A Brief History of the Potato Farl

norma

Lucy’s Grandma Norma, around the time that she arrived in the US from Ireland

It’s Culture Day at my daughter’s school this week, and incidentally we just celebrated St. Patrick’s day, so as much as my daughter’s culture around food usually includes anchovies, blue cheese, sushi, and Mint Confetti Ice Cream from Three Twins, she is also quite Irish indeed and it would make sense for us to bring something Irish to share at school.

After somewhat of a disagreement over whether she could bring anchovies to share with her classmates, I came across a recipe for potato farls, cooked them up, got our girl to eat one whereupon she pronounced it delicious, and Culture Day was decided.  First, I got into a little bit of historical meaning behind this food, which I bring to you now.

The potato farl is similar to a potato pancake and is made basically of fried mashed potatoes. It is highly associated with Northern Ireland, and in particular with its main city Belfast. Lucy’s grandmother Norma emigrated from Belfast with her parents when she was a teenager, so our family is strongly associated with Northern Irish culture.

The word farl is pronounced farrel and derives from the old Scots word fardel, which essentially means “a quarter.” Many types of typically irish breads and potato pancakes are round doughs cut into quarters and cooked in a skillet, which is how the farl got its name.

The potato farl’s history is tied closely together with Irish soda bread (or soda farls) for a few important reasons. Ireland’s climate lends itself to growing softer wheats, which led to a popularity of baking breads without yeast, and hence frying up soda or potato breads in a pan:

In Ireland, ‘plain’ soda bread is as likely to be eaten as an accompaniment to a main meal (to soak up the gravy) as it’s likely to appear at breakfast. It comes in two main colors, brown and white, and two main types: cake and farl. People in the south of Ireland tend to make cake: people in Northern Ireland seem to like farl better – though both kinds appear in both North and South, sometimes under wildly differing names.

– From Peter’s Mum’s Soda Bread Recipe

But Ireland is known through the ages as a particularly poor country, and potatoes were a very economical food. ”About two-fifths of the population was solely reliant on this cheap crop for a number of historical reasons.” (Great Famine (Ireland) – Wikipedia)

Soda bread cooking in a heavy pot on the fire, from http://kitchenproject.com/history/IrishSodaBreads/

Soda bread cooking in a heavy pot on the fire, from http://kitchenproject.com/history/IrishSodaBreads/. Lucy’s great-great grandmother would have cooked in a similar fashion on a hearth on Clementine Drive in Belfast.

A poor country discovered that potatoes and milk made a nutritious enough meal to exist on and you could grow more potatoes per acre than any other crop. Soda bread was probably not made as much because of this reason.

– From The History of Irish Soda Bread

That began to change from potatoes to soda bread in the year of 1845. That year, a devastating blight wiped out Ireland’s potato crop and led to many years of what was known as the famous Great Famine. “During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.” (Great Famine (Ireland) – Wikipedia)

Without potatoes, Ireland turned more strongly back to soda breads baked with more of Ireland’s soft wheats instead of potatoes. Both soda breads and potato farls, however, share their use of baking powder (bicarbonate of soda) as leavening agent instead of yeast.

While Lucy’s grandmother’s family didn’t emigrate until a hundred years after the Great Famine, the seeds of what was a mass emigration from Ireland may have been planted at that time.

Today, potatoes have revived and are back on the table. In the US, we are lucky that we can enjoy an abundance of many different kinds of potatoes year-round, and those of us who are Irish will remember our great love of, dependence on, and recovery from the blight of the great food that is the potato, delicious in many ways.

The recipe we are using to bring to school comes from The Guardian at http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/14/how-to-make-potato-farls-back-to-basics. We’ll bring along a healthy slab of Irish butter just for extra decoration.

Cheers — and enjoy your culture and your food.  It’s why we’re all here!

Elizabeth Black, 1914, Belfast

Lucy’s great-great grandmother Elizabeth Black, in 1914 in Belfast, with great Aunt Nan to her left, and great grandpa Norman on her lap.  Elizabeth would have cooked potato farls on the hearth in there home on Clementine Drive.

