In a myriad of venues all over the world ordinary life comes to a complete standstill on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day. People rummage through their cupboards and wardrobes for items of emerald green. From New York to Bangkok and Boston to Tokyo, the Irish and their friends of every hue want to celebrate their Irishness. Shops and street traders have a field day selling fancy hats, scarves, music, balloons, flats, T-shirts and badges with all kinds of witty, naughty or nutty slogans to get us into the spirit. Badges with VIP – very Irish person, RIP – real Irish person, HIP – happy Irish person….. Mountains of beef are corned for the big day and thousands of loaves of soda bread and spotted dog are baked. The streets are painted, rivers run green, even the beer in some pubs is dyed a lurid shade to empathise with the Irish. Not that there’s any reluctance – everyone wants to be Irish on St Patrick’s day. The Irish stores do a roaring trade, Irish pubs have a jamboree, everyone is good humoured, high spirited and determined to have fun, Irish music fills the air and everyone’s toes are tapping. The day starts with the parade – I’ve been to New York on many occasions over this period.. My days are filled with interviews and other events to promote Ireland and dispel the widely held image that in Ireland we live on corned beef and cabbage and over cooked vegetables. I take every opportunity to tell people about our vibrant economy and the renaissance on the Irish food scene. Interviewers always want to know how St Patrick’s Day is celebrated back on the old sod – what do people eat? They are always surprised to hear that in Ireland most people just get on with their day, many are scarcely aware that its St Patrick’s Day and rarely eat even a piece of spotted dog, not to speak of corned beef and cabbage. However, in recent years Bord Failte and County Enterprise Boards have really encouraged Irish people to emulate the Irish emigrants and ex-pats whose thoughts turn to home, in a nostalgic and poignant way. We love to serve some traditional Irish dishes for St Patrick’s Day. In my book on Traditional Irish Cooking just recently re-published by Kyle Cathie there are over recipes to choose from. For me the real meaning of St Patrick’s Day is embodied in the dear little shamrock which St. Patrick is reputed to have used to illustrate the Trinity, so I search in the grass until I find some shamrock, and then tuck into a bowl of Irish Stew or Bacon and Cabbage.
Irish Colcannon Soup
Colcannon is one of Irelands best loved traditional potato dishes. Fluffy mashed potato flecked with cooked cabbage or kale. This soup uses identical ingredients to make a delicious soup 55g (2oz) butter 425g (15oz) peeled diced potatoes 110g (4oz) diced onions salt and freshly ground pepper 1.1 litre (2pint) home-made chicken stock or vegetable stock 450g (1lb) Savoy cabbage 25g (1oz) butter salt and freshly ground pepper 130ml (4 fl oz) creamy milk Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them in the butter until well coated. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 6-10 minutes. Add the stock, increase the heat, and cook until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Meanwhile make the buttered cabbage Remove the tough outer leaves from the cabbage. Divide into four, cut out the stalks and then cut into fine shreds across the grain. Put 2-3 tablespoons of water into a wide saucepan with the butter and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, add the cabbage and toss constantly over a high heat, then cover for a few minutes. Toss again and add some more salt, freshly ground pepper and a knob of butter. Puree in a blender or food processor, add the cabbage to the soup. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thin with creamy milk to the required consistency. Note: Cabbage may be pureed with the soup if a smoother texture is your preference.
Bacon and Cabbage and Parsley Sauce
Without question Ireland's national dish - less widely known abroad but much more widely eaten, particularly in rural Ireland, than the legendary Irish Stew. Choose a piece of bacon with a nice covering of fat. 1.8-2.25kg (4-5lb) loin or shoulder of bacon with a nice covering of fat. 1 head cabbage, savoy, greyhound or spring cabbage, depending on the time of year. salt and freshly ground pepper, careful with salt, the bacon water may be salty enough 50-85g (2-3oz) butter
Cover the bacon in cold water and bring slowly to the boil. If the bacon is very salty there will be white froth on top of the water, so it is preferable to discard this water, it may be necessary to change the water several times depending on how salty the bacon is, finally cover with hot water and continue to simmer, allow 45 minutes to the kg (20 minutes to the lb).
Meanwhile, remove the outside leaves from the cabbage, cut into quarters and remove the centre core. Cut into thin strips across the grain, about 30 minutes before the bacon is cooked add the cabbage and continue to cook until the cabbage is soft and tender and the bacon fully cooked through. Meanwhile make the parsley sauce. Remove the bacon to a hot plate, strain the water off the cabbage. Return the well-drained cabbage to the saucepan, add a good lump of butter and season well with freshly ground pepper. Taste. Remove the rind from the bacon and serve with the cabbage. The traditional accompaniment would be lots of boiled floury potatoes. Parsley sauce 600ml (1 pint) milk 55g (2oz) roux salt and freshly ground pepper a few slices of carrot, optional a few slices of onion, optional bouquet garni chopped parsley If using herbs and vegetables, put them in the cold milk and bring to simmering point, season and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Strain out the herbs and vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil, whisk in the roux until the sauce is a light coating consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add chopped parsley and simmer on a very low heat for 4-5 minutes. Tip An alternative way of cooking the cabbage is Buttered Cabbage (see Colcannon Soup recipe)
A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions and a blob of butter melting in the centre is ‘comfort’ food at its best. 1.5kg (3lb) 6-8 unpeeled 'old' potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks 110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g chopped chives 350ml (10-12fl oz) milk 55-110g (2-4oz) butter salt and freshly ground pepper Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets. Chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chopped chives. Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butte melting in the centre. Scallion mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4. Cover with tin foil while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin. Scallion and Potato Cakes Shape leftover scallion mash into potato cakes, cook until golden on both sides in clarified butter or butter and oil. Serve piping hot.
