Two packets of Tayto and a bottle of TK . . .
The spice burger might go the way of the dodo, but there are other Irish gifts to the world of food, writes BRIAN O'CONNELL
THE NEWS THAT Walsh Family Foods, the Irish company that makes spice burgers, has closed its doors caused upset this week – and will no doubt cause consternation in post-pub chippers over this weekend. Never having become popular elsewhere, the spice burger is a particularly Irish culinary delight. It is not alone. While long mocked for not having offered much to global cuisine, Ireland has in fact produced some unique delicacies over the years.
1 Tayto cheese and onion:There probably comes a moment in every Irish person’s life when they realise that Tayto is not the generic term for crisps, and thus our geographic positioning as an island nation on the edge of Europe truly hits home. Think of JI students in the bars of Cape Cod or Atlantic City asking for “two bottles of Rolling Rock and a few bags of Tayto” to the bewilderment of local staff.
Many an Irish adolescent embrace just wouldn’t be the same without cheese-and-onion breath. In recent years, brands such as Walkers have begun to broaden our awareness of other flavours and varieties. Tayto itself, though, shows no signs of going away, and continues to enjoy strong market share. It’s been around Ireland since 1954, when the cheese-and-onion flavour first began life in a rented room off Moore Street.
2 Jacobs Mikados:Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Creams all date to the late 19th century and are as distinctly Irish as shamrocks and stew. The Mikado, though, is by far the most exotic of the trio. Like the Kimberley, it is a combination of mallow and biscuit. Here’s what Jacobs has to say about its creation: “Mikado is created by inserting 10 deposits of mallow atop a vanilla-based biscuit with a strip of raspberry-flavoured jam, all coated with coconut.”
A marketing campaign in recent months has resuscitated the advertising jingle of old, made famous in the 1970s by Maureen Potter, which went: “Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Creams, someone you love would love some, Mum?” While Mum has been dropped, the new modern version has taken account of changing society, including the rather jarring: “Someone who’s married, but still thinks about their ex would love some . . . ” Taking its name from the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, it remains a wholly-owned Irish product. Since 2008, though, manufacturing of the biscuit has been transferred to the UK.
3 TK red lemonade:While it’s nowhere near as big a brand as it used be, TK red lemonade survives, just, and is now part of the Britvic family. Its origins seem somewhat vague. When I called the company looking for some background, the marketing department were unsure when it was invented or who came up with the idea. Along with the red version, the company TK (short for Taylor Keith), also produces white lemonade and cream soda. It is often used as a mixer with whiskey or brandy or as a thirst-quenching sensation all of its own. Sometimes, a scoop of HB ice cream is thrown on top to create a lemon soda of sorts. Britvic calls it a “value brand” and say it is no longer one of its core products. According to a host of Irish product websites, though, TK red lemonade is frequently quoted in the top 10 products Irish expatriates miss most about home.
4 Soda bread:Ironically, soda bread became popular in Ireland just before the Famine, when bicarbonate of soda was first imported into Ireland. Made with basic pantry ingredients of wholemeal flour, buttermilk (or, even better, sour milk), salt and soda, which acts as a leavening ingredient instead of yeast. Shaped into a round, it is “blessed”, by running a knife down the wet dough to make the shape of the cross. Legend has it that the cross was a safeguard against evil, or that it let mischievous fairies out of the bread. Modern bread theory holds that it allows better circulation of air so that the bread rises better. In Northern Ireland, the recipe was adapted with white flour, giving birth to the soda farl (right). Apparently, Irish immigrants brought it to Australia, where it became damper, and was popular among roaming tribes and cooked in the ashes of their open fires.
5 The Golly bar:Stemming from the same marketing mindset as Lyons Tea’s dancing minstrels, Golly bars haven’t been made since January 2008. Their decline may be traced to obvious reasons of political correctness – the wrapper contained an image of a Gollywog. The Golly bar was essentially a lump of ice cream on a wooden stick. It was very Catholic ice cream – no frills and virginal white.
Although, perhaps its rather unadventurous make up had something to do with its demise, as it found itself competing in a world of Fat Frogs, Wibbly Wobbly Wonders and Funny Feet. Some people say it was a good hangover cure when mixed with Lucozade.