St Patrick's day thoughts on Irish food & hospitality
|A table set for a St Patrick's night dinner
Something Ireland has in abundance.
Soft, constant rain.
The Gulf Stream brings warm water up the Atlantic to the west coast of Ireland, ensuring the winters are never truly harsh, but it also ensures that the weather systems making landfall on that coast are well and truly water-laden. Cool air off the mountains condenses the water, which then falls as rain. It’s not great news for tourism, but it makes for fantastic agriculture.
The abundance of water is responsible, too, for the linen industry. Both the growing of flax and the weaving of linen demand vast water resources. It’s hardly surprising that Irish linen has become synonymous with finesse and luxury where table coverings are concerned. Like Knaresborough's near me, Irish mills once produced bedding for the British Royal Family. Unlike Knaresborough’s, though, their industry has survived and is now growing again, thanks to its reputation for luxury.
It was Irish monks that developed the pot still, and Irish distillers taught the Scots to make whiskey (losing an ‘e’ in the process). The Irish, too were pioneers of gin-making. The refinement to the column still that allowed distillers to produce a smooth, dry gin was patented by a Cork exciseman, Aeneas Coffey. The current gin boom has brought new life to Irish distilling, but they are focused on carefully made spirits, rather than falling into the trap of adding ever more alarming colours, flavourings and sweeteners. Distilling, of course, is another activity dependent on a plentiful supply of clean water, and the sphagnum moss turf that covers much of Ireland serves to filter rainwater, ensuring streams and river systems are clean and clear.
The Atlantic rain may have given rise to Ireland's culinary culture, but Irish spirit brought beauty to the table, marrying hospitality with art. This St Patrick’s day, why not have some friends round? Make yourself some good, home-cooked food and break open a bottle or two of something sociable. Reminisce, tell family stories, put on your favourite music and share the love. It’ll feel altogether more Irish than drinking a pint you don’t like in a pub that’s too crowded for comfort and too loud to make conversation. You can wear the daft hat, though, if you like: at least it'll keep the rain off!
Next time: recipes from our Grandmothers