Best of Ireland
The best Irish food and ‘best of Ireland’ generally have much in common: both are ‘real’, ‘straight up’. Indeed, so much do the Irish people epitomize these traits that buzzwords like ‘straight up’ and ‘real’ simply won’t fly. And describing them thus is sure to provoke looks but crooked in alignment. For you’ve uttered what are just meaningless naming words, ones not even worth scoffing at. The Irish listener instantly casting them back to the four winds. Back where they belong, with all the rest of the blarney.
It’s hard to put your finger on what’s Irish, but that, that thing right there, that ‘down to earthedness’, is surely part of it. And the deeper you delve into Irish dishes, the clearer this connection between best of Ireland and best Irish food becomes. They both share that special yet indefinable Irish character.
Traditional Irish Recipes
Most traditional Irish recipes abound in practicality, dishes dexterously engineered with getting stuck in in mind. It’s direct food, it’s ‘real’. It’s healthy one pot meals that can be so straightforward you sometimes find yourself wondering whether it’s still really cooking you’re doing at all. The Artist regularly gives way to the Partisan, the Partisan to what might be classed as the culinary equivalent of the Unskilled Laborer.
Yet it is within this plainness aplenty that the strength of traditional Irish recipes lies. Sturdy simplicity, compacted over generations and which still endures today for the most important reason of all: it happens to work.
And is adaptable to your needs.
You popped into the pot what you had, because you happened to have it at hand. Much like an Irish person pops in a bit of casually racy conversation at the bus stop, because they happened to have it at hand.
Best of Ireland Spark
Fabled Erin’s Isle of old has seen much change the past decades, but you get the feeling that no matter how much modernity seems bent on turning it into just another place in the West, there’ll always be that spark. Something off. An awry reflection of god not being quite right in the head when it came to pumping out that particular sub-breed.
Something that’s just so strange, which viewed from further away might appear tragic. But once you see it and are there in the thick of it, in the bustle of everyday Irish, is so emphatically askew it can be nothing but hilarious.
Life pure, mad life, distilled, laced and packaged into outrageously logical logic. The “Dunno, we’ve always done it like that” when you ask the manager why his store’s Christmas tree is in the bathroom. The 24/7 hotline assistant that berates you for calling on a Friday evening.
Supposedly, one of Freud’s followers later also split human psychology into two categories – ‘Irish’ and ‘nonIrish’. It’s lies of course, but Burgess does come closer to the mark later in the same passage, pointing out that the Irish are not sure what truth is and have a system of logic which defies logic.
Joyce and Dostoyevsky walk into a hotel bar
Further into the piece (a 1980 preface to a collection of Irish short stories), Burgess places Russians in the ‘Irish’ camp of human psychology; relating how the concierge in a St. Petersburg hotel was unable to slip a cable he had brought for the author under his door because it was “on a tray”. To Irish ears, that’s sounds more like part logic and part stupidity.
Inherently getting this kind of logic, the typical Irish person will probably distinguish between the two. Whereas the Englishman Burgess assesses the two as one in the same.
Burgess comes close again as his preface continues, noting that in this kind of (not non-Irish) approach to the world there is a “deep logic”. One which is far from absurd – the Irish and the Russians simply have one way of looking at entities (the cable on a tray) and the rest of the world another.
The Christmas tree has a set place in the bathroom and we may, in theory, man the phones 24/7, but use your brain, buddy, and don’t go calling at four pm on a Friday.
Visitors to Erin’s Isle often return with treasured anecdotes of this nature, tidbits that to the locals are entirely unremarkable. The same sort of skews that have sent a huge proportion of our best artist minds to live abroad. Those quirks that make the Irish really Irish, and which the Joyces, Wildes, Becketts and Shaws of this world could only render properly when removed from Irish soil..
You’re on a country lane, miles from civilization, and meet a local. You ask how far up the road the next town is. Seeing that you’re on foot, he says two miles. At which point you instantly know that, had you been in a car, he would’ve indicated the actual distance that lay ahead. Maybe four miles or so.
