we do now.
I missed week 2 – the beginning of farming – but will post on week 3 at some point in the next few days.