As we near Saint Patrick’s Day, which is always celebrated on March 17, there are many traditions and much history to be aware of. There’s also the tradition of Saint Patrick’s Day being a feast day – made official by the Catholic Church in Ireland in the early seventeenth century.
Saint Patrick, who lived from AD 385-461, is known as the most famous patron saint of Ireland, and his holiday is an official public holiday, not only in Ireland but also in Newfoundland, Labrador and Montserrat. Many celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day in an extraordinarily festive manner, if you know what we mean, because it marks the lifting of the Lenten restrictions for eating and drinking.
In addition to the wearing of the green, parades, festivals and shamrocks, the holiday is actually extremely rich in traditions centered on eating. So, we interrupt this post with a limerick celebrating the potato:
Baked potatoes are easy to make.
First configure your oven to “Bake.”
Then preheat, if you please,
To 350 degrees.
For a side dish, you might broil a steak.
There are a few important historical notes that are of interest. First, corned beef and cabbage is not a national dish in Ireland. It actually originated in the U.S. with the Irish immigration. Immigrants were looking for a taste of home, but the prices on pork and bacon were too steep so they opted for beef brisket, a very inexpensive cut of meat. Cabbage was also inexpensive and therefore teamed with the corned beef. The corn refers to the large salt crystals that the Irish and other eastern Europeans used in the cooking process known as brining.
Now, for the Saint Patrick’s Day recipes. Here’s the traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage Recipe:
CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE
5 pounds corned brisket of beef
6 peppercorns, or packaged pickling spices
3 carrots, peeled and quartered
3 onions, peeled and quartered
1 medium-sized green cabbage, quartered or cut in wedges Melted butter (about 4 tablespoons)
Place the corned beef in water to cover with the peppercorns or mixed pickling spices (in supermarkets, these often come packaged with the corned beef). Cover the pot or kettle, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 hours or until tender, skimming occasionally. During the last hour, add the carrots and onions and cover again. During the last 15 minutes, add the cabbage. Transfer meat and vegetables to a platter and brush the vegetables with the melted butter. Serve with boiled parsley potatoes, cooked separately. (The stock can be saved to add to a pot roast or stew instead of other liquid.)
And here’s the very traditional recipe for Champ – a very tasty potato dish:
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 bunch green onions, sliced (about 1 1/3 cups)
Cook potatoes in pot of boiling salted water until very tender, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring cream and butter to simmer in heavy small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Mix in green onions. Remove from heat. Cover and let steep while potatoes cook.
Drain potatoes thoroughly. Return potatoes to the same pot and mash. Add cream mixture and stir until blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover; let stand at room temperature. Rewarm over low heat, stirring often.)
Enjoy your Saint Patrick’s Day, and be safe.