He wants to be nice. He doesn’t want to dishearten you. He has gauged your physical condition and he thinks you can make it. He’s also decided to make that decision for you. If you happen to be Irish yourself, you pretty much get the actual distance – but at the same time don’t delve too deep into exactly how far it likely is, tacitly agreeing it’s best not to dishearten yourself. Besides, there’s no set formula, nor need, for working it out. It’s just what it is. It’s logical.
But it’s the kind of logic you can only see if you’re already treading that particular path of logic, already have that same strain of relativity coursing through you.
The Logic of Traditional Irish Food
It is a condensed version of this elusive elixir of logic, which for lack of viable definitions we term here ‘best of Ireland’, that runs through the best Irish food. That same kind of straight skew forward and straightforward skew. But unlike in the wide world full of an infinite numbers of things and times, and all manner of gray shades, in the realm of Irish food the logic has encountered a smaller canvas with which to work. With the result being that what has emerged will, at least to the casual observer, be but simple, straight and (possibly) boring.
And that’s the thing, Irish food is often so simple and straight it loops right the way back around. Into kinks all the more emphatic for being born of the seemingly banal. Add to this the fact that Irish cuisine’s most enduring quality is its flexibility and, whether you realize it or not, you’re already off doing (wildly plain, ultra mundane – just too ‘real’) somerflips and backsaults.
Because that’s the other side of best of Ireland logic. Things are most certainly only to be done in just one strict, very rigid, ultra-particular way. Until suddenly they’re not. At which point you’re sure that the way you happen to be doing it just now is of course the strict, particular way of doing it (just now, but probably always from now on, but for sure definitely just now, which is all we always have, just now, anyway).
Perhaps it is this flexible rigidity that lies behind the best of Ireland. Or perhaps it itself is a product of the Irish logic.
Due to its nature, this ‘brittle solidness’ is a a hard one to explain. So perhaps an example will help..
It’s that secret recipe handed down through the family, whispered into ears from deathbeds for half a dozen generations, made in precisely the way the imparted instructions dictate, and with only those exact, carefully selected, ingredients. Under punishment of family shame and endless karmic comeuppance.
And now that you find you don’t happen to have those ingredients in the fridge, you make the recipe anyway. Using whatever is at hand, noting to yourself that it’s probably what they meant anyway.
Like a vivacious but fleeting whiff of delectable perfume, best of Ireland eau de toilette is very definitely there. Until… BANG: it’s not only very definitely not there, but is nowhere to be seen, heard or smelled.
An all-pervasive cloud of joy whisked away before your nose can even blink. A genie instantly back into a now wholly invisible bottle, just as he was explaining to you how your three wishes worked.
If we were to take a shot at it, the best of Ireland seems to be something to do with time and space, and the Irish perspective on these markers. Or put more accurately, the extent to which this perspective accepts time and space as legitimate markers (of things like time and space, Irish and perspective).
Best of Ireland Debates
Perhaps it is also, at least partially, this rigid flimsiness that lies at the core of debates over what simply must go into folk classics. Hot points of contention including nearly any traditional Irish potato recipe you care to name or the ‘real’ recipe for Dublin coddle. Because in Ireland there is always a set way to make the recipe: the set way you make the recipe.
And any other way is most certainly wrong.
But then again, if you were to admit that you admit it (which internally you already do), being Irish dishes – that is, having been at some point up the line first made by Irish people – isn’t the very definite, definitive way you make the dishes likely to have originally been borne from that particularly Irish brand of flexibility? And thus programmed with flimsy rigidity at its core. Biting Irish logic biting the biter that bites.
The best of Ireland is also the next logical step in this chain of ‘real’ logic, the relative lack of conflict that an Irish person feels when holding two diametrically opposed views. Because why would that ever be contradictory? They are both there, and both equally valid. They just float alongside each other. What’s the problem with that?
First world (nonIrish) problems
Meanwhile, in the other (‘nonIrish’) half of human psychology, there’s an entire theory built around this particular scenario – cognitive dissonance – and the various (adverse) knock-on effects and implications it has for the human psyche. Perhaps somebody Irish ought to patiently explain to the academics the vast extent to which they’re wasting their time.
