What St Patrick ate in fifth century Ireland

What St Patrick ate in fifth century Ireland

The fermented and wild foods St Patrick dined on in the 5th century would be bang on trend today in the 21st century, according to University College Cork food historian Regina Sexton.

“This was neither a throw-away nor a takeaway society and people took good care to preserve and conserve for future use, foods that could not be consumed immediately,” said Regina.

St Patrick’s diet would, she said, have been “high in fibre, Omega-3 fatty acids, fermented milks, low GI grains, protein, minerals and vitamins, but low in sugars and meat.”

“It is safe to say that obesity was not a problem in those days, and that the fare was seasonal, wholesome and modest by today’s standards,” added Regina.

The diet would have been rich in oily fish like salmon, oats, seaweed, nuts and wild vegetables, soured and fermented milks and curds. Items like soured milk drinks, oatmeal, seaweeds and wild fruits and vegetables were staples in the Irish early medieval diet, according to Sexton. Today these are among the foods recommended by contemporary nutritionists for optimal health.

“Much of this is known because with the coming of Christianity, monastic settlements encouraged learning and record keeping and those records have come down to us. A wide range of wild foods, notably watercress and wild garlic, nature’s way of garnishing the delights of the countryside, was also on the menu, she said. There were also hen and goose eggs, honey, fish, butter, curds, seaweeds, apples and dairy. The rivers were flush with salmon, trout and eel, and hard-cured pork as well as other meats, were to be had too.

Cereals, most commonly oats and barley, a little rye together with more prestigious and highranking wheat, were used in the production of flat breads and it is also likely that leavened wheat loaves were on offer.

Wet preparations such as porridge, gruel, meal pastes and pottages as well as cereal-milk and fruit-nut combinations were also popular in Ireland when the young Patrick arrived.

“St Patrick would have consumed lots of fresh milk, sour milk, thickened milk, colostrum, curds, flavoured curd mixtures and soft cheese, particularly during the summer months with butter and hard cheeses saved for the leaner months of winter and spring,” said Regina.

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