Advertisements

Starving Our Future — Jamie Oliver at TED


I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.
– Jamie Oliver, TED2010

Wie ihr es immer dreht und wie ihr’s immer schiebt
Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.
Erst muß es möglich sein auch armen Leuten
Vom großen Brotlaib sich ihr Teil zu schneiden.
– Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera, 1928

TED prize-winner Jamie Oliver is mad about American obesity, and shared it freely with the audience at TED yesterday:

At one point in this impassioned talk largely about (re-)teaching kids about food, he shows a clip of school children who are totally baffled by these objects — common vegetables — that Oliver has brought into their class.

The problem is there are no food-knowledgeable people in the school system, he says, and he cites that if we really investigated what we fed kids at school, we’d find every government in the world guilty of child abuse.

Amongst his chronicles of the many terrible health affects of our country’s mainstream food, Oliver also offers hope — because this is a curable issue. “If I could come up here today with a cure for AIDS or cancer, you’d be fighting and scrambling to get to me. All this bad news is preventable — very very preventable.”

Real tangible change can be had, he says, from junk to fresh food: “six and a half grand per school — that’s all it takes.”

What is $6500 to the $6K ticket-holders in the TED audience? (With all respect to TED that we can watch the proceedings for free online).

Now — what is $6500 to schools faced immediately with $113 million dollars in cuts? It’s more than a luxury — it’s an impossibility.

And what is a school without well-nourished bodies and the minds they could support? We do nothing less than starve our future by malnourishing our children.

It’s a dizzying rollercoaster ride — from Oliver’s deadly iteration of the current situation to the hope that this is curable — to the tragedy of a rich nation preventing to fulfill this hope, and somehow, back to the hope that this is solvable. “It’s the future; it’s the only way,” says Oliver.

OH TCHO


‘nutty’ has arrived!’

Originally uploaded by moyalynne

Oh! TCHO! Just like Blue Bottle Coffee, you are ruining me for all the others; you are killing me quite nicely. I received your shipment of “Nutty” today. At once, all other chocolates lapse from my mind as mere impostors — and that is a tall order.

Let me try to repeat what happened with me when I uncorked “Nutty” today:

  • (tears open unobtrusive brown paper wrapper,) MMM, smells good
  • (places square in mouth,) Smooth texture; calm silky chocolate (at first!)
  • (chews chocolate,) Wow — powerful flavor. Nutty? I don’t taste nutty. I taste — wait a minute! — An onslaught of coffee (is that Blue Bottle?) — strikes my tongue, fills my head, removes all traces of worry or care in the world — In The World!
  • (swallows,) Kazaam — I Must Always Eat This Chocolate
  • (thoughts of peanut butter well up briefly but are overcome by aroma of coffee,) I will have more — but I must wait, briefly, to assimilate this experience —
  • (lingers…,) Ahh, I taste this chocolate for a loooong time after chewing and swallowing. This is a reallllly long finish.
  • (after the finish…,) Nutty — oh, Nutty? Ahh — yes, maybe — minutes later! I Still Taste the Chocolate — is that a Nutty aftertaste? aha. aha… more, please.

more …

Sustainability and the Long Tail

It strikes me that the “long tail,” the economic model popularized by Chris Anderson, either IS or IS NOT about extinction. With the long tail, says Wikipedia, “Businesses with distribution power can sell a greater volume of items at small volumes than of popular items at large volumes.” What this means to me is that I can find and buy whatever I want, usually on the Internet.

It’s well known around our parts that legions of bookstores have been forced to close directly or indirectly because of internet competition. No doubt this was a factor in brick-and-mortar Tower Records’ demise as well. This greatly affects the quality of life in our communities. Don’t get me wrong: it’s nice to have the choice of what I want to buy – and to be able to buy exactly what I want.

Take lightbulbs. I have a lamp that in rather ominous terms calls specifically for “Type B” lamps: “RISK OF FIRE. USE ONLY TYPE B LAMPS.” Now – I don’t even know what Type B lightbulbs are. And did I find them when I walked to the local hardware store? Nope. Did I buy the dangerous, threatening Type A lightbulbs instead? Yep. Could I have found Type B lightbulbs on the long-tail of the internet? Most certainly. Given the choice, here I am willfully risking fire over the potential closure of local hardware stores. Provided the dangerous B bulbs don’t burn our house down, this means I choose sustainability.

