Rare chance to partake in a Fulacht Fiadh feast at CSN
Fulacht Fiadh Cooking
Date/Time: Wednesday 5th April 2017 from 10:00 to 16:00
Location: CSN College, Tramore Road, Cork
A TASTE OF THE PAST: Bronze Age Cooking in Cork
There is a rare chance not only to witness a spectacular 4000 year old cooking technique, but also to taste the finished product! Students of Cultural & Heritage Studies in CSN College, Tramore Road Cork will, this Wednesday, undertake a full-scale reconstruction of the spectacular ‘Fulacht Fiadh’ or so-called ‘burnt mound’. One of Ireland’s most numerous and amazing archaeological sites, these structures were used for a variety of different purposes, not least in the boiling of hunted quarry, either deer, wild boar and fowl from the Bronze Age period (2500 BC) onwards.
During the course of the year the students have gathered information from expert archaeologists including Prof. William O’Brien, UCC and Mr John Tierney of Eachtra Archaeological Projects. Based on their newfound learning, the students will dig a large rectangular pit and line it with split oak planks. The pit will be made waterproof by inserting a large leather skin and filling it to half way with water. A large pyre of well-seasoned ash and oak timbers is to be constructed in which a substantial number of stones will be heated. The large fire is set to burn for two to three hours before the heated stones will then be toppled into the water-filled pit. In a very short time, the pit will be bubbling with boiling water with a steady plume of steam rising from it.
In an age-old tradition, the students will prepare their various cuts of meat by wrapping them in coils of twisted straw rope, sugán, protecting the meat from the broken stones, charcoal and ash that will colour the water. Regardless of whether this is Bronze Age Cooking or not, the timeless maxim of ‘20 minutes to the pound and 20 minutes over’ still applies.
The ‘burnt mounds’ as an archaeological site can often be seen at this time of the year, after a field has been ploughed, when they are manifest as a large spread of burnt material. The Cultural & Heritage Studies students have been exploring the many possible other uses for the sites. They suggest that the abundance of steam produced by the hot stones in the pit may see them function as a place of bathing or as a type of sauna or steam bath. Equally, they suggest that they may be connected to early approaches to healing and medicine with various herbal infusions in the water playing a role.
Later historical sources that mention the ‘fulacht fiadh’ supports this view: they are sometimes termed ‘fulacht fian’ in a reference to the legendary Fianna who used the sites to relax in the steam after a long day’s hunting. Other accounts assert that the steam of the fulacht helped to transform deranged, bedraggled and wild individuals to a state of calm, cleansed and rejuvenated. This is of interest because the natural by-product of mixing water infused with wood ash and animal fat is a rudimentary type of soap!
Other suggestions for their use include the large-scale processing of animals, including the preparation and tanning of skins and hides. The rendering of animal fats for tallow, or other oils, to provide light would also have been a possible use: in particular as many of the pits have ancillary pits which may have been used to skim off the floating fat. There is also a strong possibility that these multi-pitted sites might have been used to process salt: facilitating evaporation and increasing salinity in each pit. Other archaeologists have experimented in making beer in the fulacht fiadh with some success.
This Wednesday 5th April from 10.00am until 4.00pm, in the grounds of Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, Tramore Road, Cork, the students of Cultural & Heritage Studies under the guidance of their Course Directors, Shane Lehane and Tim Murphy will undertake this important and significant archaeological experiment. It is an exceptional opportunity to see, smell, experience and, of course, taste the past.
Enquiries: Shane Lehane, Course Director, Cultural and Heritage Studies, CSN College, Tramore Road, Cork