A visit to the English Market in Cork

By some miracle, last year, the year of lockdowns, we managed to make it to Ireland. It was a wonderful trip, we wended our way down the Wild Atlantic Way, and ended up passing through Cork, where there is a real gem of a market.

Why is the English Market called that?

In 1788 the market was founded by the town council – a council controlled by the British (more usually referred to as the ‘English’, who were Protestant).

In 1840 there were local government reforms and Catholic-Irish were allowed some representation. The Catholics established another covered food market, St Peter’s Market, on Cornmarket Street (it’s now the Bodega Bar restaurant). The original market then became known as the ‘English’ market to distinguish it from the Irish-conceived St Peter’s.

Cork thrived as a purveyor of food thanks to its harbour. It could, and did, provide shelter to the British navy, on its way to the West Indies, or as an assembly point during the American War of Independence, or later, during the Napoleonic Wars.

Salted beef and pork were vital on these long sea voyages. And Cork butter, which was rigorously quality-controlled, became world-renowned.

For opening times etc, follow this link to the official English Market in Cork website.

The market specialises in local produce

Meat – vendors in the market are specialist – beef, pork, poultry…

Beef

spiced beef
spiced beef
Spiced beef

Spiced beef is a type of salt beef, which originates from County Cork, and is especially enjoyed at Christmas or New Year. See James Joyce, The Dead Misses Morkan’s Christmas Dance

“This is more a Christmas dish, than any other time of the year, not but it may be done any time, and is equally good”.

John Simpson, A Complete System of Cookery (1806)

In this original recipe, saltpetre, salt and sugar are rubbed into the beef every few days for three weeks. The beef is dry-cured, as opposed to other types of spiced beef, such as pastrami, which is wet-cured. Saltpetre is potassium nitrate (E252 or INS252). It’s used in tree stump removal, fireworks, rocket propellants, gunpowder and fertilisers… not very encouraging from a culinary point of view. However, it’s an ionic salt which has been used for centuries to salt meat.

Other herbs and spices: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg and allspice are sometimes added. Elizabeth David noted that spiced beef emigrated to England, becoming known sometimes as ‘hunting beef’ or ‘beef à l’Ecarte’. Rump, Silverside or Topside cuts were used and black pepper and juniper was added to the herb-spice mix.

Then the beef is usually boiled in water or Guinness.

Pork

crubeens
Crubeens

The name crubeens comes from the Irish, crúibín, ‘pig’s trotter’, and that’s exactly what they are, boiled pig’s trotters, sometimes then battered and fried. In the song, Galway Races (see the video at the bottom of this post) there’s a description of all sorts of confectionary and street food, including ‘a big crubeen for thr’pence’. Crubeens were eaten on the go, gnawed at as you might a corn on the cob.

Drisheen

One of the best places to find Drisheen in Ireland is at The English Market in Cork. What actually, is, drisheen? It’s a type of black pudding, made from cows’, pig, or sheep’s blood, but with a gelatinous texture. This is a very Irish thing to eat. Simon Dedalus, Stephen’s father, in James Joyce’s,  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), orders ‘drisheens for breakfast’ in the Victoria Hotel in Cork having just taken the night mail train down from Dublin.

Locally, drisheen is paired with tripe.

Poultry and eggs

buttered eggs
Buttered eggs

Buttered eggs are another Cork speciality. Fresh-laid (literally, taken straight from the nest) eggs are rolled, glazed effectively, in melted butter.

The butter provides a seal, thereby preserving the eggs, outside the fridge, for longer. For much more about keeping eggs outside the fridge, follow this link. NB: hens in Ireland are not vaccinated against salmonella as they are in the UK, the Irish government aims to control egg quality in a different way.

The butter also permeates the shell to give the egg a richer flavour.

Fish

Of course, being so close to the sea, there is an abundance of fresh fish and seafood.

english market cork
english market cork
… and, of course, the samphire is sold with the fish…

Cheese

irish cheese

The stall where I probably spent the most time was the Pig’s Back cheese counter which was set up in 1992 by a Frenchwoman, Isabelle Sheridan, and has since gone, not surprisingly, from strength to strength, on one occasion awarded Best Market Stall.

If you are keen to try a good variety of local Irish cheeses, this is the place, there are hundreds to choose from.

One example was an unusual goats cheese cut with cranberries and made by Jane and Gerard Murphy at the local Ardsallagh dairy. The couple began making goat cheese when they discovered that their son, Luke’s, eczema, could be helped with goat milk. It did, and some twenty years later, the creamery is still producing award-winning products.

Ardsallagh cheese

Bread

And these cheeses go well, of course, with Irish soda, and sour dough, breads

irish bread

All sorts of other local produce, large and small, is on sale at the market

Non-local produce

The market supplies (in a normal year) many of the surrounding restaurants, and so it also supplies produce which is not normally available.

The start-up stall

I like the idea of the start-up stall (which you can find at Unit 3, on the Grand Parade side of the market. This stall is for short-term lettings only, and traders cannot sell in competition to permanent stall holders – it’s an opportunity for them the test the market with a new, unusual product.

Music to listen to as you read

Luke Kelly sings The Galway Races

the english market cork

For other posts about markets

Follow this link.

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