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From feast to famine

Mrs Phillips’s Irish Stew; Hunters Pie as at Morrison’s

Here are two hearty recipes to set you up for today’s St Patrick’s Day festivities…

Nineteenth-century recipe for Mrs Phillips’s Irish stew, taken from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

Nineteenth-century recipe for Mrs Phillips’s Irish stew, taken from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle 

Mrs Phillips’s Irish Stew

Take two pounds of mutton chops, four pounds of potatoes. Peel them and cut them in halves. Six onions peel and slice also. Put a layer of potato, first, at the bottom of your stewpan, then a couple of chops and some of the onions & so on till the pot is quite full, a small spoonful of white pepper, one and a half of salt, and three gills of broth or gravy. Cover all very close in to prevent the steam getting out. Let them stew two hours. A small slice of ham is a great improvement.

Just as fortifying is this recipe for ‘Irish Stew or Hunters Pie’, which Dr Kitchiner has taken from a Mr Morrison of the Leinster Hotel, Dublin:

Irish Stew or Hunters Pie as at Morrison’s

Take part of a neck of mutton. Cut it into chops. Season them well. Put it into a saucepan. Let it brase for half an hour. Take two dozen of potatoes, boil them, mash them and season them. Butter your mould and line it with the potatoes. Put in the mutton. Bake it for half an hour, when it will be done. Cut a hole in the top and add some gravy.

With its mashed potato crust, this dish is more commonly known to many of us as Shepherd’s Pie.

The potato had been introduced to Ireland in the mid 17th century as a delicacy for the gentry. By the early 19th century it was eaten by people of all classes, and was the staple food of the Irish poor.

Irish dependency on the potato had become a national stereotype by the early 1800s, as demonstrated by the popular song The Yorkshire Irishman or the Adventures of a Potatoe Merchant.  

Songsheet illustration for The Yorkshire Irishman by G. Nicks (1805). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Songsheet illustration for The Yorkshire Irishman by G. Nicks (1805). Image property of Westminster City Archives

The song tells of a Yorkshireman who learns from his mother that he is the son of an Irish potato grower. The song ends making a living for himself as a potato merchant in Covent Garden Market. Hard-drinking and with the gift of gab, his successful potato business sees him fulfilling the cultural destiny supposedly prescribed by his alleged parentage.

Ireland’s reliance on the potato as the staple diet of its working poor meant that the population was extremely vulnerable to harvest failures. 28 years after these recipes were first published, a  new type of potato blight ravaged Ireland’s potato harvests. Over the following decade, over 1 million people died as the result of blight, and yet more fled the famine, leaving the country and their livelihoods behind.

The story of the Great Irish Potato Famine is now told by Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. You can find out more about the history of the famine by visiting their website: http://ighm.nfshost.com

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3 thoughts on “From feast to famine

  1. Just pointing out that the Great Hunger Museum is not “near Boston;” it is not even in Massachusetts! It is in Hamden, Connecticut, just north of New Haven. 🙂

  2. Very happy to help a tiny bit. I only recently discovered your website, and am enjoying it tremendously! Love your experiments recreating the original dishes.especially.

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