Derry-born chef and cooking lecturer Emmett McCourt has just launched a new cookbook tracing the heritage of the traditional foods from the northwest counties of Ireland. The history and recipes, however, reflect similar regional cooking from all over Ireland.
“Feast or Famine - A Cultural Food Journey of the North West of Ireland,” published by Guildhall Press, is not just a cookbook. It is a remarkable journey through the varied influences that have shaped the style of cooking that is unique to the neighboring counties of Donegal and Derry. These two counties may have been separated by borders over the years, but they have evolved together like brothers down through the centuries.
"Not only is Irish food amongst the best in the world but our food heritage connects people and places across the globe," says Emmett. "This book offers a window into the past concerning the history of regional Irish food. It also builds positive community relations, conveying the story of our varied cultures through food heritage while renewing the passion and belief in local produce."
Chef Emmett has spent several years researching the history of food in the region and has uncovered ancient recipes, long lost cooking techniques and rediscovered long lost Irish treasures such as the Lumper Potato, which is now undergoing careful growing research in Ireland to prevent its extinction. He has traced recipes from the time of the Viking settlers and the ancient Irish Chieftains, when venison, turnips, seaweeds, shellfish, fish and wild boar were everyday staple foods along with honey and rhubarb.
When the Scots-Irish emigrated to America, they took with them their distilling skills, producing whiskeys, bourbons and moonshine across all the United States. Fishermen from Inishowen in northern County Donegal, who settled in New England, helped found some of the finest and most successful fishing ports in the world today!
There are some significant business success stories that started from humble beginnings in the northwest of Ireland. McCains, based in Canada, are the largest French Fry maker in the world and their ancestors hailed from Castlefin in County Donegal. A Scots-Irish farmer, originally from Derry and who became the richest oil family in America, was Samuel Getty. He also gave his name to the town of Gettysburg, the site of President Lincoln's famous address. The McIlhenneys from Milford invented the now-famous hot sauce known as Tabasco! The book is full of similar stories.
Also recalled are the heady days when Lough Swilly was the Herring capital of the world, Magilligan was a world leader in farmed Rabbits and Derry City was producing millions of gallons of whiskey for the US.
Emmett has researched and re-developed almost 50 recipes for "Feast or Famine" and his journey has brought him to know some of the north west's greatest story-tellers, modern-day artisan food producers and chefs. The book is also beautifully photographed and is quickly becoming a research book of choice for many of Ireland's college departments of both catering and Irish history.
Emmetts McCourt's Wheaten Bread
Ingredients (makes 1 medium loaf)
1 Cup/150g Plain Flour
1 Cup/150g Wholemeal Flour
1 Cup/100g Rolled (Porridge) Oats
1 tsp salt
2 tspn Baking Powder
2 tblsp/40g Butter
2 tblsp/40g Caster Sugar
1 Cup/250ml Buttermilk (if you have no buttermilk add juice of 1/2 lemon to plain milk)
1. Preheat oven to 180*C/Gas 4/ 350*F. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
2. Stir the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar together. Rub the butter into the flour mixture.
3. Pour in the buttermilk and work the mixture to a thick, but not too soft, consistency.
4. Shape the dough and place on your baking tray. Pierce the center, cut an "X" on top, 1/3 of the way through and sprinkle with a little more whole meal flour.
5. Bake for 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. The bottom should sound hollow when tapped.
"Feast or Famine" is available online from Guildhall Press at www.ghpress.com.
For more from Zack see www.IrishFoodGuide.ie.