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The Gentleman Who Pays the Rent...
by Hartson O'Doud
This is the euphemism that was once used in Ireland to describe what was often a family's most valuable possession - the pig.
Once gain, our dear friends, the O'Douds, have provided us with an interesting and entertaining article on the importance of the pig to the Irish. They also include a few recipes which, they say, they've yet to try in their kitchen! We're not surprised.
The early Irish pig was thin, scrawny and vicious in temperament. It was agile, capable of clearing a fence, or so we are told by a National Geographic report from Thomas Carleton, who visited Ireland in the years before the famine.
Pigs were kept somewhere close to the house where they could be fed easily. They were prized possessions, not only providing several month supply of meat for the household, but also leaving enough over to share with neighbours, who would share their own meat in turn.
Until medieval times pigs were fattened on mast, the fruit of beech and oak, which was said to give the flesh a delicious flavour. After the widespread adoption of the potato, virtually every home could afford to rear a pig in the good years, because the animal could be fed on surplus potatoes, potato skins and sour milk.
Most farmers killed a pig at certain times of the year, e.g. the eve of St. Martin's feast day. There was a custom that pigs should be killed only when there was a R in the month, and never in the summer. In some counties, such as Mayo and Galway, it was believed that the deed should be done under a full moon.
Killing the pig was a very important social occasion, planned several weeks ahead of time. Many of the neighbours would come to lend a hand. Each neighbour who came would bring a fistful of salt for the curing, and when the work was done everyone would get a share of the fresh pork and the black and white puddings.
In some cases the farmer himself killed the pig, but on some farms, a local man skilled in the killing of pigs would arrive on a donkey cart, bringing all the tools of the trade a mallet, a knife, a saw, an apron and a galvanized bath. He was highly thought of and had to be booked ahead.
Every scrap of the pig was used. The head was salted and boiled with cabbage or turnips or made into brawn. The feet called crubeens in Ireland, were boiled and eaten on their own or with cabbage, or included in the brawn. The stomach was sometimes stuffed and roasted and was known as mock goose. In the days before footballs could be purchased, the bladder or padgin was donated to the children, who pumped it up with air and had endless hours of fun with it. The pigs liver was fried and the skirts and kidneys cooked together. The pigs blood, various trimmings, and bits of lard were mixed with meat and blood to make puddings. The heart was stuffed and roasted in the bastible, or sliced and stewed. The pork steaks and griskins and some loin were eaten fresh. The remainder was salted down for bacon. The lard was rendered and some was made into slim cakes.
Brawn: There are many different recipes for Brawn. Many of them use pigs heads as a base and some will also include a couple of crubeens (trotters) or lambs tongues, or a bit of shin of beef. Known by a variety of names In Ireland, it was called Collared Head and Pigs Head Cheese. The ingredients vary, with some including only pigs head; others call for pigs cheeks and feet, while still other recipes include pigs head, feet, and sheeps tongues. Our great grandparents would be amused to hear that Brawn is making a comeback and now appears regularly on the menus of trendier restaurants.
Crubeens These are salted pigs trotters which became widely available with the establishment of the commercial bacon factories in Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Limerick and Waterford in the latter half of the 19th century. Up to the 1940s it was commonplace to see women selling cooked crubeens from baskets in the city streets.
Big pots of crubeens were cooked up and served in pubs, particularly on Saturday nights and fair days. Canny pub owners were not altogether unaware of the fierce thirst that these tasty little morsels provoked.
Crubeens were eaten with the fingers - a thoroughly greasy and messy business and washed down with copious quantities of beer or porter. Griskins: This is a pork steak and it has been suggested that the word griskin comes from the Viking word griss, meaning young pig. Perhaps the Vikings introduced this cut of meat to the Irish. Here is a recipe:
Trim the fat from the pork steak. Cut into 3/4-inch thick slices/ Melt a little butter in a pan. As it begins to foam, season the pork with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put it into the foaming butter and cook on a pretty high heat until golden on one side, then turn over and cook to golden the other side.
Serve immediately with bread and butter or as part of the main meal, accompanied by potatoes and vegetables.
Note: As always, we are very grateful to the O'Douds who give us so much interesting material. Thank you Hartson & Helen! We would also like to mention that Helen has created a wonderfully uplifting web site which we think you will enjoy visiting. If you're in need of an angel today, click here: Online Ministries
The New Irish Table
Margaret Johnsons love of Ireland permeates page after glorious page of mouthwatering Irish dishes, from Smoked Salmon Chowder to Raspberry Buttermilk Tarts. Lavish color photographs of the food, the landscapes, and the people are woven through the text, making The New Irish Table the next best thing to sitting down to dinner in Ireland itself.
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March 4, 2011