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You can taste the difference this makes to their produce. Their yoghurts are smooth and creamy. Their cheesecakes and mousses are bursting with fresh flavor. This is Irish dairy produce at its absolute best. www.glenilenfarm.com
Once upon a time, coastal dwellers combed the shorelines of Ireland for edible seaweeds. Carrageen, sea spaghetti and duileasc were all commonly found on the Irish table.
Today, this practice has virtually died away. “By the 1970s, we were among the very few who harvested from the shore,” recalls Prannie Rhatigan, author of The Irish Seaweed Kitchen, a book that aims to revive the tradition of seaweed harvesting. “I think folk memory still associated it with extreme poverty.”
Prannie grew up in Sligo where her father would take her seaweed harvesting. “He taught us all about the glistening crop on the shore,” she remembers. “The cycle would begin after the first frosts had sweetened the sleabhac and would continue throughout the year with other seaweeds.”
She continues to harvest seaweed to this day. “If the moon is new or full, I harvest some seaweed for my family and friends,” she says.
It was these same friends who urged her to write her book. “They love my seaweed recipes and encouraged me to write them down before the knowledge was lost,” says Prannie.
While researching her book, Prannie discovered just how old seaweed harvesting is in Ireland. The 5th century Brehon Laws mention duileasc as a condiment to be served with bread, whey milk and butter. Seaweed is referred to in a poem written by a monk in the 12th century, and a 1938 survey found that 32 species of seaweed were eaten in Connemara.
“I came to see that Ireland’s long association with edible seaweeds, and with duileasc in particular, has earned that plant the right to become a national symbol akin to the pint of Guinness, the Aran sweater, the potato and the harp,” says Prannie.
Prannie passionately believes that more of us should eat seaweed, as our ancestors did. Her book tells us how to source, identify, prepare, cook and store it. It features 150 recipes covering everything from soups to sushi and even chocolate cake. There’s even a chart outlining the nutritional properties of each seaweed.
“Like many before me, I grew up with the understanding that seaweeds were not just tasty, but healthy and nutritious too,” says Prannie. “This is something I wanted to pass on to my readers.”
Many of the recipes in the book are Prannie’s own. Others come from her friends and family. And still more are from well-known chefs and cooks. Darina Allen, Richard Corrigan and Californian Alice Waters all contribute their favorite seaweed recipes.
Prannie hopes her book will inspire others to make more use of the seaweeds on our shores. “Our ancestors were lucky to have seaweed,” she says. “We are lucky too because seaweed remains a food option. It’s a living treasure by the shore.” www.prannie.com
Donal Skehan, Peter Ward, Prannie Rhatigan and Alan and Valerie Kingston are part of a growing group of people who believe in the value and quality of Irish food.
These people know that what we have to offer extends far beyond a plate of bacon and cabbage or a bowl of Irish stew served with boiled potatoes. They realize that we have many other fine ingredients that are worth celebrating too.
If you’d like to sample the best of Irish fare on your next trip to Ireland, why not pay a visit to one of the country’s many food festivals?
The Galway International Oyster Festival takes place from the 21st to the 25th of September. Now in its 57th year, it celebrates the start of the oyster season and the world-famous Galway Bay oysters.
The Dingle Food Festival takes place from the 30th of September to the 2nd of October. Expect cookery demonstrations, food markets, foraging walks and a taste trail that leads you through the town sampling local produce as you go. www.dinglefood.com
The Kinsale Gourmet Festival takes place from the 7th to the 9th of October. Local restaurants and food producers come together in Kinsale to showcase the very best Cork has to offer. www.kinsalerestaurants.com
The Savour Kilkenny Food Festival takes place from the 28th to the 31st of October. It features cookery demonstrations, special seafood tastings, food markets and workshops in forgotten skills such as apple pressing and flour milling. www.savourkilkenny.com