Beyond Battles & Politics: 'Ireland's Green Larder' Is A Compelling Food History

Aug 17, 2019

Many people attend Milwaukee’s Irish Fest for the music. And there’s certainly a lot of it. But music isn’t Ireland’s only rich heritage — it has a long and complex history with food.

If you’ve been to the country recently, you know there's a lot more food than the stereotypical potatoes and soda bread. But the history of famine and enforced shortages mixed with a deep appreciation of the land, the waters, and their bounty makes the history of food in Ireland a compelling one.

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"Most history books are about battles and laws and politics. And that doesn’t affect the daily lives of people as much as what is really, really intimate to their lives — and that is food and drink," says author Margaret Hickey.

Her latest book, Ireland's Green Larder, celebrates Irish food through history, recipes and stories by the mass of the people. From the ancient system of the Céide Fields (established 1,000 years before the Pyramids) to Ireland's rich dairy, Hickey says there's been strength in simplicity.

But what is a "larder?" It's a word for a place where you keep things cold, Hickey says. And while Americans probably haven't heard of it, she admits that even Irish locals aren't very familiar with it nowadays. "I know that in a way it's not a word that's in common currency anymore, but it was for most of the period I was writing about," says Hickey.

No matter if you store your food in a larder or fridge, Hickey says that all cooks in Ireland throughout time have created from a respect for the land, use of "great honest ingredients" and self-sufficiency.

"They were ingenious in using very simple ingredients and cooking in a very simple way," she notes. "Simple ingredients, but always with a little twist and of course lashings of butter in good times when you could afford [it], and that really transforms anything that you eat."

In a world filled with big agriculture, Hickey notes that the small farmer still exists in Ireland. "It's beginning to change because it's a hard life," she notes, "but at the moment if you fly into Ireland, you just see a multiplicity of small fields with hedge rows around them and it's a dream."

Margaret Hickey will be at Irish Fest all weekend in the Literary Corner and will speak about Irish food history as well as poetry. You can find her schedule of events here.