Irish Wedding Menus Introduction
May you always be blessed,
with walls for the wind,
a roof for the rain,
a warm cup of tea by the fire,
laughter to cheer you,
those you love near you
and all that your heart might desire.
The ‘wedding breakfast,’ as the reception is sometimes called in Ireland, is a very important part of the marriage celebration. There is some debate as to why it was called a breakfast (as it did not typically take place in the morning), but the most likely explanation is that Catholic wedding ceremonies included a Mass and that guests would have had to fast (as was the custom) in order to receive Communion. They would then “break fast” after the ceremony.
Often held at the home of the bride, or at least hosted by the bride’s family, there were two important rituals that had to be observed during the course of the celebration. The first was to ‘toast’ the happiness, good health, and long life of the bride and groom with a good whiskey or other beverage. The second involved the invocation and blessing for fertility. That is, the assembled family and guests came together to wish the new couple the blessing of being able to have many children.
On this page, I outline several dishes and drinks that you might find at a contemporary Irish wedding. I do so with the caveat that most Irish weddings today feature foods and dishes from all around the world. The food we eat in Ireland, as in America, has become “globalized.” But what about in the past? Irish wedding feasts have always been “special” events, of course, but because Ireland was a predominantly agricultural society where most ordinary people only had access to fairly basic food that they grew themselves, the dishes that were served to wedding guests in the past would not today strike us as particularly “fancy.” Prior to the late twentieth century, most Irish wedding meals would have featured everyday foods like potatoes, root vegetables, pork, fish, and things like homemade brown bread or soda bread. As you’ll see below, the one “exotic” or really special dish was the cake.
But what about corned beef you ask? From the seventeenth century to the nineteenth century Ireland was one of the world’s biggest producers of beef. But beef was very expensive and was out of reach for most ordinary Irish people. It was produced therefore almost exclusively for export, mostly to America. Because the transatlantic journey took so long, the beef had to be heavily salted or “corned” in order to survive the voyage. Irish immigrants to this country were delighted to find that the same beef they couldn’t afford in Ireland was much cheaper in America, and so they took to this “corned beef” with relish. The dish therefore is properly speaking an Irish-American favorite, and is not something widely eaten (or even available) in Ireland itself. But “give the people what they want,” and if corned beef is an Irish classic among your loved ones, by all means include it in your special day.
Irish Soda Bread
Soda bread has often been compared to the English scone, except it is made into large triangular or square shapes and cut into thin slices. There are several variants. The plainer form can be used as a basis for cheeses and savory foods.
It is more commonly used with butter and jams and can form part of your desert tray.
Brown bread is available in limited supply in the US or you can try making your own. It goes beautifully with smoked salmon. We recommend it highly - it's always a hit!
Sample Irish Wedding Menu
Soda bread or parsley bread with a nice cheese selection
Irish brown bread with smoked salmon
Irish potato and leek soup
Melon & avocado salad
Salmon en croute or salmon in any shape or form with roasted red potatoes
Old world herb roasted chicken
Roast pork with colcannon
Soda Bread with a selection of jams
Chocolate dipped strawberries
White (sponge) cake with strawberry filling and fresh cream
Tea (Barry’s Irish tea!
Colcannon (Potato Dish)
It’s hard to think of an Irish table without thinking of the potato. Colcannon - mashed potato with cabbage through it - was a family staple in our house when I was growing up and it is still my favorite potato dish. From the Irish “cál ceannan” meaning cabbage head or white cabbage head, this dish has gone from being an everyday staple of the Irish rural diet to being something of a delicacy (perhaps because we now think of buttery mashed potato as a decadent treat). There are many ways you can vary the basic recipe such as adding some cream to make it even thicker. Cooked garlic or garlic paste can give it little extra kick. This is one of those dishes that you cook to taste – it’s not a perfect science. If you like it, then that’s the “right” way. Or as my mother used to say when giving someone the details of a recipe, “use your own discretion.”
Serving colcannon in a cocktail glass can make this a really elegant starter. You can even have an entire “potato bar” where you have a line up of cocktail glasses filled with buttery mashed potato and loads of sides and toppings such as bacon pieces, scallions, caramelized onion, cooked veggies, cooked mushrooms or anything else you like. This is sure to be a huge hit with guests, especially at a winter wedding.
4 medium potatoes, coarsely chopped and boiled until tender
1 1/2 cups boiled milk
6 scallions (green onions), chopped
2 cups green cabbage (chopped and boiled until cooked)
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Mash the boiled potatoes until smooth
Add in the heated milk, scallions, and chopped cabbage.
Mix until fairly smooth.
Sprinkle with fresh parsley and add a dollop of butter on top.
Atlantic Salmon Recipe
The salmon occupies a special place in Celtic mythology as it is believed to be a carrier of knowledge and sacred wisdom. In recent times, of course, salmon has been deemed a kind of “super food” full of essential fatty acids and other benefits. Fresh Atlantic salmon has always been popular with the Irish and Scots, and there are endless numbers of ways one might serve this as a main course at a wedding feast.
Nowadays, smoked salmon is as popular or perhaps even more popular than the fresh variety.This can be a really light and sophisticated starter that you might serve either on its own or on thin slices of brown bread garnished with some lemon juice, crushed black pepper, and capers. Other options for toppings or garnishes might be sour cream, finely diced red onion, mayonnaise, tomatoes, or cream. If you decide to do this as a starter, it is worth getting a really good quality smoked salmon. Several mail order companies distribute Irish and Scottish smoked salmon here in the U.S.
Irish Fruit Cake
The centerpiece of the wedding breakfast or reception, this cake was much more than simply a dessert for guests. Consisting of a fruitcake, covered first with marzipan, and then “royal” icing, the cake was typically made months before the wedding. Ingredients included raisins, sultanas, cherries, candied fruits and peels, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, not to mention a generous measure of alcohol. Most of these items are not native to Ireland and would have been quite expensive. The resulting fruitcake was therefore considered a real luxury. Even the making of the cake was special. Everyone in the house got to stir the batter and to make one wish as they did so.
The alcohol in the recipe helped preserved the cake for up to a year after the wedding.Preservation was desirable for several reasons. First, the cake was a delicacy to be savored rather than gobbled down in one day. Second, small portions of the cake were often taken home to family members who did not attend. While it is not the case any more, Irish families tended to be large and it was sometimes not possible for everyone to attend the wedding. Another reason this hardy cake proved such an enduring feature of Irish weddings is that virtually every family had members who had emigrated and sending a piece of the wedding cake across the sea was a way to include them in the celebration.
Fruitcakes have also traditionally been associated with fertility, a fact that further explains why the emphasis was on preservation. The top tier of the cake was set aside after the wedding and kept stored in the hope that, within the year, the couple would be hosting a christening celebration at which it could be triumphantly produced! And lest you think this is something that only happened in the misty past, let me tell you that I have witnessed such a practice myself.
While they have waned in popularity in recent years (possibly because we now have access to such a variety of delicacies) many Irish mothers still take pleasure and pride in the process of making a fruitcake for their son or daughter’s wedding.