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Dreaming of an Irish Christmas

A great finish to your Christmas meal.

A great finish to your Christmas meal.

When it comes to Christmas meals, every family has traditions. For some, it’s a repeat of Thanksgiving: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and green bean casserole. in other families, ham, rack of lamb, roast beef or even pasta takes center stage.

Here’s another tradition you might want to try: Celebrate an Irish Christmas.

Once upon a time, a traditional Irish dinner would have started with smoked fish, and moved on to roast goose with a potato stuffing, and maybe baked or boiled ham, says Margaret M. Johnson, celebrated author of “Tea & Crumpets,” an afternoon tea cookbook, and the forthcoming (September 2011) “Flavors of Ireland: Celebrating Grand Places and Glorious Food”. These days, she says, the Irish do celebrate more American-style: turkey with all the trimmings, cranberry sauce and all the rest.

But there are differences. Stuffing might be apple and black pudding, for example, or prepared with apricot, she says. “Tart ingredients are often mixed with bread and spices to counter the flavors of the poultry,” she says.

Of course, there’s no end to the ways the Irish can prepare spuds. Champ (mashed potatoes with scallions or chives) might find their way to the table, or colcannon (mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage). “You might also find garlic mash, fondant potatoes, or potato gratins with local Irish cheeses,” Johnson says.

Desserts might be a bit different, too. “Christmas cake and pudding are almost always included in the Christmas menu,” she says. “The cake is a traditional fruitcake where the fruit begins to ‘mature’ in whiskey for at least a month or more; Christmas pudding is a ‘steamed’ pudding, with the fruit ‘plumped up’ with Guinness or whiskey and served with brandy butter (hard sauce), and mince pie–originally dried fruit mixed with suet, but now maded with jarred mincemeat.”

Want to try your hand at replicating Irish Christmas traditions? Try these dessert recipes by Margaret Johnson. File one of these–Christmas Cake–away for next year. It takes several weeks. But two other desserts can be made with far less preparation. Here they are in her own words:

Traditionally, the biggest and most important festival in the Christian calendar is Christmas, and nowhere is it greeted with more enthusiasm than in Ireland. The spiritual preparation begins with Advent, but the practical preparation begins as early as late October when Christmas cakes, puddings, and mincemeat start to be made and readied for the season.

A well-known chronicler of tales of rural Ireland, Alice Taylor says that Christmas was the highlight of the year—“a time of great expectations which climaxed with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then the Wren Day (December 26) brought a burst of color and music into the quiet countryside.” In her book The Night Before Christmas, she says, “The thought of the variety that Christmas would bring filled us with great anticipation. Lemonade, sweet cake, and chocolates in our home at that time were like manna in the desert.” 

These three Christmas treats are the most popular. (Recipes from Margaret M. Johnson’s Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles and Fools, Chronicle Books, 2004)

Irish Whiskey Christmas Cake

This is the “Great Irish Cake,” the traditional pièce de résistance into which every Irish cook sinks her reputation. Spiced, sweet desserts like this cake have been a part of Irish holiday celebrations for centuries and were highly prized because they included spices and dried fruits that were once difficult and expensive to obtain.

The traditional topping for the cake is a layer of almond paste and Royal Icing.

2 cups dried currants
2 cups golden raisins
1 cup dark raisins
2 ounces candied cherries
2 ounces candied mixed citrus peel
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup chopped almonds
1 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup Irish whiskey
1 cup (8 ounces) Kerrygold Irish butter, at room temperature
1 cup soft brown sugar
5 large eggs
2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 egg white, beaten until frothy, for brushing
One 7-ounce package almond paste, such as Odense brand

Royal Icing

2 large egg whites
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Holly sprigs for decoration (optional)

The day before baking (and several weeks before serving), combine all the dried and candied fruit, peel, zest and juice, almonds, and spices in a large bowl with 1/2 cup of the whiskey. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.

Preheat the oven to 275° F. Butter a 9-inch round spring form pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment or waxed paper. In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating in each thoroughly and adding some of the flour with each egg. Fold in the remaining flour, and mix in the soaked fruit one half at a time. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the top is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Prick the top of the cake with a skewer in several places and pour the remaining 1/2 cup whiskey over the top. Run a knife around the sides of the pan and release the sides. Invert the cake onto the rack to cool completely. Remove the lining paper and turn right side up. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, and store in a cool, dark place to allow the cake to mature. Unwrap the cake every week and sprinkle a few tablespoons of Irish whiskey over the top.

