This morning, I received a phone call from Friday’s magazine, asking me to write something about an Irish dish in my next gourmet contribution. At first, I thought I was probably the last person to attempt something like this! I have never been to Ireland and I have very few Irish friends.

 

The only thing I could think of was that my husband once worked for CIP (International Potato Center). And in my mind, Ireland and potatoes go hand in hand. I also have a friend in New York, Kristin, of Irish descendant, who shared with me a potato-based recipe that I cook relatively frequently during the winter.

 

My friend was proud of her Irish origin. Her recipe came with her grandparents all the way from Dublin, because there were no potatoes in Ireland any more to prepare this dish!

 

It was also the first dish that they cooked as they reached New York and were finally able to buy potatoes again! For her family, it was a souvenir of the misery endured, but also of a new beginning: a better life in the new world with something that tasted like home.

 

Yes, surely, what we remember the most about Ireland is not the Irish potatoes themselves but the famine that forced thousands of Irish people to leave their country because they were no more potatoes and they were all starving to death.

 

The “white” potato known today as the Irish potato actually originated in the Andean Mountains. In the beginning of the 15th century, the Spanish arrived in northern Peru, and we think that they brought the potato back to Europe in the second half of the 16th century. But because they were classified in the same botanical family as the poisonous nightshade, potatoes were thought to be poisonous and people refrained from eating them.

 

Potatoes were considered a novelty and became fashionable in the mid-eighteenth century when Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, wore potato blossoms in her hair. During this period, the monarchs of Europe discovered the nutritional value of the potato and ordered it to be planted. By 1800, the potato had taken root and ninety percent of the Irish population was dependent on the potato as their primary means of caloric intake. A little like ‘dal bhaat’ in Nepal today!

 

The only problem was that the Irish planted only one variety of potatoes.
The Great Famine of Ireland resulted from an “airborne pathogen” that spreads rapidly among this variety during precise weather conditions. The disease attacks not only the crops in the field, but also the crops in storage during this mild and damp period. This potato blight destroyed almost half of the Irish potatoes in 1845, and the year after, almost all of the crop was ruined. Successively during the “Black ”47”, the crop was totally unavailable, resulting in increases in famine, emigration, and disease.

 

Although by 1848 the potato crops were no longer affected by the blight, famine conditions intensified due to a lack of seed for planting new crops, and few potatoes were planted for fear that the blight would persist.

 

Nowadays, there is the International Potato Center with gene banks that conserve living samples of the world’s huge diversity of potatoes and their wild relatives. They ensure that the genetic resources that underpin our food supply are both secure in the long term and available for use by farmers, plant breeders, and researchers.

 

Because of this sad story, Kristin’s grandparents left Ireland and resettled in NY. Irish immigrants were so poor when they arrived in the United States that they could not afford to travel anywhere and had to settle close to the ports at which they arrived. At the beginning of the 19th century, there were more people in New York City of Irish heritage than Dublin’s whole population, and even today, NY retains a substantial Irish-American community.

 

Kristin’s family is among them. She is American but still Irish at heart and wants to be able one day to visit the village her ancestors came from...Maybe to compare her recipe and ask some questions about the ingredients.

 

Here is my friend’s recipe; I hope you will like it as much as I do.

 

Kristin’s Dublin Coddle:
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Yield: Serves 8 as a starter, 4 mains
The name of this dish comes from the long, slow cooking time of the dish. It means “to spoil” or “to be spoilt”. It has been suggested the popularity of coddle arose because it can be left simmering on the stove till the man comes in from the pub long after the wife had gone to bed!

 

Ingredients:
l750g (1 ½ lb.) of Potatoes
l500g (1 lb.) small pork sausages
l600g (1 ½ lb.) Bacon (without the ring)

 

When my friend gave me this recipe, she said that her grandfather’s recipe spoke about “back bacon rashers” not bacon, but she doesn’t know exactly which type of bacon he was referring to. Probably a type that was common in Ireland then. In Nepal, I know only the sliced and frozen bacon from the supermarket, but that works well enough.

 

l200g (½ lb.) Mushrooms
l1 large tin of tomatoes or 500 gm fresh tomatoes peeled

 

I personally prefer the fresh tomatoes, but a tin is certainly better for those of us that are too busy or too lazy to peel the tomatoes.

 

In fact, I think that the small amount of effort it takes is worth it to be able to appreciate the taste of peel-free tomatoes.

 

Here is a simple way to get rid of this skin without to much effort:
lWash the tomato thoroughly. Remove the stem carefully.

lThen cut a very shallow X on the bottom of the tomato. This will aid you in the peeling of the tomato later in the process.

lPrepare a bowl of ice water and set it aside. Place a pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Then, drop the tomato into the boiling water. You can remove it after 30 seconds or when the skin begins to peel.

lDrop the tomato in the ice bath for at least 5 minutes. It is important for the tomato to be cooled all the way through in order to stop the cooking process the boiling water began.

lOnce the tomato has been chilled, remove it from the ice water. The tomato should still be very firm, but will have wrinkled skin

lBegin peeling the tomato. Peel the skin off with your hands.

lUse the marvelous, peeled tomato as a fresh tomato.

2 large onions
2 cooking apples or apples with a tbsp of lemon


I use normal Nepali Chinese apples because I couldn’t find the very sour apples that I normally use as cooking apples. For this reason I added a table spoon of lemon juice.

 

1 tbsp sweet and sour sauce
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Black pepper

A dash of Worcestershire sauce (I couldn’t find some here so I used 1 tsp of oyster sauce and it works well enough)

In a heat proof casserole:
Peel and cut the potatoes into thick slices.
Place them in the bottom of the slow cooker or in a casserole.
Place the sausages on top.
Place the bacon on top of the sausages in slices or in little pieces, as you prefer.
Peel and quarter the onions and add to the dish.
Peel, core and halve the apples, and add along with the quartered mushrooms. Pour over the tinned tomatoes, and sweet and sour sauce mixed with the Worcestershire sauce and parsley.
Add the pepper.
Heat the oven to 425°F/220 °C/ gas 7
Place in the centre of the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Take a peek to make sure the coddle isn’t drying out (if necessary top up with a little boiling water but don’t flood the stew).
Lower the heat to 350°F/175°C/gas 4 and cook for another 30 minutes until bubbling and the potatoes are cooked through.
Remove from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with “bread” to soak up all the lovely juices.

 

Will history not be repeated?
As Ireland is facing a difficult economical crisis again, potatoes are in more than ever. The common tuber, on which the Irish once relied for survival, is making its way back into gardens and onto plates. Because of the recession, dinner parties which were once dominated by conversation about profit and business, now the topic is more likely to be about the economic crisis and the best methods for growing potatoes.

 

The week of St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional time of year for planting potatoes. This year, because of recession and genetic diversity, Ireland is renewing an old affair with the British Queen, the Duke of York and King Edward; not the royals who in the old days ruled over the island, but names of potato varieties !