Tag Archives: Gaelic

Eat Your Culture: History Cookbooks

Destination: Nova Scotia

Books: From the Hearth: Recipes from the World of 18th Century Louisbourg by Hope Dunton


Ás an Abhainn Mhóir: English-Gaelic Recipes from Pictou County

Fortress Louisbourg
French waitress at Fortress Louisbourg Restaurant on a sunnier day.

As winds from the Atlantic roared outside, we ducked into the shelter of the L’épée Restaurant in the Fortress Louisbourg.  Seating us at a wooden table with two strangers, the waitress, dressed in homespun with a cap on her head,  handed us a large spoon and warned us “This is your spoon. Do not to lose it. It is the only utensil you get.” She then handed over an enormous  napkin and instructed us to tuck it into the collar like a bib.

Ft. Louisbourg Restaurant
Waitress in Ft. Louisbourg Restaurant

We warmed up over bowls of vegetable soup that had been prepared in a brick fireplace, with bread baked in ovens at the on-site bakery at the Fortress of Louisbourg. We poured water from a common pitcher in the middle of the table where we were seated with strangers, and drank strong tea from pewter mugs.

On my recent road trip through Nova Scotia, I stuffed myself with the fresh seafood available everywhere.  I also plunged into the cultures that predominated in that Canadian province. Those cultures include strong influences on what people eat, and here in Louisbourg, we were getting a taste of a 18th century French settlement.

Of course I looked for books to document the experience! And luckily, I found two cookbooks I could bring home to remind me of how I “ate the culture” of Nova Scotia, one French colonial and one Gaelic.

Cannons at Fortress Louisbourg
Cannons at Fortress Louisbourg

The French and English contended for control for decades. Ultimately, the English won and expelled the French, sending the French Acadians scurrying to safer places–including the Cajun home in Louisiana–but that did not mean that all of Nova Scotia automatically took on an English tone. Many pockets of Acadian culture remain, as some of the French Acadians returned years after the expulsion and settled in places like Cheticamp.

This National Historic Park turns back the clock with a living history museum in the rebuilt French fortified town of Louisbourg. You can visit with the soldiers, the tavern keeper, the workmen and the wealthy merchants as you wander around this beautifully rebuilt fortified town.

Book Cover: From the Hearth
Next door to the Louisbourg restaurant, in the gift shop, I looked over the collection of books–some novels set in the historic Fortress of Louisbourg, children’s books, and cook books. The one that caught my eye, From the Hearth, by Hope Dunton with A. J. B. Johnston, provides recipes that would have been used in the 18th-century at Fortress Louisbourg.

This book is solidly researched. In the introduction, the author explains that although there are no surviving individual recipes from Louisbourg, we know what ingredients they had available (lots of dried peas and lots of cod, but no tomatoes or potatoes yet) and what cook books they might have brought from France.

There are some delicious sounding recipes here–beet fritters, cucumbers farcie (stuffed with veal and mushrooms),  gâteau de savoie (a lemon flavored cake), or doughnuts. Plenty of sauces, as one might expect with French cooking. The book simplifies the old directions, but sometimes includes them for information. For instance, the original doughnut recipes says, “Place fourteen eggs on a scale and on the other side an equal weight of fine sugar; take off the sugar and put flour in its place to the weight of seven eggs.” The modern translation is

  • 14 medium eggs
  • 4 cups extra fine sugar
  • 2 cups cake flour


Flags of Nova Scotia
The Nova Scotia Gaelic Flag, Canadian Flag and Nova Scotia Flag

A few days before our visit to Fortress Louisbourg, we visited Pictou where the ship Hector, known as the Scottish Mayflower, landed with the first boatload of Scottish settlers in 1773. There I spent the morning at the  McCullough Heritage Center and the home of an amazing early settler.

McCullough Heritage Center, Pictou
McCullough Heritage Center, Pictou

Gaelic CookbookThe Heritage Center is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the Scottish settlers on Nova Scotia, and in their small gift shop, I found a cookbook with recipes in English on one side and in Gaelic on the facing page.  Ás an Abhainn Mhóir (English-Gaelic Recipes from Pictou County), 2011 is a spiral-bound cookbook assembled by The Pictou County Cookbook Committee. I do not know where it is available, but you could contact the gift shop of the McCullough Heritage Center if you are interested.

Gaelic Cook Book
Contents page of Gaelic Cook Book.

