For someone who is about 50% of Irish ancestry (or a bit more or less depending upon how accurate the genealogical records are), it’s probably really surprising that if you do a search on this site for recipes to make for St. Patrick’s Day, you won’t find any. The reason is that my family didn’t have any recipes to hand down from The Olde Country. My father’s family came here, pre-Revolutionary War which would have likely made them Scots Irish and not oriented towards the meals we now associate with that land, and my mother’s Catholic Irish predecessors came over during the potato famine so didn’t have many great food memories to import. What does this mean that I usually make to celebrate the upcoming saint’s day?
Periodically, my mother would try to make Corned Beef and Cabbage, which I generally find a dreadful combination of too salty meat and too slimy vegetables (I actually have a cooked cabbage phobia left over from primary school cafeteria food memories.). I don’t ever recall her making Irish Soda Bread at all. It is a bit sad, then, that the only other food things I find associated with this holiday are kitschy green items like bagels, beer, and other fare dyed for the occasion.
Even if you pick up the book 97 Orchard Street (did you know that some of the foods we eat today without even thinking about it – like pickles! – were deemed “suspicious” and “unhealthy” when they were first introduced to the American palate), you’ll notice that the chapter on the Irish family who lived at that address is the shortest one in the book. No wonder that I have a difficult time bragging about my food heritage. If you happen to walk into a bookstore (quaint, I know), pick it up and check out pages 62-63.
This is the shopping list and budget for food for a week for an Irish immigrant family of ten. Notice anything? The diet is heavy on starch and dairy. I can tell you that this is definitely one of the traditions that carried over from the old world to the new. The author also specifically comments on the fact that the Irish dependence upon potatoes for dietary sustenance was still a predominant feature in their daily lives in New York. My littlest nephew must have inherited this gene, as he can probably eat his body weight (which isn’t much) in french fries, he likes them so much. What is the longest chapter in the book? The one about the Italian family who lived in that dwelling. I often wish that my family had those culinary traditions to hand down.
So, tomorrow I will not be raising a pint at many of the places at which to over-imbibe or painting my face green. I won’t even be making shamrock cookies (which I do some years). Instead, I will pause at some point in the day to thank my ancestors who came to this land in search of a better life and more food to eat for them and for their children. I keep trying to convince my parents that all our relatives really wanted when they got off of the boat in New York Harbor to was to enjoy a really great slice of pizza or a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.
Buon appetito! Serena at Seriously Soupy has a recipe for Irish Beef Stew. This is one of the dishes that I can say that I did enjoy, when my mother made it. Unfortunately, I don’t have her recipe for it.