Although it is understandable nobody does, nonIrish nerds would be polluting the place for decades to come. Test tubing us. Cramping our style. Giving the unemployable jobs for life, lab rats in all-Irish study groups helping to pump out such funding justifying classics as On the Effects of Maintaining Non-Contradictory Comorbid Dual, Triunal and Quartal Logic.
Now where were we?
…Lo and behold! Imagine that. We’re done here and seem to be looping back to can’t quite put your finger on it. Pondering throwing in a cryptic remark on the (foreshadowing) Irish je ne sais quoi for good measure. But scratch that, much better to let the closing line of Anthony Burgess’s preface help get us back to the very end again: “..Ireland, the most fantastic country in the world and perhaps the only country that can be regarded as a custodian of unchanging human truth”.
Irish Immigration to America
In an era of so much twisting and shifting, there’s a lot to be said for the best of Ireland and the flexibility it epitomizes. Perhaps in the case of Ireland, and particularly that of Irish immigration to America, this ability to bend is more marked than in those from neighboring countries simply because the Irish developed this trait the hard way. Poverty, repression, banishment flinging them to all corners of the globe. Being forced to continue to refine this approach until, in the scope of human history, quite recently.
All the while managing to maintain – Burgess again – a certain kind of grace, “a moral elegance” that frames all sorts of wretchedness.
See you now beautiful but cursed British colony called home, I will very much (not) forget you not and do my best to adapt. Irish immigration to America was usually not a choice. Or rather, the only choice left.
And of course once you arrived, only an ultimately direct and thoroughly flexible mandate sufficed: do what you can to get by.
And then thrive.
Until that time, flex, feign and flip-flop like your life depends on it, which it most certainly does.
Much can be learned from learning to see how best of Ireland operates. What the Irish happen to do well, be it a result of nature or nurture. And this goes double for the condensed, scaled down version of this essence they call Irish food.
Celtic Empire at heart
Because, at the risk of engaging a tired debate, for all the fancy dancey decorations and nuances we put on it, food is, at its innermost core, a kind of fuel. A power supply piped in through an inlet in order to assist the various functions and processes of the larger human apparatus. Another intake, just like oxygen or the surrounding environment you are taking in this very moment.
And this of course goes for all humans. Beyond their specific exposure to sink or swim, is there a specific attribute that makes the Irish more adaptable with their energy supply than other people? Most likely not, each engine will convert their fuel in a particular pattern and with varying levels of (in)efficiencies and idiosyncrasies.
Perhaps then we should put best of Ireland flexibility down to the multilayered, ancient societal system of the Celts? People of Irish stock carrying in their DNA the kernel of a Celtic Empire that spanned Europe. Shared ownership of a very direct, structurally complete civilization that naturally puts forth an alternative worldview. Perhaps.
But it’s more likely that ‘best of Ireland’ comes from the Irish being a people forced to constantly draw on that most vital of human attributes: adaptability.
Now walk a tightrope of prophetic fallacy
Centuries of subjugation and poverty translate into hundreds of thousands of days on which, if you happened to be Irish, you quite likely had to do your best to juggle and jiggle as best you could. Or at least well enough to keep body and mind intact.
It is possible to see Irish immigration to America through this framing determination. You leave generational persecution in homeland to be slammed with same in new land. You’re glad to have survived the journey, but it’s extremely hard and you walk a tightrope of prophetic fallacy.
You would surely fall, because you’re a popish Irish immigrant and all that’s said to entail. When you do eventually fall it is pitched as further proof of your inevitable, predetermined capacity to do anything but fall. And things are so hard for you that you will always (be made) fall.
But any time one of your lot doesn’t fall in the precise way dictated from on high, one tiny step forward, a micro step in the right direction is notched up there, way on high, above your head. The next guy on the line sets off from a minutely easier point.