On the day before serving, unwrap the cake and brush the top with the egg white. Shape almond paste into a flat disk and place between 2 sheets of wax paper. Roll out to a 9-inch circle and place on top of the cake. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To make the icing: In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg whites, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon juice. With an electric mixer, beat for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is stiff enough to spread. With a flexible rubber spatula, spread the icing over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with sprigs of holly, if desired. 

Serves 10 to 12

Guinness Christmas Cake

1 cup (8 ounces) Kerrygold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/4 cups Guinness Stout
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 1/2 cups mixed raisins and sultanas
4 ounces candied mixed citrus peel
4 cups self-rising flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice
4 ounces candied cherries
3 large eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line an 8-inch square cake pan with a double thickness of waxed paper. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, sugar, Guinness, raisins, sultanas, and citrus peel. Bring gently to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and spice. Stir in the raisin and stout mixture and the cherries. Add the eggs and stir until well blended. Spoon into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack to cool completely. Remove the lining paper and turn the cake right side up. If not serving immediately, wrap the cake in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, and store in a cool, dark place for several weeks to allow the cake to mature.

Serves 8 to 10

Christmas Pudding

Often called “plum pudding” — despite the fact that it contains no plums whatsoever — this  steamed or boiled pudding was first recorded as “Christmas Pudding” in 1858 in a novel by British author Anthony Trollope. The name is probably derived from the substitution of raisins for dried plums as an ingredient in pies during medieval times. In the 16th and 17th centuries, dishes made with raisins retained the term “plum,” and in the Victorian era, Christmas plum puddings became a well-loved dessert. Curiously, plum pudding was a latecomer to Ireland, but it caught on quickly and today it’s one of the most traditional of all Christmas dishes. Not to be confused with fruitcake, it’s actually more like a dense spice cake and is delicious served warm with Brandy Hard Sauce.

3/4 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup candied cherries, halved
1/3 cup chopped candied pineapple
1/2 cup brandy or dark rum
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter at room temperature
4 large egg whites
1/3 cup pecan halves
2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Combine the raisins and candied fruit in a glass jar or bowl. Add the brandy, cover, and let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Butter a 6-cup pudding mold or deep, heatproof casserole dish. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, orange rind, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.

In a large bowl, beat the brown sugar and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg whites and beat well. With a wooden spoon, stir in half of the flour mixture, then half of the fruit mixture. Repeat, stirring in the remaining flour and remaining fruit. Stir in the pecans. Spoon the batter into the prepared mold, cover with parchment or waxed paper, then cover tightly with foil. Tie the foil in place with kitchen twine.

Place the mold in a stockpot or Dutch oven fitted with a rack, or place a folded kitchen towel on the bottom of the pot to prevent direct contact with the bottom of the pot. Add enough hot water to the pot to come halfway up the sides of the mold or casserole dish. Cover and steam on medium-low heat for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. (Check the water level once or twice during cooking and add more water when necessary.)

Carefully remove the pudding mold from the pot. Remove the foil and parchment, and run a metal spatula around the sides to loosen. Place a serving plate over the mold and invert. Drizzle the whiskey over the top. Slice and serve warm. (If not serving immediately, let the pudding cool, covered, in the mold. When completely cool, unmold, wrap in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil. Refrigerate the pudding for up to 1 week or freeze. To serve, put the pudding back into its mold, cover with waxed paper or foil, and steam for 1 hour, as above, or until heated through. Thaw frozen pudding before reheating as above.)

Serves 10 to 12

Brandy Hard Sauce

1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons brandy

In a small bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the brandy and beat until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl or crock, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days Return to room temperature before serving.

Makes 3/4 cup

Food & Drink, People

Stew Cook-Off Winners Rise to the Top

Hibernian Hunger Project

Tom Coffey, right, Mary Carr, and daughter Bernadette. (Click on photo for more.)

On one side of the table, Mary Carr. On the other, son-in-law Tom Coffey. In front of each: a foil tray filled with simmering Irish stew. Her stew. His stew. And only one stew can be … the best. It’s Mom vs. Tom.

On this Sunday afternoon at Finnigan’s Wake in Northern Liberties … Tom is the winner. His Irish stew is judged the best in the amateur category at the Sixth Annual Great Irish Stew Cook-Off, sponsored by the Hibernian Hunger Project.

Tom Coffey accepted his award with grace. Of Mary Carr, he said, “She needed a good ass whuppin’.”

