Irish Traditional Cooking Book


In the weeks preceding St. Patricks Day we get a myriad of enquiries from food and travel writers from all over the world who are honing their copy for the 17th March edition, everything from the New York or LA Times to the Sydney Morning Herald. After the preliminary questions about traditional Irish food and a request for recipes for their readers the question I dread – “Where can visitors to Ireland find these dishes?”

Mention any Irish city or town and rack your brains – What are we like that so few of our chefs are serving our traditional dishes proudly. Of course there are a few exceptions but as I write this I’m at a loss to remember any (hopefully I’ll have a flood of emails to tell me otherwise).

Eighteen years ago I wrote to the editor of the Farmers Journal and several regional newspapers – from the Kerryman to the Leinster Express, Tipperary Star to the Sligo Champion appealing for older people to share memories of the food of their childhood or their area – didn’t matter if the recipes weren’t written down – I would come and watch them making it and stand with a notebook in one hand and a weighing scales in the other.

I travelled all over the country from the Beara Penninsula to the Giants Causeway. Others came to meet me and show me how their grandmother made goose neck pudding or rhubarb pie.  People sent me letters and recipes from all over the country. The book was published and won several awards and has been in print ever since. Now a new revised edition of Irish Traditional Cooking has just been published which includes over 100 extra recipes. This time we spent time in the manuscript room of the national gallery where a treasure trove of manuscript cook books from many Irish great houses including those of Mary Ponsonby, Marianne Armstrong, The Bruen Papers of Oakpark, The Kitchen Book of Clonbrock and the history of Loughrynn.

I also spent many happy hours carefully pouring over the pages of the Birr manuscript cookbook which has been added to by several generations of the Parsons family since mid-17th Century.

There is so much material out there. Our traditional food is not just the clichéd Irish Stew or Champ and Colcannon, there was the simple nourishing food of the modest homesteads, the wholesome fare of the strong farmers, the varied diet of the coastal and island communities and the often forgotten food of the great houses, almost all of which had their own kitchen gardens, orchards, game larders, icehouses and dairies. The food was very diverse and sophisticated and includes a wide variety of spices, herbs and aromatics.

We have much to be proud of, so let’s gather our friends around and celebrate by cooking some of our traditional Irish dishes.

Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen is published by Kyle Books.


Irish Nettle Soup


Nettles made their appearance in Ireland almost 6,000 years ago as the first farmers started to cut down forest trees to clear the ground for their crop cultivation. In the Saints Lives from the Book of Lismore there is a story of how St Colum Cille came upon a woman cutting nettles to make herself a pottage. She explained that this was her diet until her cow calved, when of course she would have milk, cream, butter and perhaps some cheese. Stinging nettles still grow in great profusion throughout the Irish countryside. Use gloves when you are gathering them so as not to roast yourself! Maura Laverty in Kind Cooking describes how people would draw ‘old footless black woolen stockings’ over their hands for protection. With their high iron content nettles were prominent in Irish folk medicine, and helped in some small measure to alleviate hunger during the Famine.


Serves 6 (approximately)


45g (1½oz) butter

275g (10oz) potatoes, chopped

110g (4oz) onion, chopped

100g (3½oz) leeks, chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 litre (1¾ pints) homemade chicken stock

150g (5oz) young nettles, washed and chopped

150ml (¼ pint) cream or creamy



Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes, onions and leeks and toss them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a paper lid (to keep in the steam) and the lid of the saucepan, then sweat on a gentle heat for approximately 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Discard the paper lid. Add the stock and boil until the vegetables are just cooked. Add the chopped nettle leaves. Simmer uncovered for just a few minutes. Be careful not to overcook or the vegetables will discolour and also lose their flavour. Add the cream or milk and liquidize. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary. Serve hot.



Ham Hock with Colcannon and Parsley Sauce


One ham hock for just a few pence – a few Euros nowadays, but they are still inexpensive – would feed a hungry man. Cook the ham hocks as above until the meat is almost falling off the bones. Serve with a generous helping of Colcannon and Parsley Sauce.




There are many regional variations of colcannon – Ireland’s best-known traditional potato dish. In some areas green cabbage was added, in others kale was preferred. In parts of Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford, parsnip was added, and onions or scallions are featured in several of the versions.


Serves 8 (approximately)


900g–1.3kg (2–3lb) old potatoes e.g. Golden Wonder or Kerr’s Pinks

1 small spring or Savoy cabbage

250ml (9fl oz) approx. milk

55g (2oz) approx. butter

salt and freshly ground pepper


Scrub the potatoes. Put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked (about 15 minutes for old potatoes), strain off two-thirds of the water. Replace the lid on the saucepan, put on to a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are fully cooked.

Remove the dark outer leaves from the cabbage. Wash the rest and cut into quarters, remove the core and cut each quarter finely across the grain. Cook in a little boiling salted water until soft. Drain, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a little butter. When the potatoes are just cooked, put on the milk and bring to the boil. Pull the skin off the potatoes, mash quickly while they are still warm and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy purée. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then stir in about the same volume of cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning. Serve immediately in a hot dish, with a lump of butter melting in the center.


