Stone Soup, Coddle, Cake & the Death Coach

Visiting a Forth Class House for an Irish Wake, 1837

Stone Soup, Coddle, Cake & the Death Coach

Hi all,

I hope you all had a lovely long bank holiday weekend. Last week was a lot of fun with some radio stations and newspapers picking up on Old Irish Recipes, thanks to a producer who caught a comment I wrote about it in a Facebook group and also to our fabulous sponsor Caroline at Ireland Solo Ladies Travel. I am starting to get more recipe and story submissions and today’s newsletter reflects this. I am also going to skip the poll today. If you would like to get in touch directly please reply to this email, it makes it easier for me to respond back directly to you, which I love to do.

In today’s newsletter there is…

  • Stone Soup Recipe

  • Irish Porter or Guinness or Stout Cake - Cáca Pórtar

  • White or Brown Coddle

  • The Death Coach

  • Visiting a Forth Class of Irish Housing for an Irish Wake, 1837

Stone Soup Recipe

The below stone soup recipe has been sent to me recently by Evelyn, a nurse who at one time volunteered to lead a widow/widower bereavement group and found that soup recipe stories soothed her soul. Thank you Evelyn. I always thought that stone soup was nonsense or was a silly name given to a soup. I have also heard about it being served with boiled eggs in other countries and just called stone soup. However last year a man passed on to me that stone soup was made in Old Ireland for pregnant women and the sickly, so that they could try to lick the minerals and salts from a porous wet stone in the absence of a good diet. When I heard this my mind went straight back to seeing the salt lick stones in horse stables growing up.

“Sorry I cannot credit the story to particular person but as a nurse the idea of serving up both love and minerals just touched my heart. Place gathered stones in a pot and cook over fire. Talk it up to the children as something special. Minerals leached out into "soup" gave nutrition. Grasses, berries and twigs added to the excitement.”

I would love to know more about this “recipe” if you have any family stories about it. I have also updated last weeks newsletter because there was a few people who got in touch to confirm the baked hedgehog story and I also passed the information on to the National Biodiversity Data Centre Ireland. You can always read past newsletters on the website

Irish Porter or Guinness or Stout Cake - Cáca Pórtar

Irish porter cake is a well-known cake, often eaten at wakes and funerals in Old Ireland because it lasts well. Porter was thought to have been used in baking around the early 18th century. This is the oldest and simplest recipe I have for porter cake and the instructions were minimal so I crossed checked it with a slightly fancier old recipe which says to bake it at 160 degrees for the first hour and then 150 degrees for the last two hours. I’d say you might need to keep a close eye on it in your oven so that you can adjust the temperature if you feel it’s a bit too hot or you can look up a fancy modern version, but you know I love the old ones.

  • 1 lb. flour

  • ½ lb. currants

  • ½ lb. 1/2 lb. raisins

  • ¼ lb. mixed peel

  • ¾ lb. brown sugar

  • 2 tsps. mixed spice

  • rind of 1 lemon

  • ½ lb. butter

  • 1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda

  • 1 small bottle of porter or Guinness or stout (500ml)

  • 4 eggs

In a big bowl, sieve in the flour and then rub the butter in. Add the fruit, spice and peel. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Now heat the porter and pour it over the bicarbonate of soda in a third bowl. Now pour the eggs into the big bowl with the dry mixture, mix well and then add the porter, enough so that you have a cake-like mixture, not too wet, not too dry. Mix well and beat by hand for 15 minutes or a lot less with a modern appliance. Bake in a well-greased tin in a moderate oven about 180 degrees Celsius, 350 degrees Fahrenheit, Gas mark 4, for 2 ½ - 3 hours. Keep for a week in an airtight tin before cutting or serving. I would keep an eye on how its baking as these are old baking instructions for old, less efficient ovens.

A tip I have is to coat the fruit, spice and peel in flour before adding them to the flour and butter mixture. This prevents them from sinking when being baked.

White and Brown Coddle

Dublin Coddle has a long-standing tradition as a funeral or Irish wake dish in Ireland. It was traditionally served after wakes and funerals as a way to provide comfort to the family and to give them a hot, hearty meal after a long day of grieving. it was also used as a simple supper meal to use up left over sausages and rashers. This meal cooks very slowly all day while everyone is out of the house and serves up to eight people. It was sometimes served with soda bread. I was in Dublin just before St. Patrick’s Day and was so disappointed that I couldn’t find this on a menu. It really is delicious. If you know of any restaurants regularly serving this or any of our recipes do please let me know as I am keeping a list of them for you.

