Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Feasting like an Irish Chieftain.

It seems like a long time since I discussed an old food word. I have found a beauty for you – and am only too sorry that I did not discover it in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

The word is cosher. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it means “to feast; to live at free quarters upon dependants or kinsmen.” The etymological explanation of the word is that it is a “phonetic representation of Irish coisir feast, feasting, entertainment.”
The first known written usage of the word in English, as given by the OED, is:

1634–5   Stat. Ireland 10–11 Chas. I c. 16   If any person or persons..shall cosher, lodge or cesse themselves..upon the inhabitants.

The related word coshering is “Irish English” and can refer simply to ‘feasting.’ The first reference given by the OED is earlier:

1577   R. Stanyhurst Treat. Descr. Irelande viii. f. 28/2, in R. Holinshed Chron. I   Their noble men, and noble mens tenauntes now and then make a set feast, which they call, coshering, whereto flocke all theyr retayners, whom they name followers... In their coshering they sit on straw, they are serued on straw.

Coshering also refers more commonly to a much broader practice than simply feasting:
The practice or custom, claimed as a right by Irish chiefs, of quartering themselves upon their dependants or tenants.

c1571   E. Campion Two Bks. Hist. Ireland (1963) ii. viii. 111   The Irishe impositions of quinio and lyvery,..cocheringes, bonnaght, and sutche like.

This last use is of course identical to the English progress or ‘official journey, tour, or visit made by a monarch, church dignitary, or person of noble birth or high office’ in which the local manors or towns en route were expected to provide all food, accommodation, and other requirements to the important personage and his usually large retinue – and be grateful for the honour.

The noun cosher, not unsurprisingly, came also to suggest someone who takes advantage, or is otherwise unscrupulous. There is a piece of nineteenth century Irish legislation called An Act for the suppressing of Cosherers and Idle Wanderers which I must get hold of, and see what it can add to our story!

Naturally, we must have a potato recipe for an Irish story. I have previously given you Eliza Acton’s ‘genuine Irish receipt’ for boiling potatoes. Today I have for you a recipe for ‘Irish’ potatoes – which from the era and source are so called to distinguish them from sweet potatoes.

Irish Potato Hash.
This is excellent made of equal quantities of Irish potatoes peeled, sliced thin, and put to stew in very little water; when they are half done, add as much cold pickled beef, minced very fine, or cold boiled salt mackerel (a little onion and parsley may be put in with the Irish potatoes if liked): a large tablespoonful of butter; pepper and salt to taste. Serve hot. This should be just moist. Mash the potatoes and mix them well with the meat.

Mrs. Hill's Southern Practical Cookery and Receipt Book (1872)

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