But seriously, now, folks … “She (Mary) is a good sport,” says Tom. “I didn’t marry my wife. I married a family, and they’re a very social group.”

So no worries about where Tom Coffey will have Easter dinner. Rivalry aside, Tom’s making dinner. “And I always invite myself,” he says.

Here are the other winners:

  • Hibernian: Maryanne Burnett (LAOH 87)
  • Irish Organization: Helen DeGrand (Mayo Association)
  • Professional: Josh Landau (a 2007 winner)
  • People’s Choice: Team Kerrigan (a 2009 winner)
Arts, Food & Drink, News, People

Introducing the World to Irish Cuisine and Culture

Irish Immigration Center head Siobhan Lyons, center,with 2009 Rose of Tralee, Jocelyn McGillian, introduced Irish culture to Norwegian Consul  Erik Torp.

Irish Immigration Center head Siobhan Lyons, center,with 2009 Rose of Tralee, Jocelyn McGillian, introduced Irish culture to Norwegian Consul Erik Torp.

Philadelphia International House beat the St. Paddy’s Day rush with its February Culture and Cuisine Program: It brought Irish and Irish Americans together with diners from all over the world to sample Irish cuisine on Wednesday night at Tir na nOg Bar and Grill at 16th and Arch Street.

Ireland’s Vice Consul Alan Farrelly, Irish Immigration Center Executive Director Siobhan Lyons, and Rose of Tralee Centre Managing Director Sarah Conaghan spoke and the 2009 Rose, Jocelyn McGillian, a mezzo soprano, sang, but the evening was about food, drink and conversation.

Lyons made sure there was someone Irish at every table to chat and answer questions, but the conversations rambled like an Irish country road—the mark of a good party. The event was sold out, but twenty more people showed up “causing no end of problems in the kitchen,” said Lyons. But it was just a matter of throwing a few more hangar steaks and salmon filets in the oven and pulling up a few more chairs.

Food & Drink

The Spirits Move Him

A recent whiskey tasting at Maggie O'Neill's. From left: Steve and Carol Pester, Shaun Griffin and Eastern Pennsylvania Whiskey Society presider Kevin Quinn.

A recent whiskey tasting at Maggie O'Neill's. From left: Steve and Carol Pester, Shaun Griffin and Eastern Pennsylvania Whiskey Society presider Kevin Quinn.

Kevin Quinn does not claim to be “a professor of whiskey-ology,” but he does know a fair bit more than the average imbiber about the aromatic amber spirit revered by kings and commoners alike as “the water of life.”

As a professed “enthusiast,” this private school teacher of physics and computer science and former part-time bartender at Maggie O’Neill’s in Drexel Hill collects obscure and intricate details about the process of Irish whiskey making, from the distilling process to the casks in which the whiskeys are aged. He can quote chapter and verse on the history of whiskey in Ireland. He speaks about Irish whiskey with the reverence and erudition more commonly associated with lovers of great wines.

Actually, some experience with wine helped him along on the path to whiskey appreciation. When Quinn was a senior at Bucknell, the president of the university hosted wine tastings. Quinn attended them, and learned the ropes. At about the same time, he came under the influence of two uncles who know and love Irish whiskey, and he discovered that tasting whiskey requires many of the same sensory skills.

“The production of whiskey and wine is similar,” he says. “The way you grade them and drink them is similar. You judge things like color, viscosity, finish, and nose. As with wine, there are things on the label that tell you what to expect. The only real difference is in some of the stages of production. Wine ages in the bottle; whiskey doesn’t. Once it gets bottled, it is what it is.”

Like many, Quinn was not overly enamored of the taste of whiskey when he first tried it. But at some point, something about Irish whiskey began to appeal to him. Now he loves Irish whiskey in the way gearheads adore Lambos. “The thing I like most about Irish whiskey is how smooth it is,” he says. “Often, people take a whole shot of whiskey and toss it back, but Irish whiskey is meant to be sipped. If you really sip it, you get a smooth finish. (“Finish” refers to how long the taste lingers on your taste buds after you sip it.) I like them to have a long finish. I can take a glass of whiskey and sip it over an hour, and not even finish it, and yet still taste it the entire time. A better whiskey should stick with you.”

Along with its finish, Quinn also takes time to appreciate a whiskey’s aroma, or nose, which can be very different from one whiskey to the next. Whiskies can be complex: malty, fruity, sweet like cake, honey or sherry, spicy, nutty, even peppery. It takes time to appreciate all of the subtle notes, but Quinn says it’s worth the effort. “When you nose whiskey, you don’t take a big, deep inhale and you don’t stick your nose in the glass, like with wine. With whiskey, you keep your nose above the glass and take a short, sustained sniff. Then you take another one. Then, on the third one, you can pick up the subtle notes. You really taste with your nose a lot. It gives you a preview of what you’re in for.”