Irish Drinks, American Scoffs
Along with a host of other civic and ecclesiastical institutions, temperance movements played a most important in the communities that formed as a result of Irish immigration to America in the 19th century. Bringing a more official gel to a diverse, mercurial group. A group that with the ease offered by historical hindsight we may be tempted to consider a single entity, but whom in reality only really shared one commonality across the board: they had left.
Although generally poor, the economic status of Irish immigrants would have certainly varied. Often in accordance with how long they, or members of their kin, had been in the country. Indeed, to equate Irish-Americans of this era with poverty is to be colorblind to the various shades of green sprouting up across the country.
For isn’t the word ‘poor’ probably the most relative term of them all?
If you’re from an early industrialized country and have visited the developing world, just compare the ‘poor’ neighborhood in your hometown and what you may have seen while abroad. Poverty is a ladder with many rungs.
Plus in the case of Irish immigration to America, you couldn’t even be sure of speaking the same language as your fellow country(wo)man next door. Or in extreme cases, not understand their particular dialect of a language that at that time had no accepted standard (any historians of the Irish language, please drop us a line to confirm this – we’re thinking especially of those hailing from island communities; we won’t even start in on the implications of speaking Ulster Scots as your native tongue).
Amidst the general confusion, and the outright mayhem that must’ve reigned in place like Boston’s North End and the Five Points in NYC, Irish-American temperance movements achieved much success in binding a community together. Drawing on the deep-rooted Irish sense of defiance, and encouraging tight-knit unity along ethnic lines. Bringing guidance and cohesion to the motley sprawl.
They frame you, these newly established pillars instructed their flock, they frame each one of you as a brawling, unscrupulous drunkard. They own the institutions, they own the media, they own the means of production. And all of these embed that very same message: the only things an Irish-American can do are brawl and drink. For you are an apelike creature, a human only of sorts.
Don’t drink. Don’t brawl. Don’t load their guns for them…and steadily we shall RISE. Non-violent movements the world over, both before and after, have adopted a similar approach.
Besides, from the point of view of the flexible (Catholic) Irish-American, you’d cut your teeth on nothing but repression at home, so you were in no way green on the discrimination front. In fact, by the time you arrived in the new world, you were likely already operating at a pretty high level of nonchalance.
You call this oppression?!
It’s a cake-walking theme park compared to the misery-ridden potato farm I hail from. Plus I see what you’ve done there, former sire, you’ve just changed the color of your uniformed oppression.
And you can still bite me.
Irish Recipe for Gaining Height
Now Add to your Mixing Bowl best of Ireland traits like mule kick-strength stubbornness, devout disrespect for authority and levels of risk tolerance that have Evel Knievel as smoking by the fireplace in slippers and dressing gown. Place on the Top Shelf of a Kiln-like Environment for approximately Six to Twelve Decades. Once done, Open Oven and Remove your piping hot Refusal to accept that you can’t become what they say you can’t become, topped with Rejection of only ever being what they say you can be. That process alone is a surefire way to produce a special kind of relativity in a people..
Ask a tightrope walker what makes their profession so difficult. They’ll tell you it’s because the balancing act simultaneously demands of your body two seemingly antithetical qualities: rigid structure and utter flexibility.
As expected, it has gotten all floaty. So let’s make one last attempt to tangibilize (make a nice recipe for our Irish dishes section, that one, giblets done in a tangerine sauce) all this. We do seem to have gained a tiny grasp, but the moment you start trying to transform subjective into objective is also the moment you begin to tie yourself in knots. So let’s give it just one more shot, if for no other reason than to murky the topic a little further. Let’s go out with a bing.
Traditional Irish food Logic in Reverse
Take a recipe like the old-as-the-hills Irish potato soup.
Leeks usually find their way into the Pot. Carrots, perhaps, too. But for some reason Celery can be a no-no. And Broccoli will have the lady of the house (Hands off! – from the, admittedly gender-specific, Irish term bean an tí ) on the floor.
And she won’t have relocated there for some woe-is-me wail time, but rather to hoist herself onto your person, recently fallen victim to a surprise bout of horizontalism. Soon enough, seven shades of shenanigaí are sure to be flowing from you; a couple of them sticking to a Rolling Pin so tried and trusted it suffers hardly a scratch.