Like most community spiral bound cookbooks, the contents are uneven, but I’m eager to try some of the authentic recipes that we enjoyed in Nova Scotia, particularly oatcakes. While this cookbook does not contain the historic detail about food and cooking that the Louisbourg cookbook offers, the committee avoided throwing in modern casseroles and jello desserts. The recipes do appear to be traditional. I love the stories, sayings, poems and song lyrics scattered through the book, because we learn even more there about the way of life of the Scottish settlers in North America.

” ‘S math an còcaire an t-acras!” “Hunger is a good Cook”

“Chan fhiach cuirm gun a còmhradh.”  “A Feast is no use without good talk.”

Sometimes I read books and then go somewhere.  Sometimes I find books along the way. These cookbooks will ensure that memories of my visits to Fortress Louisbourg and to Hector will remain for a long time.

Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula: Music of Home

Music Travel

By Kerry Dexter

Destination: The Dingle peninsula, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland

Music: Ar Uair Bhig an Lae/ The Small Hours from Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh

The Dingle peninsula has its moments of being an attraction for tourists, but most of the time it is less so than the nearby Ring of Kerry. That leaves it to be a quieter place, a land of legend and history and about as far west as you can go and still be on the mainland of Ireland.

People came to Dingle going back six thousand years. Across those years they left traces of their lives in stone and bone and metal, and in more recent years, in poem and book, in art, in story, and in song.

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh grew up in Dun Chaoin (in English variously known as Dunquin and Duncan), which in its turn is about as far west on the Dingle Peninsula as you can go and still be on the mainland. The view of the Blasket Islands from the windows of her father’s house, the sounds of Irish spoken as readily as English, the landscape of mountain and sea, and the day to day presence of music all shaped Nic Amhlaoibh’s time growing up. (In case you’re wondering, her name is pronounced  nik OWL eeve)

Dingle Peninsula musician
Dingle Peninsula Musician Murieann

Her travels have taken her far from the west of Ireland, at first to university in Dublin, then to study and later to teach traditional music in Limerick. As singer with the top traditional music band Danu and as a respected broadcast presenter, she has traveled to nearby places including the Western Isles and Glasgow in Scotland and distant ones including Romania, India, and the United States. She has recorded a number of albums with Danu, played shows and recorded an album with Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis and been a guest artist on the Irish Christmas in America tour with the band Teada, among other things.

Though she still travels often for her music, Nic Amhlaoibh has returned to make her home in Dingle Peninsula, a circumstance which, she says “had the songs flying at me from all sides.”

In part that’s what led her to make her second solo recording, which is called Ar Uair Bhig an Lae: Small Hours. There are a dozen songs, seven in Irish and five in English. As Nic Amhlaoibh unfolds the tales, her warm voice invites you to listen as though you could be sitting by the fire, hearing stories in music that the singer has found right at her doorstep as well as perspectives she’s brought back from her travels and connected to the mountain and sea landscape of her native home in the west of Ireland.

These stories include Bo na Leathadhairce, a well known song in west Kerry which may be about a cow and a sheep, but may also be about the making of poitin. (Note: Roughly speaking, Irish moonshine).

Gold Hills, from Australian songwriter Kate Burke, is a song about love, loss, and meaning which Nic Amhlaoibh learned while she was on tour in Burke’s native country, and which stands naturally among songs in Irish. Whether Irish is your language or not, Nic Amhlaoibh makes the connection of emotion and story clear.

A fine place to listen for that is the sequence of four songs with which she closes the recording. Cois Abhann an Sead, known as River of Gems in English, is a reflective piece that may set you dreaming, while Another Day, by American bluegrass musician Tim O’Brien, is a lively tale which holds the ideas of songs being passed on and people picking up the music and handing it on to generations to come. Bold Fenian Men is a well known Irish rebel song which holds the power, pride, and sorrow of choices made in such circumstances. An Clar Bog Deal is a love song, in which the man vows he’ll marry the girl he loves even if all they have is a board of wood to sleep on.

“I’m not really thinking about switching between languages when I’m working out what to sing,” Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh says, “I’m thinking about the song. There’s a great musicality to Irish, though. I think people respond to that, whether they’re understanding the words or not.” As you listen to the music on Ar Uair Bhig an Lae/The Small Hours in Irish and in English, you will hear that musicality, and the stories, landscape, and life of the west of Ireland as well.

Here is a video of Muireann Nic  Amhlaoibh teaming up with Julie Fowlis.