Stobhach Gaelach and Soda Farls
It’s a rare writer who doesn’t get seduced down many a research black hole in an effort to bring the very best story to her readers. And by black hole I mean information so fascinating, alarming, and/or delicious she just might keep clicking and reading and reading and clicking a teensy bit longer than the need for information might justify.
And when food is involved? Yeah, count me guilty! Right now I’m doing final revisions on The Dead Shall Live which involves filling in all sorts of blanks. Oddly, it is taking me the exact amount of time to fill those blanks right now that it would have taken back when I was writing the first two or three drafts and didn’t have time.
But in fairness, at that time I was still spinning story, still searching for the big picture, not wanting to get diverted into details. Which by the way, I get divered by all the time whether I am writing first draft or final polish. I just couldn’t justify the time it would take to research seasonings for Irish stew when I was dealing with big scary magical stuff.So here I was [figuratively] sitting with Persephone in a quayside inn in Youghal [pronounced Yawl] Ireland, and she is being served stew. So I tossed a description in there off the top of my head, knowing I’d come back to it later and make it right.
The slattern returned with two big bowls of something that smelled of lamb and rosemary, and also as smelled as if it might taste quite good, to Persephone’s reluctant astonishment. Cubes of potato and [swede*] and whatnot*, flavored with rosemary and a hearty shake of salt and pepper [*replace with something authentic].
First off, I suspected rosemary was an unlikely herb though I was just guessing. Again, just guessing, I thought thyme more likely. Not because of flavor but because I thought it more likely that Irish peasants [this is peasant food] were more likely to be growing thyme which grows from seed than rosemary which is a bush.
Mr Google seemed to agree about the thyme as an early or original seasoning. The other thing Mr Google told me was that originally it would have been the tough parts of lamb or mutton boiled/stewed with potatoes and onions. The potatoes breaking down would have made it a rich thick stew.
As more things became available, it was likely that other root veg* would have been added. That’s where your carrots, turnips, etc. would come in. Whenever I had Irish stew in Ireland, though, it never had carrots in it. My husband’s beef stew did. So that’s why I looked at that stew at the top and felt it a bit unsatisfactory.
But then I found something even more interesting. As I kept digging to see how it might be seasoned, to see if there were any herbs more likely to be used in southern Ireland than northern, for example, I discovered a variation of Irish stew–I mean, Stobhach Gaelach–that is particular to County Cark*.
Guess what. County Cark Irish Stew has cabbage in it. Usually cabbage, celery, maybe green peas and leeks, along with the lamb/mutton, potatoes, and onions. I think cabbage gets a bad rap. Cabbage added to soup is tasty. And this? Sounds delicious.
I found some recipes and oh I can’t wait to make some County Cark Irish Stew!
I mean, Stobhach Gaelach.
Here are two ways of pronouncing stobhach. I have no idea whether either or both are correct, or if it depends on which region of Ireland the speaker is from. One of the examples is from an American.
But my diversion into the culinary arts of Ireland didn’t stop there. No, I needed to know more about soda bread, too! Would they call it soda bread? Or would they just call it bread, and there at that time, that is how bread was made? An Irish writer [Catharine Sharp, if you’re keeping score] pointed me at a site that had an explanation that she says pretty much fits her experience:
It comes in two main colors, brown and white, and two main types: “cake” and “farl”. The latter are primarily regional differences. People in the south of Ireland tend to make cake: people up North seem to like farl better (though both kinds appear in both North and South, sometimes under wildly differing names).[…]You may hear either of these breads referred to locally as “brown cake”, “soda cake”, “soda farl”, “brown farl”, “wheaten bread”, and any combination of numerous other weird terms.
So finally I am wallowing in the kind of detail that makes the world come alive for me. Even though I am a tad concerned that cabbage and such might not have been traditional in Irish stew two hundred years ago, I can’t find a reason to assume that. And since County Cark has its own special twist on stew–I mean, Stobhach Gaelach–I have decided that yes, Persephone’s wonderful bowl of fabulously fragrant stew will have cabbage and leeks and such along with the potatoes, onions and meat. And they will probably be served brown cake, as well.
This, I fear, is where any excuse at “in the name of research” goes out the window. I can’t call it research that I wanted to know how the soda bread was cooked on top of the range rather than in the oven, which is a northern Ireland thing, after all, and I’m researching County Cark, and oh by the way am not giving the recipe or explaining how it’s made so my need for info was satisfied an hour earlier, at least].
But–farls. Which means quarters. The loaf is rolled to half an inch thickness and cut in four roughly equivalent pieces. Quarters. Farls.
But this is what interested me–the top of the range bit. Who wants to heat up the house with the oven baking in the hot Texas summer? But stove top? I have the iron skillets. I have the ingredients [well I used the vinegar and milk thing instead of buttermilk] and–
I had the video!
Reader, I made them.
This is the grueling level of research I submit myself to, just to make sure my books are worthy of you, dear reader. I force myself to drive throughout Ireland and hike here and yon and scramble over rocks and turnstiles and dig into musty old bookstores to find research materials–
And I force myself to bake–
Dripping with butter–
And yes, I shall go even further.
I shall cook, and eat, Stobhach Gaelach* using the County Cark recipe.
All for you, dear readers.
All for you.
* I am the sole authority on the identification of true Stobhach Gaelach on this blog. Which doesn’t make me qualified. Just bossy.
I think I want to try it. Definitely the soda farls dripping with butter and, perhaps, some honey.