In her book, Traditional Cooking, Darina Allen writes that Cork has been a key trading port since the 1500s and the provisioning of ships in port involved thousands of people. The good meat was sold to the upper class folk, but a great deal of offal was eaten by the Corkonians themselves. Apparently, a certain weight of offal was given to each slaughter-house worker as part of his weekly wages.

According to Chris Cosentino, executive chef of San Francisco’s Incanto, offal is “those parts of the animal that are used as food but which are not skeletal muscle.” The term literally means “off all,” in reference to the pieces that fall from the carcass when it is butchered. More specifically, offal refers to an animal’s entrails, organs, tails, feet and head (including brains and tongue).

When wandering through the Cork English Market, it is quite easy to find stalls offering a variety of offal: pigs’ heads, tails (irreverently known as “slash farts” and “pigs’ mudguards”), kidneys, and crubeens.

Before coming to Ireland, my knowledge of traditional Irish food was limited to corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and soda bread. For some inexplicable reason, crubeens have really piqued my curiosity. Much to Pat’s chagrin, I might add. He knows that my determination to try crubeens means that he will get roped in to the adventure, too. A fondness for this dish is not limited to Ireland. They are enjoyed in Germany, are a popular African-American soul food, and are also well-loved in many Asian countries. The great Billie Holiday even sang a song entitled: Give me a Pig Foot and a Bottle of Beer.

Crubeens became widely available in Ireland when bacon factories in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Dublin and Belfast began operating in the late 1800’s. According to historians, big pots of pigs’ feet were cooked up on Saturday nights and served in the pubs. This was a very shrewd business move by the publicans as crubeens are very salty and would cause the diner to work up quite a thirst. Many a pint of Guinness, Beamish and Murphy’s stout were sold thanks to crubeens. Crubeens are apparently also quite greasy, and the grease marks proved quite difficult to wash off the glasses. For this reason, many of the “upper class” pubs stopped serving pigs’ feet in their establishments.

So what do pig’s trotters taste like? I have not yet found a restaurant in Cork that serves them, but from what I have read the meat is soft and tender with a salty bacon-like flavor. If and when I do manage to try crubeens, I’ll make sure and report back on my findings.

For those of you back home that are just dying to try pig’s trotters for yourselves, here is Darina Allen’s recipe:

Serves 6
6 crubeens
1 large onion
1 large carrot
1 bay leaf
5 or 6 parsley stalks
A good sprig of thyme
A few peppercorns
Enough unsalted cold water to cover well

Put all the ingredients into a large pot, cover with plenty of cold water, bring to the boil and skim. Boil gently for 2 or 3 hours or until the meat is soft and very tender. Eat the crubeens either warm or cold, smeared with a little mustard if liked.