At this point in Quinn’s whiskey tasting career, he’s nosed quite a few varieties, probably more than 20 whiskeys. Getting to that level can be hard. First, you have to cope with Pennsylvania’s antiquated liquor sales establishment. Usually, the state stores stock are no more than four or five whiskeys—the usual suspects like Jameson’s, Bushmills and Tullamore Dew, all very good but really just a fraction of the Irish whiskeys available. And more than a few whiskeys, he says, are not available in the United States at all.

His favorite is Redbreast Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey, described by the Web site Epicurious as the “ne plus ultra of spirits.” Says Quinn, “It is the most characteristically Irish whiskey you can get. It’s very rich, and incredibly smooth.

Jameson 12 year is another good Irish whiskey. It’s very good, but it’s also affordable. I also have a bottle of Black Bushmills. It’s not super expensive but it’s very good.”

There are many more Irish whiskies, though, many of them quite costly.

“Bushmills 16 year old is a fantastic Irish whiskey; so is Jameson 18 year,” Quinn says. “Midleton Very Rare is about $140 a bottle, so I don’t get to drink that very much. Connemara is a single malt Irish whiskey. This is from the Cooley Distillery, the only Irish distillery (the other two are owned by Pernod Ricard). The nice thing about Connemara is that it’s peated, one of the steps in making Scotch whiskey. Usually, with Irish whiskey they put the malt in a closed kiln and heat it with coal. With Connemara, they put it in a kiln and leave it open and they heat it with peat. The smoky flavor gets into the grain and into the whiskey. Connemara tastes like Scotch because it’s very peaty, but it finishes like Irish whiskey. It’s very smooth.”

Most people who appreciate Irish whiskey nonetheless tend to stop at one or two brands that they prefer. But Quinn thinks they might be missing out: “There might be something better.”

Quinn hopes to open whiskey lovers’ eyes (and noses and taste buds) to something better through the Eastern Pennsylvania Whiskey Society—a new project sponsored by Maggie O’Neill’s. Maggie’s has held whiskey tastings before on about a quarterly basis, says owner Mike O’Kane. These are much more formal affairs usually paired with food. But the whiskey society will meet more frequently, and focus on tasting just one variety at a time. Quinn is the master of ceremonies. The next meeting is Tuesday, January 12, at 7 p.m., at the well-known Delaware County eatery. (Maggie O’Neill’s is in the Pilgrim Gardens Shopping Center, 1062 Pontiac Road, in Drexel Hill.)

“It’s pretty informal,” says O’Kane. “We shoot out an e-mail blast just to get a sense of who’s coming. They’re welcome to bring friends. We encourage that.”

O’Kane says the whiskey society was Quinn’s brainstorm: “We just thought it was a cool idea to sample some good whiskey and enjoy each other’s company.” For Maggie O’Neill’s, which stocks about 20 Irish whiskeys, the scheme seemed like a natural.

If you want to join in the good company and learn a thing or two about Irish whiskey, contact Maggie O’Neill’s at (610) 449-9889.

Food & Drink

Tea Story

Tea at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, from Margaret M. Johnson's "Tea & Crumpets."

Tea at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, from Margaret M. Johnson's "Tea & Crumpets."

You could just drink a cup of Tetley with a packet of Krimpets on the side. Or … you could settle down to a steaming china cup of oolong, accompanied by dainty sandwiches, lemon curd tartlettes and sweet, crumbly scones and strawberry jam.

Which sounds more relaxing to you?

Clearly, there’s more to the civilized repast called “tea” than just tea. Having tea, the meal, is an opportunity to sit and quietly exchange gossip with friends and to nosh on all the neat little treats at a leisurely pace.

All of which makes tea so very appealing, according to well-known cookbook author Margaret M. Johnson, whose latest offering, “Tea & Crumpets” (Chronicle Books, $13.57 on Amazon) documents the history and customs associated with the meal. She also serves up a treasure trove of recipes for tarts, breads, cakes, scones, sandwiches and savories, from many of Europe’s finest tea rooms.

