`The Scottish-Irish Pub and Hearth Cookbook' by Scottish / American culinary writer, Kay Shaw Nelson is another cookbook offering by the relatively low-priced, low profile publisher, Hippocrene Books, Inc. which has a large selection of cookbooks about many of the lesser world cuisines in `The Hippocrene Cookbook Library' as well as several books on Scottish and Irish subjects.
I have reviewed a few of these Hippocrene Books and compared to those offerings, this volume is superior to most, although it may not be the very best source for traditional Irish or Scottish recipes. On the other hand, I especially like this book for the fact that it seems to have very good versions of many recipes that may be so common that many flashier cookbooks may not even deign to cover them. My favorite here is the recipe for Scotch eggs, which recently came to fame as a dish prepared on `Iron Chef America' by the `Too Hot Tamales' (Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger) in a battle against Bobby Flay. The recipe made such an impression that while I remember it, I don't remember the secret ingredient or who won the battle.
I also like the fact that there is a much greater similarity between the two Celtic culinary cultures of Scotland and Ireland than there is between, for example the modern cuisines of Spain and Portugal, which some have lumped together. The biggest difference between the two may be the time at which each was influenced by contact with the French. For the Scottish, during the era of Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, when Scotland and France were active allies against Protestant England. For the Irish, it seems to be much later, beginning in the early 20th century, when Ireland first became independent, and preferred to trade with France than their former colonial masters, England.
While every culinary tradition on earth seems to make a case that they are more congenial entertainers and friends of travelers than anyone else, the Irish can document the fact that not only do they really enjoy a good gathering over beer or spirits, there were actually LAWS passed, the Brehon laws of the Gaelic Celts of the 5th century AD, enforcing hospitality toward strangers and travelers.
The chapters in this book are a great reflection of what is important to these Celtic cuisines:
Starters, including meatballs, lots of oysters and prawns, and the famous Scotch eggs. I'm surprised to find a perfect recipe of the shrimp cocktail, which may have come to these shores from Scotland or Ireland instead of the more easily suspected French.
Soups, especially featuring leeks, which seem to be a native and not a French import. The most famous, of course, is Scotch broth, which is heavy with lamb and barley.
Egg and Cheese Dishes, featuring many dishes from the famous Scottish and Irish breakfasts, including that mysteriously named cheese dish, Scotch Rabbit.
Barley, Oats, and Cornmeal with lots of porridges and cold cereals, such as Muesli.
Seafood, including lots of finny animals from freshwater lakes and streams such as salmon and trout. The most famous recipe here may be kedgeree, a rice, fish, and egg casserole. I just wonder exactly how old this recipe actually is, as two important flavorings are Worcestershire sauce and curry powder, two very British ingredients which may be not much more than 150 years in the British Isles.
Poultry and Game recipes look suspiciously like recipes from southwest France (See Paula Wolfert's great study of recipes from this region). This may either be primordial Celtic influence from Europe or later emigration from Protestant France to the British Isles.
Meats includes a lot of beef as in corned beef and cabbage, corned beef hash, and beef tartare, plus lots of lamb dishes and, oddly enough, several hamburger recipes. Makes me think our favorite meaty fast food came from Ireland rather than northern Germany, as its name suggests.
Vegetables is lots of mashed potatoes and what to do with mashed potatoes the day after. It also shows that the Gaelic cuisine is one of the very few outside Japan that features seaweed.
Bread, especially quickbread based scones and soda bread, which don't use yeast, plus boxty, that famous refuge of day-old mashed potatoes.
Cakes and Cookies, oddly, is separated from desserts, possibly because these are recipes for things served at tea and not after a late supper. The highlight is oatmeal cookies and Scottish shortbread.
Desserts features lots of apples, pears, and berries, especially the classic blackberry fool
Drinks, of course.
As a source of both culinary lore and classic recipes, this may be the best available book I have seen on Scotch / Irish comfort food. It may not be quite as good as `Irish Traditional Cooking' by leading Irish cooking school owner, Darina Allen, which the author recognizes as one of the leading authorities on Irish culinary practice, but for a nice little inexpensive package, this book is very, very good. For more information on the intertwining of culinary lore and ancient Celtic celebrations, see `Celtic Folklore Cooking' by culinary writer and folklorist, JoAnne Asala.