Lovely story from today’s NYT food section about Darina Allen, an Irish woman who has worked hard to bring back traditional Irish cooking. Excerpt:
“Using elements of native cuisine in a white-tablecloth setting was totally new in Ireland at the time,” said Colman Andrews, the author of “The Country Cooking of Ireland” (Chronicle Books, 2009). (Ms. Allen contributed a foreword.) “The Irish, for many complicated reasons, were not used to being proud of their food.”
For many centuries, the Irish were not able to live off the fat of their land, as landholders exported beef, butter, smoked salmon and other prime foodstuffs to Britain and its colonies. Later, when this was no longer the case, the humble food to which most Irish people had grown accustomed did not seem like something to celebrate. They began to move off the farms and into cities, where they discovered falafel, pizza, kebabs and other delights of international fast-food culture.
Fortunately, Ms. Allen said, the local-sustainable-food movement began to take hold in Ireland before it was too late. Unlike in the United States, most towns still have a butcher, local milk and produce are easy to buy, and even today most Irish people are not more than a generation or two away from the farm. “There is still a built-in appreciation for agriculture,” she said.
Part of her message is based on hands-on knowledge: from being raised in a small village in the 1940s, before Ireland shifted to convenience cooking and fast food; from feeding farm workers during the harvest on her family’s farm in Tipperary; and from Myrtle Allen, who is now 86. (She still oversees the kitchen at Ballymaloe House.)
This brought to mind the cover story in the current issue of Saveur (a magazine you really, really need to subscribe to, if you like food and food culture), which focuses on traditional Roman cooking. Excerpt:
The amatriciana at L’Arcangelo is a paragon of elegance, and this leaves me wondering: Does cucina povera lose its essence when you aesthetisize it? What is more authentic: to eat indifferent food prepared from frozen ingredients at a neighborhood trattoria, or to revel in the newfound respect for tradition at bourgeois places that charge more than 30 bucks for a portion of tripe? As if reading my mind, Arcangelo Dandini tells me that good-quality Roman essentials like salt cod, offal, and fresh vegetables were once dirt cheap and as abundant as water. Now, he says, one has to pay through the nose for that organic tomato. To preserve traditional cooking–this takes research, dedication, and money, he adds.
What a paradox! To eat traditional Italian food of the sort poor people used to eat requires money and leisure time! It’s true in Ireland as well, and here too. My wife and I have joked that we’re interested in the kind of food our grandmothers prepared back in the day when everybody was pretty much poor — but this is now a bourgeois pursuit. Actual poor and working people in the US eat processed crap, in part because it’s cheaper than fresh vegetables of the sort that were inexpensive staples in the lives of country people within living memory, and in part because people have to work so much that there isn’t time to prepare the kind of labor-intensive dishes that the rural poor throughout history have been able to make.