For local, sustainable food, the long tail might mean a species, one way or another. Oddly enough, as Barbara Kingsolver points out in her latest great book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which of course mildly ironically has a corresponding Web site), widely consuming and hence escalating demand for rare vegetable foods means they are more likely to survive as species – for instance, special heirloom vegetables such as tomatoes or potatoes. Not so for wild animals! For example, for our threatened pacific wild salmon. More consumption means more risk of extintion (though the salmon farmers would have you believe otherwise). It could be that long-tail models are both helping and hurting when it comes to sustainability.

Speaking of salmon, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s excellent seafood guides, the one place they still run abundantly free and wild is up in Alaska. And in fact I’ll be out for the next two weeks on the Dawn Princess as it leaves its long-tail wake in the oceans up towards Alaska. While I don’t expect to be twittering or flickring (well, probably flickring) nearly as much, you CAN catch a glimpse of everywhere we go with the bridge cam. I’m sure you’ll be on the edge of your seat!

We’ll try to leave a few salmon left over in the sea for everyone.

eating well x2

i feel so lucky that we have so many local, organic choices, particularly if we want to try to grow some little human inside our bodies.

sometimes, it can be so overwhelming to try to eat the “right things.” i went to the corner store and bought an odwalla because i was thirsty (echinacea) and then didn’t like the taste today for some reason, so i left it by the garbage garbage can. while the clothes were in the washer, i wound up after a walk at the whole foods down at fillmore, where, since i was still thirsty, i searched for a different odwalla. i was thinking of the ginseng, but then reading the label, it said ‘seek advice of your practitioner if you are lactating or pregnant’ (like i’m going to get on my cell phone, from the store, and patch a call straight through to my doctor — “i’m considering drinking this beverage?” — “ok, we’ll connect you to her *right away*”); that scared me off, so i bought a femme vitale instead, thinking that certainly wouldn’t bear any harm to the fetus or the breast milk. i then went back and changed the clothes into the dryer and started to drink my drink and read the label, and saw the same print, albeit in tinier font, on the bottle! probably the mah dong herb or whatever was in there. so then i started to think about spontaneous abortions and, mad at odwalla, i stopped drinking it and threw it into the trash this time. i’m guessing now that even the wellness had that warning on it, but later when i walked by the corner trash can, i was nonetheless happy to see at least that someone had taken the rest of the wellness echinacea drink. sheesh, we need to know _everything_!

i’m glad that in san francisco we have a lot of local, organic choices that help make it easy for us.  leanne signed up for the weekly email letter from http://www.twosmallfarms.com … in this week’s newsletter is some good information about organic milk and which brands are the best.  good pointer to straus:

http://www.strausmilk.com/pages/where/retail.html

leftovers

i put many of the leftovers and leftover ingredients together to make an uber-leftover meal tonight and i think marlena spieler would be proud. lovely marlena and alan graced us wednesday night with their presence, various fresh herbs and vegetables, and a fabulous dinner. we were thrilled when we were treated to a repeat performance again last night, and david and blake came to round out the rowdy crowd.

i can’t even begin to recount the menus, but the ingredients included chickpeas, rocket (say that with a british accent), zucchini and eggplant, tomatoes and garlic and pasta and cream, dainty pink turnips, frilly dill and chervil, pomegranates and persimmons with baby lettuces, flat-leaf parsely (my secret unsung love), potatoes and cumin, cumin, cumin, garlic, goat and sheep and cow’s cheeses including boursin, drunken goat, cave-aged gruyere, a wonderfully mild feta (bulgarian?), wines and sparkling waters, cumin and garlic, broken bread, friends and stories, newfound and old, and and and and and …

top it off in the morning with peets coffee and croissants from citizen cake, and we’re feeling on top of the world, special, lucky, warm and well-fed.