Welcome to Feast or Famine!

A Cultural Food Journey of the North West of Ireland

Over the next few years I will be on an exciting journey to rediscover the North West of Ireland’s fascinating food heritage with the aim of preserving and celebrating the region’s culinary heritage in a brand new publication entitled Feast or Famine published by Guildhall Press.

My research has already led me all over Ireland and to the New World Beyond following the region’s extensive culinary trail.

As I gather my material, I’ll be posting various morsels of interesting research on this site’s blog page, keeping you up to date with any regional food events and occasionally presenting the odd recipe as an appetizer for the finished publication – Feast or Famine.

Food for me has been a constant journey of love and passion for almost 25 years. I have been fortunate to have travelled extensively throughout my career as a chef and been able to experience and enjoy the infinite diversity of food and food heritage on offer worldwide. However, it has been the people of my own city and countryside who have instilled the passion that exists in me for food and inspired me on my journey.

Inspiring Food Artisans

The North West of Ireland is as rich in food heritage and food culture as anywhere in the world. For centuries, the sheer natural beauty of the region has inspired the many travellers who have come here to create magnificent works of art, music and literature. Likewise, the natural landscape and resources in the region have inspired food artisans to produce a rich culinary heritage and dishes of unsurpassed flavour and nourishment.

This heritage is further enriched by the people who live here, and by the land and seas that surround them. It is the sheep farmers of the rugged hills of Inishowen and the beef and dairy farmers who work the rich pastures of the lowlands who produce the finest lamb, beef and dairy products unsurpassed on this island. You cannot help but be touched and inspired in some way by the people themselves, their upkeep of the traditional skills and rural way of life, their dedication to their work, and by their innovative use of the natural resources at their disposal.

The fishermen of Magilligan, Greencastle, Moville and the surrounding coastline as far out as Inishtrahull have left a legacy of fishing skills and a great fishing tradition. For many years they have trawled the harsh seas around the North West in search of catch as varied as herring, salmon, turbot and the vast array of shellfish to be found along the coasts of Lough Foyle to Lough Swilly in Buncrana.

The abundant harvest of wild game and fruits in the surrounding countryside – along with pork and poultry products – were also once all sold openly in the markets and fairs of Derry and Carndonagh. These markets have now become all but forgotten through time.

This was a bygone era in Ireland when the pace was a lot slower; a time when exchange and bartering of foods was the normal way of life, when there was a real sense of community and daily routines revolved around the hearth or the dinner table.

This culture has now been replaced by modern supermarkets and fast food, and the local produce supplanted by food from around the world.

In spite of this testing and competitive economic era, there remains a dedicated network of suppliers and producers who have withstood the test of time here in the North West – local restaurants, bars and food artisans, who have now started a renaissance of local food production for the modern age, all dedicated to their products, their rich food heritage and an appreciation of the past.

Hunger for Heritage and Thirst for Tradition

Let me invite you, then, on this, the first step of an exciting food journey which traces the rich food heritage and culture of the people of the North West of Ireland. I will endeavour to highlight the many food heroes throughout time and champion the people who have endured and struggled through poverty and emigration to preserve an important aspect of the North West’s traditional way of life.

This is their story too.

Finally, I intend to show that there is still a place for our region’s unique food produce and traditional dishes, re-discovered and re-imagined, to suit our modern lifestyle. I will be suggesting recipes, using the finest of local produce, which will suit a variety of occasions, diets and budgets to meet the demands of today’s keen and informed aspiring chefs and home cooks alike.

So if you hunger for heritage and thirst for tradition – take a seat at the table and join me in celebrating the colourful and evocative flavours of our region’s bountiful past.

Emmett McCourt

Irish Food Heritage Project

Recipe of the week

Alexis Soyer's Famine Soup

INGREDIENTS
Original Recipe 1847
  • 12-1⁄2 lbs leg of beef
  • 100 gallons of water
  • 6-1/4 lbs drippings
  • 100 onions and other vegetables
  • 25 lbs each of flour (seconds) and pearl barley
  • 1-1/2 lbs brown sugar
  • 9 lbs salt

Modern Interpretation
  • Beef leg Bones 1000g
  • Water 2 litres or Beef stock
  • Butter 100g
  • Onions 1 peeled and chopped
  • Other vegetables available – turnips, celery / leeks chopped 200g
  • Flour 100g
  • Barley 200g
  • Brown sugar 50g Salt to season

METHOD
  • 1. Melt the butter in heavy based pan (famine pot).
  • 2. Sweat onions and other vegetables, add sugar and flour, and cook until coloured.
  • 3. Add pearl barley and stock.
  • 4. Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, adjust the seasoning.
  • 5. Serve from pot with oat cakes.
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