Irish Country Rhubarb Cake
This delicious juicy Rhubarb Cake based on an enriched bread dough was made all over the country. Originally it would have been baked in the bastible or baker beside an open fire. My mother, who taught me this recipe varied the filling with the seasons. First there was rhubarb, followed by green gooseberries in May. Eventually we had the first of the cooking apples in Grandad's garden, then if we were lucky some Victoria plums from a neighbour's walled garden and finally blackberries and apple in the autumn. 12 ozs (340g) flour 2 ozs (55g) castor sguar a pinch of salt 2 teaspoon breadsoda 3 ozs (85g) butter 1 egg (preferably-free range) egg wash 52 fl ozs (165ml) milk, buttermilk or sour milk 12 lbs (675g) rhubarb, finely chopped 6-8 ozs (170-225g) granulated sugar castor sugar for sprinkling 1 x 10 inch (25.5cm) enamel or Pyrex plate Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4 Sieve the flour, salt, bread soda and castor sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter. Whisk the egg and mix with the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour in most of the liquid and mix to soft dough; add the remainder of the liquid if necessary. Sprinkle a little flour on the work surface, turn out the dough and pat gently into a round. Divide into two pieces: one should be slightly larger than the other; keep the larger one for the lid. Meanwhile dip your fingers in flour. Spread the smaller piece onto the plate. Scatter the finely chopped rhubarb all over the base, egg-wash the edges and sprinkle the rhubarb with sugar. Roll out the other piece of dough until it is exactly the size to cover the plate, lift it on and press gently to seal the edges. Make a hole in the centre for the steam to escape, egg-wash and sprinkle with a very small amount of sugar. Bake in a moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the rhubarb is soft and the crust is golden. Leave it to sit for 15-20 minutes so that the juice can soak into the crust. Sprinkle with castor sugar. Serve still warm with a bowl of softly whipped cream and some moist, brown sugar. Foolproof Food
Brown Soda Bread and Scones
Makes 1 large or 2 smaller loaves 560g/1lb 4oz brown wholemeal flour (preferably stone-ground) 560g/ 1lb 4oz plain white flour 2 teaspoons (10g) dairy salt 2 teaspoons (10g) bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda) sieved 1 ½ - 1 ¾ pints/scant litre sour milk or buttermilk First preheat the oven to 230C/450F/regulo 8 Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl, make a well in the centre and pour all of the sour milk or buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in a full circle starting in the centre of the bowl working towards the outside of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well floured board. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 2 inches (5cm) approx. Sprinkle a little flour onto a baking sheet and place the loaf on top of the flour. Make with a deep cross and bake in a hot oven 230C/450F/regulo 8 after 20-30 minutes reduce the heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6 for approx. 30-50 minutes or until the bread is cooked (In some ovens it is necessary to turn the bread upside down on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before the end of baking) It will sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack. Note: 1. One could add 25g/1 oz fine oatmeal, 1 egg and 25g/1 oz butter to the above to make a richer soda bread dough. 2. Two smaller loaves will take less time to cook
Brown Soda Scones
Make the dough as above. Form it into a round and flatten to 4cm/1½ inch thick approx. Stamp out into scones with a cutter, or cut with a knife. Bake for about 30 minutes in a hot oven (see above).
Note: Bread should always be cooked in a fully pre-heated oven, but ovens vary enormously so it is necessary to adjust the temperature accordingly. If a lighter bread is preferred, use 675g (1½ lbs) white flour and 450g (1lb) brown wholemeal flour. Top Tips Where to get good bacon – Fingal Ferguson’s Gubbeen bacon – from the Gubbeen Smokehouse in Schull, Co Cork, Tel/Fax 028 27824 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Caherbeg Free-Range Pork and dry-cured bacon, Rosscarbery, Co Cork, Tel 023-48474, Fax 023-48966 www.caherbegfreerangepork.ie email:email@example.com O’Donovans in Princes Streeet, Cork Tel 021- 4270763 and O’Flynns in Marlboro Street, 021-4275685 Jack McCarthy, Main St. Kanturk, Co Cork. Tel 029-50178 John David Powers Butchers, Main St. Dungarvan, Co Waterford, Tel. 058-42339 Rudds Bacon from Birr, Co Offaly – widely available Tel 0509 22508 www.rudds.ie Hicks of Sallynoggin in Dublin, Tel. 01-2842700 www.thepinkpig.com email:firstname.lastname@example.org – also at Temple Bar and other markets. Pat Doherty from Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh has a great reputation and is noted for his Fermanagh Black bacon – Tel 00 44 2866 322 152 www.blackbacon.com Rick Stein mentioned many of the fine Irish butchers in his book ‘Food Heroes’.