Caraway or caraways? Irish herbs and spices
For a long time Ireland’s unique circumstances as a country at the far edge of European experience meant that its food traditions were severely isolated from other European traditions and significantly influenced by those of its nearest neighbor and sometimes chief trading partner, Britain. Spices and herbs available here were mostly those available there.
The Irish attitude toward spicing and seasoning therefore tended to lean heavily on the seasonings that were readily available here — meaning cool-climate seasonings. Spices from warmer climates, or from distant locations, were often impossible to obtain or afford, and so people learned to do without them.
Members of the chive, onion and garlic families were tremendously popular in previous centuries — poets wrote odes to the leek and to garlic. Despite this, for some decades following the Victorian and Edwardian periods such seasonings fell out of favor, being seen as vulgar or distasteful. Even now the after-effects of these periods are felt regionally: in some areas people here are still prejudiced against garlic. On the other hand, herbs that grow well in this climate, such as dill and caraway (sometimes called “caraways”, depending on where in Ireland you are), remain popular.
Generally, though, the Irish spice and seasoning rack is a surprisingly limited place. The major “sweet” spices here are cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, and many of our recipes rely on these. Other related spices such as mace can be surprisingly difficult to find.