What Would St. Patrick Eat?
When holidays come around, the ES mailbag tends to fill up with letters from worried readers unsure how to properly prepare for the coming celebratory feasts. Since it is almost St. Patrick’s Day – one of our most exciting holidays, at least in terms of ingestion – we’re taking this opportunity to address some of these questions publicly. Hence, our newest feature: Ask ES.
Send your comments, concerns and food-related dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Feast of St. Patrick:
March is upon us and I find myself thinking… what would St. Patrick eat? Naturally, green, white and gold must figure somewhere, but aside from pistachio muffins and my own bland tri-colour risotto, I’m at a loss.
So, I challenge ES to concoct something appropriately coloured and tasty… Extra points for incorporating Guinness. Or vodka, just coz I like vodka.
First of all, tell us more about these pistachio muffins! Sounds like a tasty idea.
Secondly, this is a good point, because many Americans don’t have any St. Patrick’s Day eating traditions at all. I for one, strongly feel me must remedy this, because without a solid food identification, St. Patrick’s Day is in danger of losing its cultural Irishness altogether and becoming just another generic festival of drunkeness (see: Cinco de Mayo, Mardi Gras).
Well readers, you are in luck, because I happen to have an Irish-born mother, and have hence gleaned a fail-proof formula for a genuine St. Patrick’s Day dinner:
Any form of dead pig + Any preparation of potatoes + cabbage = Delicious St. Patrick’s Day dinner.
Let’s go into more detail. First of all, about that dead pig. Really, any form will do, but I am incredibly partial to the gigantic pink ham my mother bakes most years. But even more importantly, you must dispel your notions that Irish people have some sort of obsession with corned beef. Now, I have nothing against corned beef, but you should know it really belongs with the other half of my heritage in the Jewish deli. In all the time I have spent on the Emerald Isle, I have been served sausages, bacon, ham, more sausages, pork chops, blood pudding, even more sausages, but never corned beef. It’s about as genuinely Irish as that Leprechaun from the Lucky Charms commercial.
A little internet research reveals that it was in fact the Irish-Americans who started this corned beef thing, with an assist from – guess who? – the Jews!
Cabbage has long been a staple of the Irish diet, but it was traditionally served with Irish bacon, not corned beef. The corned beef was substituted for bacon by Irish immigrants to the Americas around the turn of the century who could not afford the real thing. They learned about the cheaper alternative from their Jewish neighbors.
One year, apparently caught up in all this Irish-Jewish-American confusion, my mom decided to try making corned beef, just for the craic, as they say. It was fine, but everyone was kind of like – oh this is good, when are you serving the ham?
As to the potatoes, the Irish like to keep it simple. Usually just boiled, with the skins on. If you can’t go that genuine, mashed will suffice, but don’t try anything too fancy. I can confidently say St. Patrick would not feast on anything au Gratin or frite.
And the cabbage, well that’s pretty simple. Just cook it up with even more of whatever form of dead pig you choose (bacon is highly encouraged). This way, you have even more tasty pig on the table, but you get credit for eating a vegetable.
Of course, no St. Patrick’s Day feast is complete without a pint or two to wash it all down. And here’s where the biggest faux pax comes in. I can’t imagine anything that would ruin St. Patrick’s Day more than if I showed up at my parents’ house with a giant vat of green beer. Nothing represents the cheesy, Americanization of this classic Celtic holiday more than green beer. What an idea!
Now, I know what you’re saying: No problem, I prefer to celebrate with Guinness anyway. But that’s where you’re wrong. Apparently, the Irish are so over Guinness. When I was in Ireland this past summer, my brother and I ordered Guinness at every pub stop – obvious choice, right? Well we were shocked to learn that our cousins have relegated the legendary stout to old man status, and they all now exclusively drink Bulmer’s — a local Irish cider.
I know, it was hard for me to believe, but it’s true! So this St. Patrick’s Day, put down the green beer and Guinness, and pick up a Bulmers. (Which, just to confuse things more, is apparently called Magners in the U.S.)
So there you have it: your tri-color Irish meal. Green (the cabbage), white (potatoes), and gold.
Beannachtaí na Féile Páraic oraibh!