UNTIL, that is, the lady of the house happens to have on hand surplus celery and broccoli requiring an Irish potato soup to be cooked in. In that case, the logic instantly loops back onto itself, and is also both temporally retroactive and ultimately slidable along the x and y axes.
BUT is in no way, shape or form contradictory. The lady of the house has simply altered her relation to relativity – and sure isn’t that all relative anyway? Should you be brave (and wound-healed) enough to approach her again, she’ll casually tell you so.
Apple pie tarts
They (melancholic poets, analysts working with Big Data) say we only know dark by the absence of light, and can point to sound only from pointed silence. So now that we’ve fashioned some type of relatively slow moving inlet, let’s try to further unravel the best of Ireland logic as seen through the best Irish food. Let’s take a country that is relatively close to Ireland to use as a foil. The French, let’s pick (on) them. An ideally extreme cuisine counterpart if ever there was one.
Plus we’re used to joking about the noticeable rise in the number of cocktail party fascists scoffing up and at apple pie tarts. And as defiant Irishes, mockingly highlighting that in truth you’re encouraged to do with apples and pastry as you see fit — and that these days it’s only culinary purebreds like the French that still stick to the rules.
Irish Dishes: Simple & Seasonal
We are also of the view that plain and simple doesn’t have to be a negative. In a world where we are uncovering the secret of super long-living humans and dieters often end up consuming only a very limited number of random food items from the world market, there’s a lot to be said for healthy one pot meals and simple Irish potato recipes. Plain, intestine-friendly food varied regularly by season and access.
Conversely, the polar opposite of traditional Irish food, overly intricate and finicky cuisine, can really open some deep chasms and tie a great many knots. Not least in terms of laborious adherence to the rules.
On the whole, the typical Irish diner tends to know their stuff, having a reasonable grasp of presentation, process and produce. Perhaps it’s a benefit of being a couple of generations closer to the land than man of their continental counterparts. But for the Irish diner lacking the time, interest or aptitude to explore French cuisine in all its fanatic fantasticism, such dedication to finesse can easily turn into a kind of drudgery. Another list of to-dos, when all you really had your heart set on was tucking in.
And we have of course chosen to pick on the French because the rules of French cuisine do seem to imply sticking to them. Doing things by the (epic, tome-laden) book. At the risk of getting stuck in the rule book, at least in comparison to the Irish approach.
Now in practice this is of course largely only due to strict legal provisions still in place in France – under which citizens remain subject to a litany of antiquated laws concerning food and related etiquette. In line with national law, incarceration is at the time of writing still standard for seemingly minor offenses such as Skipping the final part in the French cooking process. With tradition dictating that once the cook has put in their sweaty hours diligently and delicately crafting their dish, no less than six gravy boats of Cheese are to be Melted atop prior to serving.
And that’s just the half! Guillotining offenses include Failing to Place your Serviette in your lap (and indeed failing to refer to it as anything other than a serviette or sanctioned synonyms); Refusing a host’s offer of Morning Wine; and, in regions bordering Northern Italy, Cutting your Spaghetti (with teeth usually get suspended sentences, with knife: never).
Irish Alcohol Etiquette
Sheltered though we may be, we have never heard of such sticklerism concerning Irish food. However, there is in fact similarly extreme etiquette concerning drinking. The difference though, and this is where our French foil helps us tease out the color and contour of best of Ireland logic, is that the Irish drinker will often take great relish in stating and even sternly enforcing this code of etiquette at the very same time they are breaking it. And in fact they probably only break it (and bother with it at all) precisely because it’s a code you’re allegedly not meant to break.
Either that or it turns into a kind of pissing contest, whereby you get to see how much etiquette your fellow (and esteemed shefellow – Hands off part deux!! ) imbibers will allow you to enforce before they call your bluff and you all get down to breaking the etiquette together. A camaraderie of thieves where each takes a turn playing the policeman, because its only you thieves who happen to be on hand just now.
