In the Western context, the Irish household was up until recently an extraordinarily crowded environment. Six children was par for the course and not uncommon to hail from a family of twelve. These were highly demanding places to keep in order and miracles were usually asked of the person doing the cooking, whom most probably was also mother and wife. Just like a hearty beef stew, Irish soup was a source of mercy in such packed households. The bean an tí (‘lady of the house’), could see to the prep then leave the pot on the stove as she went about other business.
Irish Soup and the Lady of the House
And business she had! Before its recent incarnation as poster boy for progress, Ireland wasn’t the most women-friendly of locations and whoever played the mother’s role really had their work cut out for them. With so many living under the one roof, someone was always bound to be hungry, so it was best to always have a dish on the go – or which could be quickly heated up. Should a hungry child need a stopgap or a neighbor drop in for a chat, a thick Irish soup bubbling away meant you were good to go on the food front.
On the merciless misogynistic oppression front, perhaps the dynamic wasn’t as one-sided as it seems to us today. Yes, until the 1970s, if you happened to be both Irish and female there were indeed many things you were expected to do – like cook for everyone in sight. And many you could not do, like receive equal pay or drink in a pub, say. But, fair is fair, the domineering Irish male of old never asked women to juggle both cooking and civic duties like boring old jury service – female minds were taken as otherwise occupied, or simply not up to the job, until 1976!
Irish soup nostalgia
Back on the soup front, it is worth making a mental note to check it out in person – if you ever get to visit the windy terrain of what the Romans called Hibernia (‘Land of Eternal Winter’). Should you do so and find yourself doorstepping it with the head of a rural Irish household, you might still today be hit by the smell of soup wafting from their homestead. Or perhaps that’s just the nostalgia of soups from days gone by, still clinging to the walls, or ancient drapes permanently impregnated with the sighs of a woe-bedraggled mother of thirteen.
This page will bring you all the best recipes for different types of Irish soup, to heat up your day when it’s a little nippy out. Like many kinds of traditional Irish food, these soups were (and still are) generally a simple affair, with a small range of ingredients making it into the pot.
Soups in the Irish tradition also tended to be fairly flexible – using whatever happened to be abundant. This is seen across the board in traditional food of the island, but Irish soup is probably the epitome of this. Potato and leek soup is a good case in point: potato, leek, onion, a herb or two. Done. There’s little messing around, but lots of delicious belly filling.
Dublin coddle soup is also a good example of this culinary philosophy, as it’s another of those healthy one pot meals that just tastes great and is seriously hearty. So, anytime you feel a bit faint, you know what to do. Get yourself to our Irish Soup section stat! For a soul-sturdying intervention of thick and flavorful fare.