Grocery stores and shopping carts in Ireland are filling up with traditional Irish Christmas treats. While chocolate Santas and reindeer are familiar to people around the western world, Ireland enjoys a few seasonal treats that even those of Irish heritage might not have tried. If you were in Ireland for Christmas, you might be enjoying a few new tastes along with the more international holiday standbys such as turkey, dressing and apple tart – also known as turkey, stuffing and apple pie.
Mince pies often confuse North Americans because in Ireland, ground meat is called mince. For example, what North Americans refer to as ground beef is known as beef mince on this side of the pond. While meat pies are eaten in Ireland, mince pies are not meat. Do not be fooled when people refer to them as mincemeat pies. Mincemeat is actually fruit! It is chopped dried fruit with spirits and spices, to be precise, baked into little, individual pies. But there is a reason we call it mincemeat – long, long ago a Christmas mincemeat pie did include actual meat along with the fruit. Tastes have changed over the centuries, and while a few people might still make their own mincemeat with suet, you are very unlikely to find a mince pie that contains meat today. They would generally be served on a large dish or platter, and serving trays of mince pies are delicious and seasonal Irish gifts.
Christmas pudding has no resemblance at all to the desert known as pudding in the USA. Unlike America’s instant puddings, this one cannot be whipped up at the last minute; in fact, some people make it up to a year in advance. It doesn’t spoil because it is made with brandy or whiskey, quite a lot of brandy or whiskey in some cases! In the UK it is also referred to as plum pudding, despite the absence of any plums. What it does have, besides the booze, is chopped dried fruit and spices with treacle or egg. When served, Christmas pudding looks almost like a tall, roundish cake and can be sliced. It is generally topped with custard or brandy sauce.
Irish Christmas cakes might sound familiar, but these are not the light and fluffy cakes popular in North America. Christmas cakes in Ireland are a close cousin of Christmas pudding, including (can you guess?) chopped dried fruit and spices along with more standard cake ingredients. It’s a heavier, darker cake, more like what is known as fruitcake in the US. It’s topped with fondant icing with a layer of marzipan beneath it.
You might not be able to get these traditional Christmas foods as Irish gifts in time this year, but you can get something more durable – gorgeous tableware to serve the festive treats more easily gotten where you live. With an elegant table runner or cheerful green shamrock placemats, Christmas goodies set out in a beautiful Celtic Christmas blessing dish or stunning Belleek sweets dish will conjure up the feel of a traditional Irish Christmas.