National treasures like brawn, cream crackers and blaas get just desserts


BLAAS, brawn and yellowman are taking their rightful place among the great foods of Europe. They will be joined by gurcake, drisheen Dingle mutton pie, and more.

Their culinary and cultural history, essential ingredients and preparation methods have all been meticulously recorded. For the uninitiated, blaas are bread rolls in Waterford, while brawn is a stunning concoction of pig parts moulded in gelatine, dating from early 19th century Ireland.

We are not, as some simplistic foodies portray us, a nation hung up on a bland diet of Irish stew, bacon, cabbage and spuds because of our rural roots, though Ireland is "only now beginning to wake up to the need to preserve its traditional foods", according to their greatest defender, gourmet, Myrtle Allen, of Ballymaloe House.

She can rest a little easier, for Ireland's Traditional Foods - an exploration of Irish local and typical foods and drinks was published yesterday by Teagasc's National Food Centre (NFC) and Bord Bia. The list of 100 items of food and drink will form part of Euroterroirs, an EU initiative - inspired by the French, who else? - to develop an inventory of typical and local foods.

Food historian, Regina Sexton, and the NFC's Cathal Cowan, come up with many surprises to go with the obvious items such as soda bread, stout, Irish whiskey. boxty, crubeens, cockles and carrageen. Regional specialities join them; buttered hens' eggs, clove rock, peggy's leg and bodice (corned pork ribs).

Just to recite them is evocative of home, holidays, childhood, seas and farms from Irish pasts. In too is red lemonade, cream crackers, iced caramels, and kimberley biscuits - items we have created for the world, not what the world made for us, as many suspect.

We have a lot to thank Jacob's for, even if they won't tell us how they get the figs into the fig roll they created in 1903. The biscuit's "use" is described in the book with delightful understatement: "at tea and coffee breaks and after a main meal".

Fortunately, there were others - like Joyce writing in Ulysses - to help record the essence of our food and drink. "... a bag of fig rolls lay smugly in Armstrong's satchel. He curled them between his palms at whiles and swallowed them safely. Crumbs adhered to the tissues of his lips. A sweetened boy's breath."