In honour of Saint Patrick’s day, and the recently passed Saint Andrew’s day (which is the Scottish excuse for drinking more whiskey than is sensible) we need to talk about one important thing; fairies.
Fairies feature in the mythology of a few different European countries, but it is only in Ireland and Scotland that you are still likely to see people leaving a saucer of milk out for the fair folk or very carefully walking around any circles of mushrooms that they find growing out in the wilderness to this day. While cutesy fairy stories are a fundamental part of many a child’s upbringing, the actual mythological fairies are bloody terrifying; stealing children away and replacing them with wooden copies, drowning people for looking at them funny, eating grown men whole only to spit up their livers a few hours later. There is even a little fairy-goblin critter that wears an adorable little woollen cap like a garden gnome, which it stains red with the blood of its enemies. For the Irish and the Scots, fairies remain serious business.
Which brings us to the obvious question, what the hell has all of that got to do with a cooking website? Culture and tradition has a big impact on the food and drink of the countries where they are upheld, fear of the fairies has shaped more than one item on the menu in both of the Celtic countries.
One of the best protections against fairies is iron, so it is of no surprise that Scotland produces a soft drink that is literally made from the stuff, Irn Bru. Over in Ireland, iron finds its way into your glass through one of their best-known drinks; Guinness, a stout so heavy in iron that it is recommended to anaemics. Getting into the food of both countries you discover a ton of iron too, black puddings and blood sausages are brimming over with the stuff. The dense breads, fish and eggs that are major components in the Irish and Scottish diets are all great sources of iron too. But iron is only one part of the solution to a country plagued by fairies, there is one other traditional defence that doesn’t come up nearly as often nowadays because it is considered to be a little unhealthy, even if it is a lot more fun than stuffing oats into a pig intestine.
When you think of Ireland and Scotland, the first image that pops into your head likely isn’t of clean-shaven sobriety. Both countries have a long tradition of getting absolutely shitfaced with little or no provocation and that is no coincidence. Fairies won’t bother a drunkard. If you have half a bottle of whiskey in your belly then you can stagger home drunk safe in the knowledge that if you pass out up on some hillside you aren’t going to wake up a hundred years in the future, able to speak only in rhymes.
I will admit that there are other reasons that both the Irish and the Scottish drink heavily – it is always raining, they have to live next door to the English and there honestly isn’t much else to do on a soggy little island – but it is interesting to look back into history, legend and song, to see the forces that compelled the very first man to look at sheep’s blood soaking into oats and think, “That sounds like a good idea for lunch” or the first time that a man staggered into a bar demanding a drink because little green people with butterfly wings were chasing him.
Just remember, the next time that someone is yelling at you for being drunk at two o’clock in the afternoon, the fairies made you do it.