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CELTIC-L  March 2008

CELTIC-L March 2008

Subject:

Re: Feast of Tara

From:

Stiof MacAmhalghaidh <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.

Date:

Wed, 19 Mar 2008 23:36:05 -0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (143 lines)

  >  "What people eat or choose to eat is conditioned by
  >  the food producing capabilities of the country, by
  >  trade, income, taste, custom and culture. In Ireland
  >  these influence for many centuries led to a diet
  >  dominated by pastoral products. Traditional Gaelic
  >  society supported a system of semi-nomadic pastoral
  >  farming because Ireland was climatically suited to the
  >  rearing of livestock.

Which statement does not necessarily say 'meat' over 'dairy'...

  >  Meat of all types was eaten in large quantities. Milk
  >  in liquid, solid and semi-solid forms was in important
  >  adjuvant, and sour milk in varying degrees of
  >  viscosity was consumed. Especially popular were curds
  >  called 'bonaclabbe'. Butter also formed an essential
  >  part of the daily diet...

I wonder what period they are referring to here and worry that this piece is written to
address diet in a vague "early Ireland". Is there any indication of the time period
being dealt with? It is likely that diet in 500AD, 900AD and 1300AD differed, if not in
content so much, then at least in the balance of elements, and again across the social
strata.

  >  ...until the end of the 16th century the role of
  >  tillage crops was no more than as a supplement to meat
  >  and dairy produce, particularly in winter.

Again I worry that this is not a description akin to the version of history that focuses
on great leaders and battles. If they lived primarily on meat and dairy foods they would
have been a sickly lot. It is worth remembering that land cleared by hand is hard-won,
that the nutrition-per-acre from livestock is distinctly lower than that from cereals
and vegetables, that crops do not have a habit of wandering, and perhaps above all that
in a world without easy refrigeration vegetable and grain preservation is way easier
than meat preservation... and that year-round food from cattle is easiest got from
cheeses and use of blood drawn from living animals, both foods being attested in
medieval Ireland. Animals tend to be slaughtered at particular times of year rather than
on a continuous basis in a way that maximises the benefit (to the people - not to the
animals!) while minimising the effect on the herd numbers and herd health. So, some
lambs and calves slaughtered early in the season for food in the hungry period (around
about now) when winter stocks are about gone and the foods of summer and autumn are as
yet unavailable, and again in early winter to reduce stock numbers to provide winter
food (salted meat) and minimise the pressure on winter pasture. It is desperately hard
to write summary history without skimming over details that help ensure the reader is
not misled by their assumptions, and again I'm inclined to recommend 'Early Irish
Farming' as bedtime reading...

  >  Teh
  >  exception was those areas which overlapped with
  >  Anglo-Norman settlements, where colonists had from the
  >  12th century introduced different dietary pattern of
  >  gruels and puddings based on cereals, peas and beans
  >  along with bread.
  >
  >  During the 17th century cereals assumed a more central
  >  place in diets as arabel farming expanded...assisted
  >  by the continual influx of ppl from England and
  >  Scotland in the wake of the Munster and Ulster
  >  plantations. This new wave of colonization wrought
  >  more fundamental dietary changes than earlier influxes
  >  of migrants...by the end of the (17th) century the
  >  land was yeild a variety of grains, fruits and sweet
  >  herbs. Firsheries had been established along the
  >  coasts netting a variety of bass, mullet, eels, hake,
  >  herring, oyster, cockles and mussels.

Which gives the impression that these food types were hardly considered in previous
generations... though a moment's thought says otherwise. I wonder of the problem lies as
much in that there is a more extensive record of such things being produced at this
period than in former times?

  >  ...The consumption of blood, in a jellified form or
  >  mixed with butter, oats or salt was an aspect of
  >  Gaelic cuisine that particularly repelled English
  >  observers. They were appalled too by the willingness
  >  of the naive population to devour animal entrails and
  >  to eat carrion with horse meat, by thier patiality for
  >  warm milk straight from the cow, ...and by they habit
  >  of eating rancid butter, thier unhopped ale and by
  >  thier preference for oatcakes and gruels rather than
  >  good wheaten bread." End quote

As I understand it, blood was drawn as a sort of backup resource in times of hunger more
than as a regular element of the diet, though I have to say that first sentence does
make me smile. Same for the rancid butter and unhopped ale. Cultural clashes and the
revulsion they sometimes provoke are fascinating 8-)

Again, though, I'd like to get dates for the sources for this passage.

  >  (Potatoes) reached Europe in the 16th century (from
  >  South America via the Spanish conquest). Thier arrival
  >  in Ireland is obscure. The earliest documentary
  >  evidence to potato cultivation in Ireland  is in a
  >  lease dated 1606 granting Scottish immigrants land in
  >  Co. Down. End quote.

I really must find that History Ireland article sometime...

  >  Perhaps the potatoe "spud" is the lumper, which was a
  >  poorer potatoe, having a higher water content.

Ah, no, the spud is a pet name really for the potato (and I have no notion of its
origin), while the lumper was a despicable aberration with an oily, soapy, watery
texture and flavour used only because it grew absolutely anywhere from gritty
mountainsides to the edges of bogs and produced huge tubers. In a country using every
spare inch to feed the population, it was a necessity. Not a poorer potato but the worst
(as a food for enjoyment). One of the distinct contrasts between England and Ireland as
regards foods is the attitude towards potatoes. While the typical Irish person can
usually quite happily discuss the merits and failings of Kerrs Pink, Roosters, etc, in
England the choice tends to be between 'white potatoes' and 'red potatoes'. One memory
of my time living in west London was travelling to West Ealing where one supermarket
sold (at unneccessarily high prices) what they called "speciality potatoes" such as
those named above. At first it was amusing to note the cultural contrast. After a couple
of bags of 'white potatoes', though, the trip became an urgent necessity. Stop me if I'm
rambling... ah, you can't. Isn't email wonderful!

  >  Between 1845 and 1849 the potatoe, which had become by
  >  then the staple diet of the poor and tenant farmers,
  >  failed three times. Over 3 million people at that time
  >  were dependent upon the pototo as the mainstay of
  >  thier diet. Since then, the potato has not played a
  >  dominant role in the Irish diet. End quote.

I beg to differ! I think it is fair to say that the potato remained a key element of the
Irish diet up to the 1980s and is still probably the number one between potatoes, rice,
pasta & similar.

  >  And dont forget venison. Some fish, hazelnuts, honey.
  >  They would have eaten what had been gathered and
  >  preserved over the seasons upcoming to the Feast of
  >  Tara. As this Feast occurs at Samhain, nothing is
  >  taken from the wild, or from the fields at this point.

All valid points. Also, did anyone mention mutton? Or the 'meatballs' produced as a
byproduct of 'creating' oxen...?

Last word goes to Marge Simpson on potatoes: "I just think they're neat". You said it,
Marge!

Stiof

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