Can you envisage best of Ireland a little better now? Smell the logic? Taste the smell? Like anyone engaged in such a Sisyphean task, we are surely still struggling to get this (whatever ‘this’…’is’) across, but ’tisn’t that (im)precisely the point?
Let’s see if enlightened France can cast but one very last shaft on the matter.
French Code of Cuisine Justice
When dealing with the stringent food laws still in place on French soil it’s important to point out, lest such understanding evade even the most casual observer, that food fascism is by no means the norm across the European continent. The controversial French Code of Cuisine Justice and its related Directives have long been a bone of contention between the national Government and the European Commission in Brussels.
Similar legislation in other European Union Member States has long since been phased out, or if still on the books is no longer (strictly) applied. In the bluster storm that is modern Western cuisine, it is the French and the French alone whom continue with their Rodin-worthy noses high, facing defiantly into the winds of change.
Eating humble Irish Apple Pie
Typical effects of the controversial legislation include restaurateurs quaking in their boots when they feel an undercover food enforcer is in house and homemakers still making apple pie tarts like Tarte Aux Pommes still being in their true (open-top) form, lest a neighbor tip of the authorities.
With the rise of the Right in that country reaching a new zenith, reports suggest that there are not only no plans to expunge the laws from national legislation but bolster it further by promote adherence to the French Code in other parts of the EU.
Pray tell, will even simple affairs like the humblest of humble Irish apple cake soon follow the Frenchies in going the whole hog? With hungry chefs and amateurs alike spending the bulk of their free time weaving apples into elaborate geometric patterns, created in accordance with the ratio How much you value your time: How much you need the empty admiration of others. That way everyone can make polite comments and when it’s time to be served insist they wouldn’t dream of accepting that slice, containing at its center as it does such an ooh la la so beautifully ornate apple version of the Arc de Triomphe.
…Or, if you have logic (both best of Ireland and universal, or perhaps simply non-French), you can resist the Gallic normative expansion into what was once such a lovely calm meadow of body-friendly food and just make a nice tasty tart. Which a few minutes after the sweet aftertaste has left your taste buds will already be working its way through the tubes and pipery of your digestive system.
Foiled at the last
But where’s the foil in that one? Tell us, can you see the average Irish person blocking in Saturday afternoons for pastry weaving?
Best of Ireland logic is such that it would surely feel this was asking a lot. Plus taking way too much for granted. That you’re already so stiffly set, organized, and not down to earth, that you have an agenda for blocking off such things. And that you will have the will, the patience and the pastry to willingly and patiently weave pastry this weekend.
Hell, Saturday is one, two…many days from now, surely that kind of presumption is already testing fate? That two events which are in the scheme of things entirely unrelated will conveniently coincide so as to produce a window for potential pastry weaving to, or to not to, take place: Saturday will come and you will be on this earth come Saturday.
Odds are, best of Ireland logic would prevent Saturday Weaving Club from even getting off the ground. Whilst on the other hand, the flexibility at the root of this kind of logic would likely see you doing something fun instead.
The stupendous flexibility that is the Irish chicken and egg.
We don’t know how it got there, but it’s the source of much of our actions. And positively reinforcing acts committed through employing this flexibility the result of much of our actions.
As for the rest, the French and all that, was it ‘real’?
Does it matter?
Is not relevance relative?
- Anthony Burgess, Preface to Modern Irish Short Stories, Ben Forkner, ed., Modern Irish Short Stories (Viking Press, 1980).
- Gerard F. O’Neil, Pittsburgh Irish: Erin on the Three Rivers. (The History Press, 2015).
- Aperçu Français Institut National de la Connaissance Culinaire et de la Fabrication de Yaourt (French Insight National Institute for Culinary Knowledge and Yogurt-making – FINICKY), French Code of Cuisine Justice [987-2019].
- Escargots à L’aube: Un Mémoire érotique d’un Boudoir avec une Meilleure Nourriture que votre Salle de Banquet, (Short, Shriveled and to the Left Bank Press, 1978).