Note: Colcannon may be prepared ahead and reheated later in a moderate oven (180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4), for about 20–25 minutes. Any leftover colcannon may be formed into potato cakes or farls and fried in bacon fat until crisp and brown on both sides – a cousin of bubble and squeak.


Parsley Sauce


Serves 6–8


4 tablespoons finely chopped

fresh parsley leaves (retain the stalks)

600ml (1 pint) fresh whole milk

30–45g (1–1½oz) roux

salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the parsley stalks into a saucepan with the cold milk, bring slowly to the boil, then remove the stalks. Whisk the roux into the boiling milk until thickened and add the chopped parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Simmer for 5–10 minutes on a very low heat, then taste and correct the seasoning before serving


Country Rhubarb Cake


This delicious juicy rhubarb cake, based on an enriched bread dough, was made all over the country. Originally it would have been baked in the bastible or ‘baker’ beside an open fire. My mother, who taught me this recipe, varied the filling with the seasons.


Serves 8


340g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

pinch of salt

½ teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

55g (2oz) caster sugar

85g (3oz) butter

1 egg, free-range if possible

165ml (5½fl oz) milk, buttermilk or sour milk

680g (1½lb) rhubarb, finely chopped

170–225g (6–8oz) granulated sugar

beaten egg, to glaze

caster sugar, for sprinkling


to serve

softly whipped cream

soft brown sugar


25cm (10in) enamel or Pyrex

pie plate


Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4


Sift the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and caster sugar into a bowl and rub in the butter. Whisk the egg and mix with the milk, buttermilk or sour milk. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in most of the liquid and mix to a soft dough; add the remainder of the liquid if necessary.

Sprinkle a little flour on the work surface. Turn out the dough and pat gently into a round. Divide into two pieces: one should be slightly larger than the other; keep the larger one for the lid.

Dip your fingers in flour. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry to fit the pie plate. Scatter the finely chopped rhubarb all over the base and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the other piece of dough until it is exactly the size to cover the plate, lift it on and press the edges gently to seal them. Make a hole in the center for the steam to escape. Brush again with beaten egg and sprinkle with a very small amount of caster sugar.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the rhubarb is soft and the crust is golden. Leave it to sit for 15–20 minutes before serving so that the juice can soak into the crust. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Serve still warm, with a bowl of softly whipped cream and some moist, brown sugar.


Potato and Caraway Seed Cakes



The following description by Flurry Knox in Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. (Somerville and Ross – 1899) made my mouth water and inspired this recipe, now one of our favourites. ‘While I live I shall not forget her potato cakes. They came in hot and hot from a pot-oven, they were speckled with caraway seeds, they swam in salt butter, and we ate them shamelessly and greasily, and washed them down with hot whiskey and water.’



Serves 6 (approximately)



700g (1½lb) old potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks (about 4–5 large potatoes), scrubbed

45g (1½oz) butter

55g (2oz) onion finely chopped

1–2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

salt and freshly ground pepper

55g (2oz) flour

butter, for frying


Cook the potatoes in their jackets in boiling salted water. Meanwhile, melt the butter and sweat the onion in it over a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. Peel and mash the potatoes while still hot. Add the onion and butter with the caraway seeds and chopped parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the flour and mix well. Knead a little until smooth, roll out and stamp into potato cakes with the top of a glass or a cutter. Alternatively, divide the dough into 2 rounds and cut into farls. Fry in melted butter on a hot pan until golden on both sides. Serve hot.





Niall Daly’s Chocolate Shop at the English Market stocks chocolates from Valrhona, Amedei, Cluizel and Pralus. The 10 inch high 1kg solid Easter Eggs from Skelligs Irish Chocolate will keep you going until next Easter!. Niall also has Easter Eggs from French chocolatier Michel Cluizel. So difficult to choose from such a mouth-watering range of flavours  – strawberry, champagne and vanilla ganache, caramel, hazel nut praline, mint… The Menakao 100 Per Cent Chocolate is a bold choice. Tel: 021 4254448 Email: –


O’Conaills Chocolate Shops on French Church Street and Princes Street in Cork have some delectable little treats for Easter… chocolate rabbit lollypops, chocolate nests, Easter bunnies in milk, white and 70% dark chocolate…These are also available at Casey O’Conaill’s Chocolate stall at the Midleton Farmers Market every Saturday, he makes the best hot chocolate too!  Tel:  021-4373407


Bandon Farmers Market is celebrating their 6th birthday on Easter Saturday 7th April. Since opening in 2006 they have eighteen regular quality stallholders. Pick up a last minute Easter treat from Katie Buckley’s Real Chocolate Stall or for the friend who doesn’t have a sweet tooth a treat from the Real Olive Company or Gubbeen Farmhouse Product stall. Why not meet up with friends for a coffee from the Golden Bean Stall. The Market is situated in the Post Office car park every Saturday from 9:30am to 1:00pm.

Tel: 0877921103 –

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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