Gastronomy in Irish Literature and Culture
Edited By Máirtin Mac Con Iomaire and Eamon Maher
The book opens with an exploration of food in literature, covering figures as varied as Maria Edgeworth, James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Enid Blyton, John McGahern and Sebastian Barry. Other chapters examine culinary practices among the Dublin working classes in the 1950s, offering a stark contrast to the haute cuisine served in the iconic Jammet’s Restaurant; new trends among Ireland’s ‘foodie’ generation; and the economic and tourism possibilities created by the development of a gastronomic nationalism. The volume concludes by looking at the sacramental aspects of the production and consumption of Guinness and examining the place where it is most often consumed: the Irish pub.
Ireland, until recently, appeared as only the smallest of dots on the map of high gastronomy. Too many self-avowed connoisseurs were convinced that Irish food began and ended with cabbage and potatoes – or the lack thereof. True, Irish soda bread had transcended the country’s borders to become a bread-baking beginner’s staple, but the lilting names of dishes like colcannon and fadge beckoning from the pages of cookbooks held, for many readers, more linguistic than actual appeal. The prevailing idea of Irish food as limited and monotonous – the result of want and famine – could not, it seemed, be dispelled. Even as food studies came into its own as an academic discipline, Irish foodways failed to receive their due. In Hungering for America: Italian, Irish and Jewish Foodways in an Age of Migration (2001, p. 85), Hasia Diner maintained that only the Irish – unlike the Italians and Jews who are also subjects of her book – did not have a richly developed food culture. She averred that ‘Irish writers of memoir, poems, stories, political tracts, or songs rarely included the details of food in describing daily life’. And yet, any reader who delves deeper than Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt’s memoir of poverty so desperate that he subsisted largely on bread and tea, discovers that in fact Irish literature is replete with descriptions of food. This food claims a beautiful simplicity as an elemental expression of the land and the sea – natural delights such as smoked mussels and salmon, rock lobster and...
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