Turf is in our blood, under our nails – it represents us

JP McMahon:Turf-smoked salmon, turf-smoked beef, turf-smoked butter; these are things that for me are distinctly Irish

Stacks of cut peat in Roundstone Bog in Connemara. Photograph: Getty Images

Stacks of cut peat in Roundstone Bog in Connemara. Photograph: Getty Images

 

“We can smoke it over turf,” I say, pointing to the loin of mutton on the kitchen counter. “Turf?” he says, with a vague look of bewilderment. “Turf,” I say, “from the bog.”

He hasn’t a clue what I mean. Up to this point I never knew the word was so localised. How do you explain turf? In my mind, there is a sweet, smoky smell; a cradling warmth from an open fire in some cottage somewhere, a romantic yearning to get out into the wild.

“Do you mean peat?” he says. Do I? Turf is turf. The word evokes a whole time and place. Turf-smoked salmon, turf-smoked beef, turf-smoked butter. These are things that for me are distinctly Irish; foods stuffs that emerge up out of the ground, that wrap themselves around our food self.

“Of course,” I say, “peat is the same thing”. I know that. But the two words do not equate with each other. Am I being silly, pedantic even?

National symbol

Is turf just any old peat? With the ongoing turf wars in Connemara and elsewhere, I think we need to cherish and protect this national symbol. Standing there in the kitchen, the smoke beginning to bellow from the Green Egg, we agree to differ:  in my mind’s eye peat is nothing more than a vague impersonal fuel. Turf is in our blood, under our nails – it represents us.

We gently smoke the mutton loin over a turf and charcoal fire. It spits and crackles as the lamb fat drips down on to the hot coals. The kitchen fills with an aromatic haziness. I am lost among places: somewhere equidistant between the kitchen and Connemara.

We cook the lamb until it’s rare and tender, then rest it so the heat penetrates into its fat. This makes the fat become the most unctuously desirable stuff. Carving wee chunks with that beautifully marbled fat, we pair it with a salt-baked Swede (or turnip, as “we” call them). It’s a moment of autumn, a modern turf moment in a contemporary culinary kitchen.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.