Top Derry~Londonderry chef Emmett McCourt has produced a remarkable new book, Feast or Famine, which takes a fascinating look at the importance of the city’s cuisine worldwide and which has been published as part of the UK City of Culture celebrations.
The book launch will be one to remember at the City Hotel on Monday 9 December as the author treats his audience to many of the ancient local Derry recipes it contains. The book itself tells the tales of the emigrant farmers from Derry and Donegal who were the first to plant the Americas. The humble Irish potato was, of course, one of the first crops to flourish. These emigrants brought their recipes with them and their descendants fed both sides in the Civil War.
The Scots-Irish from the North West didn’t forget their distilling skills either, producing whiskeys, bourbons and moonshine across the Southern states. And fishermen from Inishowen, who settled on the New England coast, helped found some of the finest fishing ports in the New World.
During the course of writing and researching Feast or Famine, McCourt, uncovered details of his own family history in the USA, which led him to several startling discoveries.
“When it comes to food and drink, the North West of Ireland has a heritage second to none,” says McCourt. “The history of food has always been something which has fascinated me as a chef, but it is the human stories that were unearthed along the way which was something I hadn’t expected.
“It is strange to think now that the influence this part of the world has on people’s eating habits in many faraway places simply because of the mass emigration which people were forced to endure, and it is almost fitting that in many cases it was famine which drove them away from these shores in the first place.”
Feast or Famine takes readers on an historical tour of McCourt’s North Atlantic home-place and explores just what makes this area such an abundant source of food and drink. The author recalls the heady days when Lough Swilly was the herring capital of the world, Magilligan was world leader in rabbits and Derry city was producing millions of gallons of whiskey for the US. But he also records, using first-hand testimonies, the devastation wrought by the Great Famine in the 1840s.
In the course of his travels McCourt cooks some brilliant meals, meets some fascinating characters and visits some of Ireland’s most celebrated food-spots – and a few unsung ones as well.
Senior Programmer with Culture Company Martin Melarkey said: “I was intrigued when I first heard about this project and it was obviously something which could bring something special to the City of Culture. It’s a remarkable book which once again demonstrates the impact this city and the surrounding area has had on the rest of the world.”