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Saint Patrick Didn’t Have It Easy (But at Least the Food Wasn’t Bad).
15 March 2011
University College Cork
Shipped to Ireland as a slave, it must have been a cold, hungry journey for Patrick, but through her researches, Irish food expert, Regina Sexton from University College Cork, has been able to recreate the diet available in 5th century Ireland to a young saint-in-the-making.
It is safe to say that obesity was not a problem in those days, and that the fare was seasonal, wholesome and modest by today’s standards. Dairy produce and cereals were everyday staples and St Patrick would have consumed lots of fresh milk, sour milk, thickened milk, colostrum, curds, flavoured curd mixtures, butter and soft and hard cheeses.
Cereals, most commonly oats and barley, a little rye together with more prestigious and high-ranking wheat, were used in the production of flat breads and it is also likely that leavened wheat loaves were on offer. Various wet preparations such as porridge, gruel, meal pastes and pottages as well as cereal-milk and fruit-nut combinations were also being eaten on the island when the young Patrick arrived. A wide range of wild foods, notably watercress and wild garlic, nature’s way of garnishing the delights of the countryside, was also on the menu, and if this didn’t whet his appetite, there were hen and goose eggs, honey, fish, butter, curds, seaweeds, apples and dairy as well as several varieties of soft and hard cheeses.
The rivers were flush with salmon, trout and eel, and hard-cured pork as well as other meats, were to be had too. This was neither a throw-away nor a take-away society and people took good care to preserve and conserve for future use, foods that could not be consumed immediately. Much of this is known, according to Ms Sexton, because with the coming of Christianity, monastic settlements encouraged learning and record keeping and those records have come down to us. Ironically, much of the food available then, is what we call ‘health food’ now, which comes of course, at a premium price.
Little wonder then that even after his daring escape from Ireland, Patrick returned to become the island’s patron saint. He did it for the good of his health!