Margaret Hickey worked in London for many years, as a freelance writer for The Times, The Financial Times, The Guardian and more, and also as editor at Country Living magazine. She now lives beside the Shannon and is deputy director of the Shorelines Arts Festival and is a regular judge at the Strokestown International Poetry Festival. Her first book, Irish Days (2001), is a collection of oral histories. Ronald Blythe wrote, “It is one of those eye-opening books which takes the reader to the source of Ireland’s poetry and politics.” Her latest publication, Ireland’s Green Larder (2018), is three books in one—a history, a cookbook, and a storybook. Darina Allen of the Ballymaloe School says it is “Enchantingly written . . . An authoritative resource as well as an entertaining and enlightening read.” And chef Richard Corrigan says it is “the only book on the social history of Ireland you’ll ever need!”
Hedge School Talk:
Feast and Famine: The History of Ireland Through Food and Drink
I reflect on the social history of Ireland down the centuries, concentrating on the food produced by the mass of the people. While the Big House is of interest, the food of the poor—the small farmer, the fisherman and the landless laborers—has been my focus.
I look at the food that features at the heart of Irish life and in doing so I refer to diaries, folklore, letters, ballads, lives of the saints, newspaper reports and law tracts, as well as reporting on interviews with today's food producers.
The Irish cook is still making soda bread, boiled cake and porter cake, colcannon and bacon and cabbage—dishes that are unique to Ireland, and are part of the genuine culinary currency of Ireland today. I talk about cooking over an open fire and experiments I made cooking over my own, as well as tracing the history of farmhouse cheese and home baking. I examine the history of crop production, including reference to the oldest known field system in the world—the Ceide Fields, which are around a thousand years older than the Pyramids of Egypt. And I look at the importance of drink. Guinness is known worldwide and the making of Irish whiskey is an ancient art and quite different from the making of scotch whisky. (Even the spelling is different.) And I look at the lasting tradition of hospitality in Irish history. I conclude with a few remarks about the superstitions and pishogues that have always been associated with food in Ireland.