Ireland’s salad days may be back

Salad before, salad after, salad in between…what is the answer.

  • Feb. 10, 2011 7:00 p.m.

Salad before, salad after, salad in between…what is the answer.

Travelling back and forth to the U.K. and Ireland in order to care for an elderly sister has made me very aware of the many differences in the preparation of food and the times of day in which the meals are taken. When in Ireland it is quite likely that salad isn’t served at all or may be included on the same plate as the main meal.

In the U.K., due to its proximity to Europe, salad served after the main course is de riguer for the more sophisticated classes but not necessarily adhered to by the less privileged. In France, the order in which food is served is highly ritualistic with salad unquestionably following the main meal.

Listening to a debate on BBC Radio, I gained from the discussion the understanding of why the order in which food is served is really a matter of the tummy’s ability to digest whatever is sliding down the gullet. Vegetables are more easily absorbed by the body if eaten separately. Meats and chicken require a more acid environment so the most natural process would be to eat one’s salad first.

In Europe class differences still count, one only needs to read a Jane Austen novel to realize the past is still with us. Her rules described breakfast as being served around 10 a.m., as befitted a leisure class. (This distinguished them from the lower orders, who ate very early before going off to work.)

The next main meal was dinner served at 7 p.m. preceded by afternoon tea at 4 p.m. As most of the population now adheres to working hours, lunch which is called dinner over there, is quite a substantial meal followed by a late afternoon tea and then supper/dinner, again generous portions, served around 7 p.m.

In France the enormous midday meal, followed by a siesta, is what the country revolves around. The French come to a halt for a leisurely three to four hours before returning to the workplace at 4 p.m. As a leading member of the European Union, this enviable lifestyle doesn’t fit well with the standard working hours of its fellow members. The French are reluctant to change but despite their reluctance the shift is taking place.

Ireland, is now digging out from under the collapse of the Celtic Tiger years. This small nation, once considered the fastest growing member in the European Economic Union, is now facing potential bankruptcy unless the EU is willing to bail them out.

In the glory days of the boom, with all that wealth available for the first time to the working classes, the Irish took to take-out meals with a vengeance. Reluctant to give up their newfound leisure time, the Irish began to pave over their front gardens. In fact, many citizens loved their pavement so much that they ordered the back gardens to be paved over as well.

Now that the good times are over, the Irish are learning to cook, some for the first time.