Akron Irish: Pudding
By Lisa O’Rourke
Some silly moments stick with you. Several years ago, I was sitting at a table in Ireland with some girlfriends while warm, napkin-wrapped lumps were passed under the table to land purposefully in my lap. That evening, the man of the house had been in charge of dinner, and he did as a man often does when providing nourishment, he relied on a strong belief in meaty goodness to save the day.
If his success was evidenced in the number of empty plates, this meal was a winner. What he didn’t know was that I was the only person who would eat the food. Childish but polite, the ladies decided to pass the offensive meat under the table to me while I gamely did my best to eat those puddings.
No, this is not the cold creamy Jell-O product, nor is it the euphemism that the upper crust Brits use for dessert. This pudding is the rolling coils of meaty stuff that are served sliced and fried as part of any proper Irish “fry.”
A FRY IN IRELAND
A Fry is both a verb and a noun. The noun in Ireland clearly originated with the products synonymous with the appearance of a frying pan, the traditional Irish breakfast. A person going into a restaurant and requesting a fry will be served two rashers, two sausages, a black pudding disk, a white pudding disk, and one fried egg. Toast, brown bread and tea are included and don’t be surprised to see a bonus of a halved fried tomato and or fried button mushrooms.
Surprising to many, potatoes are not part of breakfast in Ireland, but they make up for that later. If you are thinking that the fry is kind of a lot for first thing in the morning, you are not alone. You also are not alone if you are thinking that you should hide that plate from your arteries, because this meal is boldly defiant against modern concepts like eating light and cholesterol avoidance.
As with many food traditions, the roots of the fry go deep into farm country. Since a farmer’s day starts early and involves a lot of physical labor, caloric energy is important. A fry is not usually eaten first thing in the morning anyway, but as a mid-morning snack, after a few chores. It is the needed sustenance to tide a person over to lunch, called dinner, and eaten between one and two.
However, the fry is still standard fare at Bed & Breakfasts in Ireland. It is a big breakfast, but many tourists appreciate the generous start to the day since it will sustain a person for hours and minimize the need to stop again to eat.
Outside of the tourism industry, the fry is too much for every day for most people. Sitting at a desk and typing emails does not support that kind of eating. But people like the food so many restaurants have incorporated the fry as an “anytime” entree.
Since the fry is eaten more selectively, its elements have gained in individual stature. Like many of the traditional foods, black and white puddings are showing up as appetizers and main dishes in upscale eateries. The new puddings are being made like the old, by hand in artisanal, farm-to-table settings
There are plenty of recipes for both black and white pudding. The difference between black and white puddings can be nothing more than the inclusion of animal blood. I know it is tempting to wince here but move on.
OK, so besides the blood thing, puddings are essentially sausages. They are made of mixed spices like allspice and pepper, onions, a mix of bready things; barley, crumbs or oats, and meat and or fat from an animal, pig or cow or both. The ingredients are combined, boiled and put into casings.
Like everything else, this recipe is a product of a culture that had a solid belief is using all parts of an animal that was slaughtered for food. Whether or not the philosophy came from poverty or the respect for the animal, it is the basis of good cooking in all cultures. The weirder bits are where good cooks show their skill. Anyone can grill a steak.
These little sausages have to be bad for you right? Not so fast on that one. The black pudding is hailed is some circles as the new super food. Low in carbohydrates and high in protein, a serving of black pudding, about four sliced disks, contains fifteen grams of protein. Take that Greek yogurt.
In addition to protein, black pudding is also iron rich, you can guess why. It also is rich in zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Even with all these important nutrients, it is not something that should be eaten every day. Like all sausage, fat is both ingredient and cooking agent, so moderation is key. Along with moderation, look for the homemade and less processed. The small batch black puddings are a completely different thing from the more processed ones.
I cannot be a big hypocrite and pretend that I always embraced different foods with a sense of adventure. Nope, I was a Diet Coke drinking, cheese doodle popping Yank whose nose lifted at anything strange. However, I was raised to be polite, and I knew then as I know more certainly now, that you eat what is put in front of you, especially when you are in the home of the preparer.
It feels rude to find yourself in conversations with people looking to travel who make judgements about things that they have not experienced. People who happily scarf food products that sound more like science experiments, feel at liberty to cock their noses and “ew” at the Irish breakfast, especially those puddings, especially the black pudding. The rule that I was taught to remember is that you should not eat anything that contains ingredients that you can’t pronounce or that your grandmother would not recognize as food.
Every Burns’ Night, January 25th, I inevitably reach for my copy of “Address to a Haggis.” It is, in my opinion, a very funny poem written in salute of the Scots version of pudding, the haggis, another much-maligned food that I have eaten. The haggis that I have experienced is more like oaty white pudding.
What bears mentioning in the poem is that Burns brags about the power that the “rustic” native receives from eating his traditional haggis, being empowered to cut off heads like thistle tops after consumption. Traditions do give strength, whether literally, metaphorically or both.
You can go through the world with Ranch dressing in your suitcase, seeking McDonald’s at every turn. Or you can travel with a heart open enough to let a place leave its mark on you.
*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She likes spending time with her dog, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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