8 Foods of Ulster featured in “And The Buntings Flew”

Vegetable Roll, courtesy of McCartneys of Moira

I recently read a great article in the Guardian Food in Books series by blogger Kate at The Little Library Cafe; – you can read the latest article here.

Kate writes about the food that features in some of her favourite books, and she often recreates recipes for foods as described in such classics as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Fellowship of The Ring, and Vanity Fair.

I love this idea, and it got me thinking about the food that’s featured in the novel I am  writing, And The Buntings Flew, which is set in 1970s Belfast.The food of Northern Ireland was and still is very traditional, and may seem limited (not much pasta or rice was in evidence, and salads were sorry affairs), but Irish meat, dairy produce and vegetables are of world class quality, and food was often bought fresh from the butchers and grocers, when shopping was a little-and-often affair before the widescale introduction of supermarkets.

Below I’ve listed eight of the Northern Irish food and drinks you can read about in And The Buntings Flew, and if you find yourself in Ulster, please do try as many as you can!

Tea (Lots Of It!)

I may have mentioned this before on here: the Irish are some of the most prolific tea drinkers in the world! Wikipedia lists the Republic of Ireland at number 3, and the UK at number 5 of the highest consumers of tea per capita

Both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have their own popular tea brands, one of which is Thompson’s “Punjana”. In the 1970s, the period in Which And The Buntings Flew is set, loose leaf tea was the norm; I still think it’s more flavourful, although spitting out errant tea leaves is one of its drawbacks. One of my memories of my late father is of his never being more than a few feet from either a mug, cup, teapot, flask or bottle of strong white tea.

Punjana teapot, courtesy of punjana.com
Punjana loose leaf teapot, courtesy of Punjana.com

Ulster Fry

The BBC asked if the Ulster Fry was the best-cooked breakfast in the UK, and the answer to that is surely a resounding yes! What’s so special about a wee fry you ask? For me it’s the addition of the Potato and Soda breads, adding a range of glorious flavours and textures that toast simply can’t match. Vegetable roll is also a winning addition to the cooked breakfast, as are the wonderful Irish sausages, which usually have a higher meat content than their mainland counterparts; put them all together and you have a taste extravaganza and a meal that sets you up for the rest of the day!

Ulster Fry by The Hairy Bikers, courtesy of the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zgk7mp3
Ulster Fry by The Hairy Bikers, courtesy of the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zgk7mp3

Champ

A cheap, simple but wonderful dish celebrating the potato and made even better with flavourful Irish butter; potatoes mashed with butter and milk, with the addition of chopped spring onions, or scallions as they’re known in Northern Ireland. The scallions give the mash a real tangy kick.

Scallion and brown onion champ, courtesy of Voodoo and Sauce.com
Scallion & brown onion champ, courtesy of Voodoo and Sauce.com

 

Dulse

Dulse (Palmaria Palmata) is a strongly flavoured, salty seaweed that grows on the northern coasts of the Atlantic, including Northern Ireland. Dulse is harvested at low tide by hand during the summertime and then dried.Dulse can be found for sale in little plastic bags at markets, fairs and bars; we always bought a few bags on day trips to Ballycastle, where it is also sold at the Ould Lammas Fair in August. It is something of an acquired taste!

By Cwmhiraeth - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16824956
Dulse, by Cwmhiraeth Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16824956

Potato Bread/Farl

Another potato dish, this reminds me of Sunday evening teatimes and was often in evidence if there wasn’t much in for dinner. The main ingredient is leftover mashed potatoes mixed with plain flour, a pinch of salt and a knob of butter or a drop of buttermilk if available. Potato bread is dry fried in a pan or griddle, is quick and easy to make and is absolutely delicious. A true Ulster Fry must include both Potato bread and soda bread, at least in my family!