There are recipes from England, of course, which claims to have invented tea. (As witness Johnson’s story about Anna Maria, seventh duchess of Bedford, who is said to have originated the custom in the 18th century.) But there are recipes, too, from France, Scotland, and, of course, Ireland. (Including a delicious recipe for Teatime Fruitcake, which she has generously consented to share.)

In her travels for “Tea & Crumpets,” Johnson visited many of the better-known spots, including London’s Savoy, the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, Le Jardin d’Hiver in Paris and Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel. (Where do we get a job like that?) A few of them stand out as favorites.

“The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin has always served lovely tea in the Lord Mayor’s Lounge,” she says. The Merrion in Dublin is also quite lovely. (The hotel ‘lobby’ is really a series of three drawing rooms, so it’s quite special.) In London, Brown’s Hotel was just named ‘top tea spot’ for 2009.”

No matter where you have it, to share a tea is to indulge in a bit of quiet refinement that often is missing from other meals. “Participants share the food from the tea stand, so there’s a social aspect to that,” says Johnson. “And because everything is dainty, there’s lots of room for conversation—no cutting meat or asking people to pass the salt.”

No doubt, tea is a departure from our fast-food ways. It can also be something of a mystery, what with cream tea, high tea, afternoon tea and more. Maybe not knowing what to expect has kept you from enjoying one of the great gustatory pleasures.

Let Margaret unravel the mysteries for you.

“Afternoon tea is simply what we all know of as a formal tea, with the three-tiered stand, a selection of sandwiches, pastries, and, of course, tea,” she says. “In many hotel rooms in London, Dublin and elsewhere (Philly, too), you can add a glass of champagne for even more elegance. It comes with an additional cost, naturally! High tea is often confused with afternoon tea and because of the word “high,” is usually thought of as even more elegant. Not so. (High tea is actually more sunstantial, like an early dinner, with savory pies and sausages. It’s also called “meat tea.”) Cream tea is usually simply tea and scones.”

For special occasions, like bridal and baby showers, you can also have it at home. (Which is where “Tea & Crumpets” comes in handy.) And don’t feel, Johnson says, like you need your best silver (assuming you have any). Even the three-tiered stand can be bought on the cheap at a store like Marshalls. Use your own dishes on it, she says—these stands usually are designed to take seven- or nine-inch plates.

Of course, tea is truly special when you have it out. Happily, the Philadelphia area is filled with places where you can indulge. See our tea guide.

Food & Drink

Margaret M. Johnson’s Teatime Fruitcake

This fruitcake comes from Dromoland Castle (Newmarket-on-Fergus).


1 cup water
1 cup (4 ounces) raisins
1 cup (4 ounces) sultanas (golden raisins)
2 ounces red glace cherries
1-1/2 Tablespoons dark rum
1-1/2 Tablespoons sherry
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing
1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or mixed spice (see note)

The day before baking, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the water to a boil.

Stir in the raisins, sultanas and cherries, and cook for 3 minutes.

Drain the fruit and transfer to a small bowl.

Stir in the rum, sherry and vanilla.

Let cool for 30 minutes, then cover and let stand for 24 hours at room temperature.

On the day of baking, preheat the over to 300 degrees.

Line a 9- by 5- by 3-inch loaf pan with waxed paper. Butter the paper.

Beat the 1/2 cup of butter and the sugar with an electric mixer until light an fluffy.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
With a wooden spoon, fold in the flour and spice.

Stir in the reserved fruit mixture.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 65 to 70 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Invert the cake onto the rack, peel off the waxed paper, and wrap the cake in aluminum foil.

Let sit overnight at room temperature before cutting into slices.

Serves 8 to 10.

Note: To make mixed spice, put 1 Tablespoon coriander seeds, 1 crushed cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon whole cloves, and 1 teaspoon allspice berries in a spice or coffee grinder. Process until finely ground. Add 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg and 2 teaspoons ground ginger. Mix thoroughly, stirring by hand. Store in an airtight container.

Source: Tea & Crumpets, by Margaret M. Johnson (Chronicle Books, 2009). Reprinted with permission of the author.

Food & Drink

A Culinary Expert Serves Up Tips on Irish Breakfasts

We’re continuing our conversation about Irish breakfast with an expert interview. Margaret M. Johnson, author of numerous cookbooks on the Irish culinary arts—including the recent “Tea & Crumpets”—has had ample opportunity to sample Irish breakfasts. We asked her for her views on this distinctive meal.

Q. When you’re in Ireland, I’m guessing that if it comes down to the choice between the Weetabix and the fry-up, you’re going for the fry-up. What is there about this breakfast that is so appealing to you?

