Cooking Irish? Is there even such a thing? Retired Chef and Irish American Heritage Museum Board of Trustees member, Harold Qualter thinks the culinary genre is underrated. “Many food critics fnd the idea of Irish Cuisine as a contradiction in terms,” said Chef Qualters. “Hardly ever do you hear someone state, ‘I’m cooking Irish tonight.’ Mexican, Italian, French, absolutely…but Irish, not so much.”
Constantly looking for new ways to connect Irish American’s with their culture, the Irish American Heritage Museum, located in Albany, NY, decided to start looking into the often hidden and forgotten part of Irish heritage and culture, its food. Everyone can relate to food, everyone eats. Ireland oﬀers more than potatoes and stew; the culinary oﬀerings are endless. Other foods include whiskey-laden desserts and marinated meats, an assortment of baked breads, stuﬀed cabbage, smoked salmon and shellfsh.
In 2015, the Irish American Heritage Museum partnered with the Irelands’ Department of Foreign Aﬀairs through the Emigrant Support Programme and the Ofce of the Consulate
General of Ireland’s ofce in New York to create a project that is able to foster a vibrant sense of Irish community and identity through “Cooking Irish.”
The Museum is currently in the midst of an ambitious series of programs that combines lectures on the history of Irish food and indigenous ingredients, cooking classes, an annual Irish Soda Bread Competition, and an exhibit to share this unique idea of having people get excited over their heritage and culture through food. The Museum has brought together a fantastic group of Irish American chefs to explore the idea of if there is actually an Irish cuisine, and if so, what is it?
The history of Irish food tells a story of tradition, disaster and resilience. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the story shows a country overﬂowing with a bounty of diverse foods amidst an island of agricultural fertility. Much of the “traditional cuisine” that came from Ireland during this period had a distinct British ﬂair. However, this would all change as Ireland adapted to constant invasions, war, and a crushing poverty that would lead to the dependence on the potato for survival- a dependency that ultimately and tragically led to the Great Famine of the 19th century. As the country tried to survive these hardships and instability, little thought was put into creating an “Irish cuisine.”
Irish food, in the 21st century, is experiencing a rebirth. Through the work of chefs like Darina
and Myrtle Allen, Irish cooking is emerging and continuously evolving. It is reinvented, using the incredible native and timeless Irish foods and new multicultural elements. A new generation of Irish chefs are building onto the cuisine, inspired not only by their traditional and ancestral dishes, but by the European and American culinary scene. Some, as Chef Qualters said, “might even call it Modern Irish cuisine as it continues its commitment to outstanding ingredients, treated simply.”
One of the highlights of the Museum’s “Cooking Irish” program is the 4th Annual Maureen Farrell McCarthy Irish Soda Bread Competition taking place this March. Soda bread, a quick bread that gets its name from the use of baking soda as a leavening agent instead of the more common yeast, is one of Ireland’s staple foods and the competition has attracted entrants from all over the northeast. The Museum’s staﬀ and board are excited to welcome both amateur and professional entrants to the event and hope this competition inspires people to learn about a very unique part of Irish culture and life, especially as we approach St. Patrick’s Day when interest in all things Irish peaks. In the past the Museum has received around 70 diﬀerent entries in three diﬀerent categories, drawing national attention.
The Irish American Heritage Museum’s mission is to preserve and tell the story of the contributions of the Irish people and their culture in America, inspiring individuals to examine the importance of their own heritage as part of the American cultural mosaic. As such, the Museum is unique in the United States, where almost 36 million individuals claim Irish ancestry. It is committed to the basic tenet that preserving one’s heritage is vital to providing a cultural and historical foundation to future generations of Americans.
Rather than promoting a stage version of what it means to have Irish ancestry, the heritage
museum focuses on preserving the actual culture and history of Irish Americans. It strives to be a living, breathing institution that oﬀers an assortment of enrichment programs. In addition to “Cooking Irish,” historical lectures, plays, movie screenings, a storytelling series, genealogy programs, concerts, and open sessions are available to the public. Families can also participate in the annual Irish American Heritage Day at Saratoga Race Track and the
Ireland offers more than potatoes and stew; the culinary offerings are endless.
Founded in 1986, the Museum has created a number of original exhibits including The Irish
Inﬂuence in the Adirondacks, Dublin Then and Now, The Irish and the Erie Canal, Visions of
Ireland: The Artwork of Michael Augustine Power O’Malley, and most recently Walking with
Ireland into the Sun: Women Revolutionaries and the Easter Rising. These exhibits, amongst
others, travel the United States on a regular basis, and even exhibited at the National Library
The goal of all these programs and exhibits is to create transformative moments. We want
kids and adults to be excited about learning and develop a passion for education that will
stay with them for the rest of their lives. We want people to become interested in their culture
and heritage and preserve it for future generations. It’s your heritage, pass it on!
So, is there such a thing as Irish cuisine?
Absolutely, but as mentioned before, it is constantly evolving, just like the Irish American