Soda Bread

Soda bread was created in the 19th century when locals used baking soda and buttermilk for raising agents as a substitute for yeast. Soda bread is divinely soft and fluffy, and is served either fried or sliced with butter (my preference) on its own or as part of an Ulster Fry.

Irish Soda bread, courtesy of blissfuldomesticity.com
Irish Soda bread, courtesy of blissfuldomesticity.com

Yellowman

I have happy memories of munching bagfuls of crunchy bright Yellowman on days out to the seaside, but I haven’t seen it outside Northern Ireland; it is similar in texture to the bags of honeycomb you can still buy at fairs and markets, but chewier, with a hard, rock-like “rind”.

By Wild quinine - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yellowman_honeycomb_comparison.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36019713
Yellowman, by Wild quininehttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yellowman_honeycomb_comparison.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36019713

 

Vegetable Roll

The name “vegetable roll” is a total misnomer for this sausage-like roll of fatty meat (often beef brisket and rib trimmings) seasoned with onion, carrot and celery. Vegetable roll can be served in an Ulster Fry or on its own with potatoes or champ, or with mashed carrot and swede. My wonderful late aunt always brought home a batch whenever she returned to East Belfast.

Vegetable Roll, courtesy of McCartneys of Moira
Vegetable Roll, courtesy of McCartneys of Moira

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried any or all of the above Northern Irish food favourites, or if you feature any of them in your writing?

Margaret

(With grateful thanks to the following websites and blogs)

Commission (Ezra Pound)

Ezra Pound By Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882–1966) (National Portait Galley, London) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ezra Pound [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Not my poem, alas, but one that I wanted to feature here; it’s always relevant for the poet, the writer, the artist.

Go, my songs, to the lonely and the unsatisfied,
Go also to the nerve-racked, go to the enslaved-by-convention,
Bear to them my contempt for their oppressors.
Go as a great wave of cool water,
Bear my contempt of oppressors.

Speak against unconscious oppression,
Speak against the tyranny of the unimaginative,
Speak against bonds.
Go to the bourgeoise who is dying of her ennuis,
Go to the women in suburbs.
Go to the hideously wedded,
Go to them whose failure is concealed,
Go to the unluckily mated,
Go to the bought wife,
Go to the woman entailed.

Go to those who have delicate lust,
Go to those whose delicate desires are thwarted,
Go like a blight upon the dullness of the world;
Go with your edge against this,
Strengthen the subtle cords,
Bring confidence upon the algae and the tentacles of the soul.
Go in a friendly manner,
Go with an open speech.
Be eager to find new evils and new good,
Be against all forms of oppression.
Go to those who are thickened with middle age,
To those who have lost their interest.

Go to the adolescents who are smothered in family-
Oh how hideous it is
To see three generations of one house gathered together!
It is like an old tree with shoots,
And with some branches rotted and falling.

Go out and defy opinion,
Go against this vegetable bondage of the blood.
Be against all sorts of mortmain.

Writing With “Norn Iron” Words & Phrases

Harland and Wolff cranes, Belfast 2009
Harland and Wolff cranes, Belfast 2009 copyright M.McGoverne

“What’s Norn Iron?” I hear some of you ask; Wikipedia defines Norn Iron as “an informal and affectionate local nickname used… to refer to Northern Ireland, derived from the pronunciation of the words “Northern Ireland” in an exaggerated Ulster accent (particularly one from the greater Belfast area). The phrase is seen as a lighthearted way to refer to Northern Ireland, based as it is on regional pronunciation.”

The Northern Irish accent is distinctive, some say unique, and is unmistakable; as such it poses a challenge to writers who need to write Northern Irish dialogue. A similar issue faces writers of broad Scots dialogue. I read Trainspotting in 1994, and was transfixed by the stories, but I was also impressed with Irvine Welsh’s use of Scottish vernacular and phonetic spelling to convey the sounds of the words as they would have been spoken by the characters.

