St. Patrick was a slave when he was first taken to Ireland, but he didn’t starve and survived on foods that today are prized as premium-price health fare.
That’s according to Regina Sexton, food and culinary historian at University College, Cork, who this week releases research on a study into Ireland’s diet in the fifth century as it made the transition from a Pagan to a Christian society.
She says record-keepers in ancient monasteries show that while obesity was not a problem in Patrick’s days, the fare was seasonal, wholesome and modest.
Dairy produce and cereals were everyday staples, and St. Patrick would have consumed lots of fresh milk, sour milk, thickened milk, colostrum, curds, flavored curd mixtures, butter and soft and hard cheeses.
There was oats and barley, and a little rye together with more prestigious and high-ranking wheat. Flat breads and leavened wheat loaves were on offer.
Various wet preparations such as porridge, gruel, meal pastes and pottages as well as cereal milk and fruit-nut combinations were also being eaten on the island when the young Patrick arrived.
There was a wide range of wild foods, notably watercress and wild garlic, nature’s way of garnishing the delights of the countryside.
Sexton says, “If this didn’t whet his appetite, there were hen and goose eggs, honey, fish, butter, curds, seaweeds, apples and dairy as well as several varieties of soft and hard cheeses. The rivers were flush with salmon, trout and eel, and hard-cured pork as well as other meats, were to be had too.
“This was neither a throw-away nor a take-away society, and people took good care to preserve and conserve for future use, foods that could not be consumed immediately.”
She adds, “Little wonder then that even after his daring escape from Ireland, Patrick returned to become the island’s patron saint. He did it for the good of his health!”
Totally separately, the So Sligo Food Festival this week is judging the first-ever competition for a totally new Irish dish.
Judges are looking for recipes that can match favorites like Irish stew, bacon and cabbage and Dublin coddle.
Up to 500,000 people are expected on the streets for Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. There will also be parades in most Irish towns and villages.
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