Do you ever feel you are a failure by the diversity of cuisine you serve to your family? Today I felt like that. Over breakfast my German significant other asked what cuisine I was looking at today in my global tour of London foods. “Ireland” I said. The reply was “so, we are having stew for dinner again”. I was taken back, shocked to my core, upset. Surely I have introduced other native foods from the emerald isle to our South London kitchen. I can name more German foods than most, tell you the sound cheese from Frankfurt makes. I feel hurt. At that point I thought I would look in the freezer, and there it was, soda bread, potato bread and you guessed it, stew, I felt better and started to talk about todays dish. Barmbrack.
Growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1980’s at the height of U2 fame with family in the Republic of Ireland I experienced many different types of food from the Giants Causeway at the top of Northern Ireland to the gourmet restaurants of Kinsale at the bottom. All, may I add based around bread and potatoes. Sometimes the two were combined like in the famous potato bread.
Irish, like every modern cuisine has evolved over many years; the beautiful green island is great for growing food due to the climate, however, although great for growing food, the introduction of the potato in the 16th century lead to Irish people emigrating all over the world as the Irish got too dependent on the potato as a food source. This dependency was for many reasons, mainly large families, low pay, traditional inheritance patters and high rent. Sadly blight hit the potato crops and there was mass starvation causing people to emigrate across the world to find food in the mid 18th century. It is estimated that 1 million people died and another 1 million emigrated and the population reduced by a quarter.
It never ceases to amaze me on my travels, whether in the Gobi desert, the middle of New York or in Siberia I meet people from home. I jest not, I remember buying vegetables in the Siberian capital of Novosibirsk to hear a familiar accent, and it turned out to be my brother’s schoolteacher.
I could argue the food of Ireland has helped form modern styles of today’s Western cuisine. Emigration to other lands with other multi-national immigration has lead to a time when not only do cuisines of the past talk about social history of good and bad times, but Irish food has told the world of a hard working people surviving. As I talk to my mother she tells me about immigration of different peoples to Ireland, north and south and how the cuisine at home is changing too. As I travel round London I’m finding all sorts of stories of food and social history.
As I grew up with AGA, we have one on our farm (originally 2 Oven oil in British Racing Green but now a 3 Oven AGA Total Control in Cream), and friends had them too. Whether it is boiling a pan of potatoes, an Irish apple tart or potato bread the AGA does it all effortlessly. At harvest time our neighbors who have orchards give my mum lots of apples, she can whip up an apple tart in no time, just raw pastry on a tart dish top and bottom with bramley apples and sugar in the middle, 25 minutes on the floor of the Roasting Oven and its ready. Potato bread can be baked directly onto the Simmering Plate, potatoes cook so easily (as do all root veg), bring them to the boil in a pan on the Boiling Plate, drain off the water, lid on and into the Simmering Oven for 20 minutes. Simple. If left for up to an hour all will be fine.
Today I cooked a Barmbrack, a traditional Irish tea bread for Halloween. It’s commonly referred to as “brack” and is available all over Ireland toasted with some butter and served for breakfast or with afternoon tea, it’s never misplaced buttered on a cake stand at home. Traditionally various objects would be baked into it for Halloween, depending on the slice consumed contents depends on how your year will be. Mythology has a long history at home, Ireland is Neolithic. As the story goes; if you find a pea your not marrying that year, a stick means you will have an unhappy marriage, a rag (the visual in my mind is odd too at this point) means you will be poor, a coin you will be wealthy or a claddagh ring means you will be married that year. I have read if you find an icon like a St Christopher you will enter the priesthood or become a nun. Did you ever hear the one about Paddy finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow only to be hit over the head with a schaleigh by one of the little men? I’m not being sizeist, they are known as that, the leprechauns.
For the record, my mum loves her AGA Total Control. Sorry, AGA iTotal Control, mum just sends her AGA a text message now to turn on for quick heat up on the way home from shopping. Cyber mum, that is not Irish story telling, its true, have a look at the AGA website.
So, how do we cook that German stew? I think a recipe like this is load of aul blarney! I’m on holiday to Frankfurt in a few weeks; I wonder what they will serve in O’Reilly’s Irish Bar on Münchener Straβe? Sure a pint of the black stuff has travels as much as the craic.
Next stop Bangladesh, I wonder if I find any Irish influence in the cuisine there? To be sure, to be sure.
250ml strong black tea
180g brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
250g plain flour
½ tsp baking soda
Make the tea by boiling water in an AGA kettle.
Place the tea, sugar and dried fruit into a bowl, cover and leave to steep on top of an AGA Chef’s Pad on top of the Simmering Plate lid over night until the tea has been absorbed into the fruit.
Add all of the remaining ingredients to the fruit and mix to combine, adding a little water or a little extra egg if the mixture is too dry.
Turn into a greased spring form cake tin and bake for 1 ½ – 1 ¾ hours. 2 Oven AGA place onto the grid shelf on the 4th set of runners in the Roasting Oven with the cold plain shelf on top to stop any excess browning. Change the cold plain shelf ever 20-30 minutes. Alternatively, bake in the Roasting Oven in an AGA cake baker. 3, 4 and 5 Oven AGA, place onto the grid shelf on the 4th set of runners in the Baking Oven.
Remove from the tin when cooked and allow to cool. Serve sliced with butter.