OMAGH, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH, 1987: A Northern Ireland boy looks out a window of a cottage featuring a wool dyeing and weaving display at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, Northern Ireland. The park is an open-air museum which expores the historic link between Northern Ireland and America. It features dozens of restored 18th century buildings and homes along with folklife and craft demonstrations. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images) 5104602RA_Ireland10.jpg
What Irish Food Looked Like Before The First Potato
By Elias Nash
Irish cuisine is known for its use of potatoes, mainly due to the Potato Famine between 1845 and 1852, which destroyed a majority of Ireland's potato crop and resulted in roughly one million deaths by starvation. Few people consider what Ireland's cuisine looked like before spuds came to Europe, but the island has a culinary legacy defined by its resourcefulness and marred by political strife.
As potatoes weren't introduced to Ireland until the late 1600s, dairy dominated Irish diets, and an account from a British visitor in 1690 claims that they had over 20 different ways of consuming milk. Highly regarded Irish butter dates back to the 12th century, with records describing compound butters with garlic and onions packed into barrels and buried in peat bogs, which acted as a natural refrigerator (Smithsonian Magazine).
Dairy wasn't the only thing Irish people used to eat, as Irish Central cites an 8th-century poem that describes Ireland as a bountiful land of salmon and trout, as well as a diverse array of nuts, berries, and herbs. Grains were another staple, particularly oats, porridge, and griddled oatcakes, and along the island's coast, seaweed was a popular base for salads.
Bon Appétit argues that the "enforced poverty" under the British pushed locals to give up their traditional dishes and rely on potatoes, erasing millennia of culinary history. As just a single acre of land could yield enough potatoes for a large family, the spuds accounted for 80% of Ireland's calorie intake by the time the famine occurred.