  • 1 lb. roughly chopped rashers (bacon)

  • 1 lb. sausages

  • 3 large onions

  • 3 large or 4 medium sized potatoes

  • ½ pint of water or stock (best to use brown stock made from oxtail or white stock instead).

  • A little salt

  • Black pepper

  • Chopped parsley, if available

Chop the onions and thinly peel the potatoes to ensure there is no wastage. If the potatoes are large and you would like to reduce the cooking time to four hours, cut them into two or three pieces.

Place the layer of chopped onions at the bottom of a thick, heavy pot. Layer over all the other ingredients, adding a little black pepper in between each layer.

Add half a pint of water, or stock. Brown stock from homemade oxtail soup makes this dish a touch richer, while white stock made from vegetable or chicken bones adds a lighter taste.

Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat, cover tightly and barely simmer on the hob for four hours. This dish tastes even better if transferred after boiling to a very low oven or slow cooker and cooked over eight hours. Once done, serve warm, in a bowl.

The Death Coach

I have heard a few stories of the death coach growing up. This one was passed on to me and is mentioned here because it came to mind with the thread of stones and horses. I am trying to retell it below, best as I can recall it.

“This man anyway was doing some contract work on that farm. He was in the digger clearing some stones on one of those old farm lanes through a field that would have been a local road very long ago. He said that suddenly he saw something black charging further down the lane coming towards him at speed. At this point in the story I thought it was a bull or a cow or something, but no it was something else entirely. It was upon him in an instant and charged straight through the digger and shot down the lane and disappeared. The man was so terrified he jumped off the digger and fled home as fast as he could. The next day he turned up for work an absolute wreck. He couldn’t drive the digger, let alone get into the digger. His legs just gave way. No one, let alone he could explain what had happened. Three days later there was an awful accident and his brothers died. We knew then that he had seen the death coach.”

In Old Ireland, the sight or sound of the death coach or cóiste bodhar warns of imminent death to either oneself or to a close relative. It is a black coach pulled by a team of black horses, depicted well in the 1959 Disney movie, Darby O'Gill and the Little People. The belief is that once it comes it can never return empty. The driver of the cóiste bodhar is said to be a headless horseman, called the Dullahan. The banshee is also associated with the coach and can accompany it.

Visiting a Forth Class of Irish Housing for an Irish Wake, 1837

“There never was a country in which property existed to the extent it exists in Ireland.” Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Washington, Co. Meath.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was born in Dublin in 1769 and spent his childhood in Trim, Co. Meath, where he received his early education. He famously defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and went on to become Prime Minister of England in 1828 to 1830 and for a little less than a month in 1834.

Three years after he completed his final term, back in Ireland furniture was a luxury beyond imagination. In 1837, the population of Tullaghobegly, County Donegal, numbering about 9,000 had only 10 beds, 93 chairs and 243 stools between them. Stones were used for seats, pigs slept with their owners, manure heaps choked doors, sometimes even standing inside the “house” for warmth, while the evicted, homeless and unemployed placed roofs over ditches, dug into banks or endured in bog holes.

Housing conditions were beyond wretched. The census of 1841 graded “houses” in Ireland into four classes; the fourth and lowest class consisted of windowless one roomed mud cabins lived in by nearly half of the families within the rural population as reported at that time by the Census Commissioners. These houses were significantly found in the west half of the country. In parts of the west of Ireland more than three-fifths of the “houses” were one-roomed, windowless mud cabins and if you were to draw a line at that time from Derry to Cork the proportion west of that line living in these conditions was two-fifths.

What stuck out in my mind when I learned about Irish wakes before the famine was that in the poorest homes a stone might be rolled across the floor for a guest to sit on as a show of hospitality, despite the hardship. I always wondered how this impacted the Irish psyche throughout future generations.

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The Old Irish Recipes Project is a project to collect and record old Irish recipes and their associated traditions in Ireland. The historical recipes, remedies and traditions provided herein are for informational purposes only. While they may offer insights into traditional practices, it is important to note that they have not been tested for efficacy or safety in modern contexts. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional or physician before attempting any old remedies, particularly if you have underlying health conditions or concerns.

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No poll today. Instead, if you liked this evening’s newsletter or want to get in touch hit reply to this email as this makes it easier for me to reply to you. I have read all your wonderful poll comments, it’s just easier to respond back through email.

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Slán go fóill,

Róisín Hynes

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