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Irish Stew History

Irish stew and the mutton connection


Irish stew
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In connection with the article on Foods of Ireland, historical questions about irish stew come in fast and furious. What are traditional ingredients and how has it evolved?

Irish Stew History

Irish stew is a filling, flavorful peasant dish made with the cheapest, most readily-available ingredients. The Irish raised primarily sheep and root crops for subsistence. The sheep provided wool for warm clothing, milk for drinking and making cheese, and eventually food. Potatoes were the main food crop, prior to the potato famine.

Irish stew, "ballymaloe" or "stobhach gaelach" as it is called in Gaelic, is traditionally made of lamb or mutton (less tender sheep over two years of age), potatoes, onions, and parsley. Often, lamb or mutton neckbones, shanks, and other trimmings were the only basis for the stock. Yet, these would-be discards still held enough flavor after a long simmering process to do justice to a hearty bowl of stew.

The root vegetables added further flavor and thickening power, as well as filling sustenance. Some cooks added turnips or parsnips, carrots, and barley when available.

Today's Irish Stew

When the Irish people began immigrating to the United States, fleeing from the ravages of starvation caused by the potato famine, they naturally brought along their wonderful hearty food traditions. The stew evolved and adapted to include the local offerings.

Sheep were not as plentiful in America, so other types of meat were often substituted. When made in the traditional manner, the result is very thick and hearty, not thin like soup.

The recipe has evolved to often include Guinness stout. Some variations have exalted this original peasant dish to near gourmet status. Whether you like the basic version or a more fancy one, try one of the many recipes for Irish Stew below.

More About Irish Stew:

Irish Stew History
Foods of Ireland
Irish Food Glossary and Recipes
Soups and Stews Tips and Hints
Soup Glossary with Recipes
Irish Stew Recipes
Photo © 2013 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.


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