From the inception of my novel And The Buntings Flew, which is based largely in Belfast, I planned to include as much local dialect, both street vernacular and the peculiarities of Ulster-English dialect in my story; I want to reflect the way the people who inspired the book spoke, and still speak. I also want to make the story accessible to all; I have a couple of friends who didn’t finish Trainspotting because they struggled with the language used, whch is a great pity. So I’ve decided to use the key phrases and words I recall from my own childhood in Northern Ireland, and those ones that I hear most frequently whenever I return. Hopefully I’ve captured an authentic slice of Northern Irish dialogue without overusing words that many readers may be unfamiliar with.

My use of “Norn Iron” is therefore in no way exhaustive! If you’re interested in finding out about more Norn iron words, In Your Pocket has a great introduction, with lots of very colourful and expressive phrases! 🙂

Having said that, I’d love to hear from you if you can suggest any more common words and phrases I may have overlooked. All of the phrases below are used somewhere in And The Buntings Flew; I hope you enjoy them and don’t have to refer back to this glossary too much!

Norn Iron Word/Phrase Meaning
Are you getting? Are you being helped/served?
Away in the head Stupid
Away on! You’re kidding!
Amn’t Am not (e.g. “Amn’t I? – Am I not?”
Aye Yes
Bake Mouth (from beak)
Baste Beast
Bout Ye/What About Ye How are you? Greeting
Catch yourself on! Wise up!
Chile Child
Craitur Creature
Dander A walk
Dead On Agreed, absolutely, OK, or great, perfect
Fillum Movie
Founder/ed Cold
Fry Fried breakfast (Ulster Fry)
Is that you? Are you finished/ready?
Lifted Arrested
Messages Shopping (usually for groceries)
Murdered Annoyed/stressed/pestered
Norn Iron Northern Ireland
Ould/auld Old
Peelers Police
Poke Ice cream cone
Quer A lot, very
See you? Here’s me! That’s what you think/say, but here’s my opinion
See (this thing/person/situation) An exclamation of annoyance/frustration, calling attention to something
So it is/do it does! Yes it is/yes it does
The day/The night/The morra Today/tonight/tomorrow
The dogs on the street know Something which is common knowledge
Themuns Those people
Thon That
Thonder There
Til To
Wait till I tell you I must tell you this
Wee Doll Girl, woman
Tortured See “murdered”
You Quite often in a sentence where not grammaticality required, e.g. ‘shut you your bake!
Yous/youse/yousons/yis Plural of “you”

Hold The Front Page

I wrote (borrowed? appropriated?) this in 1999, using headlines taken from the 28th May 1999 papers;  I’m going to write a followup this May, as an interesting exercise in observing what has changed in 17 years, and what remains the same in absorbing us, news-wise.

ukpapers (2)

Tragedy of babies born into
A BUS SHELTER CALLED HOME

Ferguson’s £12million spending limit
Upsets the Deaf

War crimes move
The start of the weekend

SORRY SOPHIE
We never meant to cause you distress

Topless photo was a mistake –
Two heads four legs and sex appeal!!!

Ban on Viagra to cost millions
BARGAIN BEDS BONANZA

WE ADMIT IT!
Disability benefits threatened

75% off
50% off
25% off
20% off

MORE SAVINGS. MORE SAVINGS. MORE SAVINGS

From Kosovo to Kiss-o-vo
KIDS AGED TWO ARE MASSACRED

Myra threatens sit in at change of prison
My angel murdered

For Boxer

Bowl of jellied eels
Jellied eels by Footballbooks (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 I wrote this poem last summer for a work colleague who really should ease up but on whom lots of us rely, daily.

 

Not tall, but sturdy
London born. Not quite
A Cockney.

Unremarkable maybe except for
That quiet determination,
Hard as granite, soft as shit

Your sentimentality
Like jellied eels
A backbone in the mush.

A dying breed
But don’t be dying,
We need your help, as always.

Your achievements chiseled from
Honest dignity and care;
You’re always there.