The History Of Coddle, The Irish Dish Made With Leftovers

Pork sausages, strips of bacon, chunks of potatoes, carrots and onions swimming in a light broth make up coddle, as found in Dublin, Ireland. Traditionally eaten in the winter, coddle is believed to have originated from the French word ‘caudle’, which means to boil gently. The dish dates back to the 18th century. 

It is believed that coddle developed from the habit of one-pot cooking among the sailors of Ringsend and it was also mentioned in James Joyce’s published work, Dubliners. Dublin coddle was also a favourite with Jonathon Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, and he even referenced the dish in his literature. The dish was invented as a way to use leftovers and gained popularity because of how easy it was to prepare. It is essentially an Irish stew for city dwellers or the working class and uses sausages and bacon instead of lamb. Coddle is simmered in a stock for several hours and some cooks even add a splash of Guinness stout to it at the end. 

It dates back to the famine in the late 1700s in Ireland where any ingredients that were available went into the cooking pot. The famine of 1740-41 was a result of cold and dry weather, resulting in a loss of food because of a shortage of milk, series of poor grain harvests, and potatoes ruined by frost damage. During this time, grains (oats in particular) were more important than potatoes and acted as staples in the diet of most workers. Many people migrated out of rural areas and into Dublin to find better opportunities for work. They brought with them hens and pigs to raise for food as lamb was too expensive. After a pig was slaughtered and sold, the remaining bits were used to make sausages. These sausages and bacon were used to prepare a nourishing meal.

There are a few different theories about how Dublin coddle became as popular as it is now. In one particularly sexist one, it is believed that devoted Irish wives could start cooking the meal for the evening in a pot and go to bed. The coddle could then simmer for a long time so that the husband had a hearty meal to come home to after a long night at the pub. Coddle was also traditionally eaten on Thursday nights by Catholics, since staunch Catholics avoid meat on Fridays. Putting a pot of coddle on the stove on a Thursday was an acceptable way to use up bacon and sausages left over in the fridge.

According to Dubliners, coddle has three varieties: white, brown and black. White coddle is made with rashers, bangers, carrots, potatoes, onions, salt and white pepper in water; brown with beef stock cubes or oxtail soup; black is called so because it had soot from the fire drop into the coddle when those living in the tenements were cooking it. Poverty was so bad at those times that even coddle with soot in it would be eaten. There have been variants of the dish that even use pearl barley. Whichever the variety, a hungry Dubliner best enjoys a coddle with a pint of Guinness and some soda bread to mop up the soup.