A. I think because it’s “the thing to do.” Let’s face it, when you’re on vacation, you tend to “splurge” and a fry-up is really something that most Americans thinks is a no-no on a regular basis (probably most Irish think so, too). Too much fat, cholesterol, etc.

Q. What are the essential elements?
Two eggs, bacon, sausage, black and white puddings, mushrooms and tomatoes.

Q. For tourists, sitting down to the “full Irish” seems obligatory. It’s probably how most of us have become familiar with it. But is it likely to be more popular among tourists than among native Irish?
Absolutely yes.

Q. Are they secretly starting their day with Pop Tarts or Carnation Instant Breakfast?
Probably not Pop Tarts, but perhaps yogurt, fresh fruit, and a bagel.

Q. Is the full Irish breakfast likely to be popular only in certain parts of Ireland—the North, for example—or is it more or less universal?
Universal. In the north they add fadge, a fried potato bread.

Q. What they call bacon seems a lot more like what we call ham. It’s really salty and delicious. In what way is it different from our bacon? Seems like it would come maybe from a different part of the pig.
It definitely comes from the leg of the pig and is cured differently than American-style bacon. Also less fatty.

Q. I “get” everything about this breakfast except for one thing–the beans. I suspect I’m not alone. At the same time, I think beans on toast is a British and Irish standby, too. Where does this idea of beans as a breakfast food come from?
Most hotel breakfasts where tourists are likely to eat do not come with beans. I think beans are a more “home-style” part of a breakfast and come from the fact that these huge breakfasts were meant to serve the workers for a good part of the day—you know, hearty, hearty, hearty.

Q. What they call “puddings” can be a turnoff for some folks. At the same time, a lot of my fellow Philadelphians greatly relish their scrapple. Aren’t they in some ways similar?
I’m not too sure abut scrapple. I think the flavor might be similar, but the black pudding in Ireland is made with pig’s blood, oatmeal, and seasonings, which is a turn-off to a lot of people. The white pudding is milder.

Q. Is there one thing on that plate that is not your favorite?
I could skip the black pudding, but usually will allow a bite or two of the white. Brown bread, however, is always a winner.


Food & Drink

Where to Find – and Eat – a Full Irish Breakfast

The full Irish, as served at Ida Mae's.

The full Irish, as served at Ida Mae's.

Maybe it ought to come with a side of statins and a defibrillator. Fat and cholesterol content aside, is there anything that will take you back to Ireland (in your head and your stomach) more than a full Irish breakfast?

To review, a full Irish breakfast generally includes the following: numerous meats and things purporting to be meats, including bangers (sausage), rashers (a hammy kind of Irish bacon), and black and white puddings (also known as blood sausages, yum), together with a couple of eggs, grilled tomato and mushroom, beans and a slice of bread.

If you’re still hungry after all that, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Diner.

Maybe you thought that you could only get that kind of breakfast in Ireland. Well, you don’t have to wait for your next trip. There are numerous places in the Philadelphia area where you can get an Irish breakfast, often at any time of the day.

We’ve assembled a sampling of those places. If you know of any other places that serve the full fry-up, let us know:

Here’s the list of places and when they serve it:  

Black Sheep Pub
247 S 17th St, Philadelphia, PA – (215) 545-9473

Saturdays and Sundays during the day.

Dark Horse Pub
421 S. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA – (215) 928-9307

All day, every day.

Fado Irish Pub
1500 Locust St # 1, Philadelphia, PA – (215) 893-9700

All day, every day.

Hibernia Deli Coffee Shop
3711 Garrett Road, Drexel Hill, PA – (610) 626-7370

All day, every day

Ida Mae’s Bruncherie
2302 E Norris St, Philadelphia, PA – (215) 426-4209

All day, every day.

Irish Coffee Shop
8443 W Chester Pike, Upper Darby, PA – (610) 449-7449

All day, every day.

Irish Times
629 S. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA – (215) 923-1103

Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

18-22 West Gay Street, West Chester, PA – (610) 431-0770
4417 Main Street, Manayunk, PA –  (215) 482-7242  
45 East Main Street, Unit 200-202, Newark, DE – (302) 224-9330

All day, every day 

Shanachie Pub
111 East Butler Pike, Ambler, PA 19002 – (215) 283-4887

All day, every day.

Sligo Pub
113 W. State St., Media, PA, 19063 – (610) 566-5707

All day, every day.

Tir na Nog
1600 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA – (267) 514-1700

Saturdays and Sundays until 3.