Summer is waning fast, but the harvest was good – at least I hope it was where you are. My humble garden crops are almost all in – dried for storage or used up and enjoyed. The growing season was perfect temperature-wise, although far too dry (I don’t want to see my water bill) – hence the bumper crops of lavender and tomatoes. Although most of the wild grapes dried up, I still came home with an armful from my bike-path raid.
To celebrate the season’s abundance, I thought I’d share my favorite recipe for scones, which always benefits from a bountiful harvest of sage and lemon verbena. But before I do that, let’s consider for a moment what the ancient Gaels of the Late Iron Age would have been eating for breakfast this time of year.
Like any subsistence economy, people ate what they had on hand – the harvest of garden, field, heath, woodland, river, lake, and sea. Most likely, breakfast consisted of whatever was left over in the stew-pot from the night before – mussels, fish, eel, legumes, roots and tubers, venison, pork, beef, fowl, lamb, mutton, leeks, barley, oats, seaweed…and any number of ancient foodstuffs our modern digestive systems have long forgotten (probably for the better…although some of the stuff we munch on today is no better – don’t get me started on nutritive value!)
One breakfast staple was starting to come to an end this time of year. Cows were kept in calf as long as possible to keep the milk supply going, but the last calves were usually weaned by late autumn. Another staple – right through to modern times – was stirabout, the modern equivalent being porridge or oatmeal. It was our menu item – one of two – every other morning at the summer college I stayed at just north of Dublin during my junior year of high school. I came to hate “oatmeal or cold cereal days” as opposed to “toast days” – not because I hate cereal but because it meant there would be no butter for the midday dinner. Dinner consisted of institutional pressed meat (not sure what kind) and the ubiquitous boiled potatoes…for the length of our four-week stay. We discovered that the Irish eat their potatoes plain – no salt, butter, sour cream and chives – and we learned very quickly to hoard pads of butter from breakfast on “toast days.” I got so hungry I actually spent (not many teenagers would do this) my coveted vacation money on apples…from the post office across the road.
But cuisine elsewhere in Ireland isn’t always so Spartan. Take, for example, Cuisine Le Máirín (Cuisine with Maureen), a Radio Telefís Éireann television series broadcast in Irish with English subtitles. Hostess Máirín visited the States and fell in love with blueberry muffins. I thought you might enjoy her recipe for banana and blackberry muffins – her take on an American breakfast staple. Click on the link below for her recipe. Oh, if you want the English translation, you’ll have to scroll down.
Uí Chomáin, M. (1994). Encore cuisine. Dublin: Attic Press.
Check out this link to Radio Telefís Éireann for more recipes and links to food shows.