Savoring a blend of flavors from the Old and New World
Special to The Union
Food is a great way to share culture. Even when families have lost touch with the other traditions of their ancestors, some of their original culture still surfaces in the kitchen.
When BriarPatch Co-op was asked to include a food demonstration at this year’s Celtic Festival, Christopher Maher, general manager of the co-op, was the obvious choice for the job. Not only is he a chef, he is also of Irish decent and is lucky enough to know a lot about his Irish heritage.
“The various branches of my family’s trees extend to various locations in Ireland and common places of immigration stateside,” Maher said. “Ancestors came from Counties Down, Tipperary, and Cork primarily. I am an Irish Catholic genealogically, which was the second wave of Irish Diasporas in response to the famines starting in the 1840s and peaking in the late ’40s. Some of the young men in my family who emigrated around that time were allegedly forced to leave due to the Fenian uprising of ’47. Later family sold their farm and worked in the British shipyards for quite a few years in Cumbria to pay passage for the family.”
When asked about the origins of his surname, Maher explained, “County Tipperary – the Ui Meachairs became the O’Meaghers after the Norse invasions. They were the last clan to be forced to give up land in that area under the new (pre-England) systems. Many Mahers, as they eventually came to be known, left and settled in England as well as the U.S. My family stayed in Ireland until the famines.”
According to Maher, most of the Irish traditions that Americans are aware of actually originated here. For example, corned beef and cabbage is a stateside meal. “In Ireland, pork was the meat of the people and beef was an infrequent treat. In the U.S., especially in cities, the opposite was true,” he said.
Those stateside habits were continued in his family. “Irish cuisine really only blossomed in the States when the Italians started coming over a decade or so later. In my early years, the Irish kids were always grateful to have Italian friends who would invite them over for dinner.”
The version of Irish stew that Maher has chosen to make for the festival is a fusion of old world and new world traditions. “Irish Stew is poverty food in the same way as ratatouille,” he said. “We now add Guinness and exotic spices and new world veggies to make it more palatable than the stuff derived from yesterday’s laundry water that sat all day in boiling kettles over sweet turf fires in Irish cottages. Many modern Irish Stews have the ‘secret ingredient’ of curry powder, which is an evolution relative to Ireland and India’s co-colonization by Great Britain. The traditional name is ballymaloe.”
Since stew requires a lot of time to, well, stew, Maher will be preparing the dish ahead of time and finishing it at the Festival. He’ll share his tips and tricks to making a hearty dish as well as swapping family tales. Maher will be located near the Children’s Area from Noon to 1 p.m. on both days of the festival.
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