Sharing my favourite Irish foods with new friends abroad
Fionnuala Zinnecker hosts an Irish food night in Germany showcasing her favourite dishes from home
Fionnuala Zinnecker (second from left) helps participants to peel apples for a tart.
Germany is now Ireland’s fourth-largest market for food and drink exports, and the international reputation of the quality of Irish ingredients appears to be increasing dramatically.
While Kerrygold is the biggest selling brand of butter in Germany, it is the unsalted version that sells best, rather than the salted butter as eaten in Ireland. Irish beef imports to German supermarkets and restaurants have grown immensely over the past six years, but pork is still the meat most widely eaten in Germany.
So when the chance recently arose to hold a cookery evening in our local kindergarten, I jumped at hosting it, excited at the idea of showcasing Irish food.
“Oh, make that dish with the blood sausage,” a friend who had eaten black pudding fried with butter and apple slices at our house one day pleaded when she heard of the upcoming Irish evening. The heads of all present turned to look at her, then at me. Even in Germany, blood sausage is not everyone’s cup of tea.
For the next couple of days, I pondered what I would cook. Keen to dispel the myth that the Irish have always lived on spuds smothered in butter and washed down with stout, I would ideally have loved to cook up a storm of my Irish favourites - seafood chowder, colcannon, roast chicken with stuffed bacon rolls, leg of lamb served with mint sauce - as well as introducing the Germans to black and white pudding, sausage products equally as good as any of Germany’s own. But with only 90 minutes and a limited budget, that wasn’t going to happen.
Scaling down my plans was tricky, but gradually a plan formed in my mind to take dishes the Germans know and find an Irish equivalent. The German diet is traditionally very hearty, so that was my starting point. Striking a balance between hearty and quick to cook required a few trade-offs. After much deliberation, I decided we would make homemade brown bread dressed with smoked salmon, followed by a huge pot of curried parsnip soup, and finishing with apple tart and mince pies.
Bread is big business in Germany. There are bakeries at every corner selling sourdough bread and farmhouse loaves, rye and spelt breaded, pretzels and breadrolls. But there is nothing that comes close Irish brown soda bread. In fact, the wholegrain wheat flour in Germany is so fine that I need to mix my own brown flour, adding wheat bran and roughly-ground wheat grains to give it the right texture. Would this yeast-free, crumbly bread meet the approval of the Germans?
I was aware that I was taking another risk with the parsnip soup. Germans don’t really know parsnips, but they adore pumpkin soup and the consistency is similar. Until a few years ago most Germans would not have been able to tell you what a parsnip looked like, let alone describe the flavour or what you would cook with it. When I was looking up something online about parsnips recently, the search engine assumed I was looking for the German dating website Parship.de.
As for the dessert, I knew I was on fairly safe ground with apple tart. I chose to make a pralie apple tart, with a potato pastry. Potato dough is used in German cooking a lot, in both sweet and savoury dishes. From fruit-filled dumplings to fried fingers of potato dough served with cinnamon stewed apple, the concept of apples and potatoes together is a familiar one here, though the apple tart itself is unknown.
Once the menu was put on display in kindergarten, the list of participants quickly grew to 15, including parents with Polish, Russian, Greek, Turkish and Japanese backgrounds.
We began with a cup of tea, in true Irish style, and I explained the menu. Then we rolled up our sleeves and got down to work, peeling apples and parsnips, mixing bread and rolling pastry. The conversation flowed and the topics flitted from the growing popularity of white bread in Japan to the annual Turkish tradition of Asure whereby a special dessert is made using at least seven ingredients and shared among at least seven neighbours. When the evening of the cookery demonstration finally came to an end, it was the brown bread and the parsnip soup that were the stars of the show.
In all my planning and organising, I had forgotten one thing. The thing that always happens when women are away from their children and handed a cup of tea. They talk. If you then put them into a kitchen and hand them some ingredients, something magical happens. They laugh, they cook, they share recipes and they make plans to do this again. The meal we shared at the end of the 90 minute session was the icing on the cake of a wonderful evening of sharing and learning.
Now that I have done my bit for the popularity of Irish food in Germany, next year we are making sushi.
Fionnuala Zinnecker has written previously for Generation Emigration about life in Germany, and blogs family life at threesonslater.blogspot.com and cooking at mykitchennotebook.blogspot.de.