Jeff Tiedeman: Think Irish on St. Patrick's DayConsider dishes other than corned beef and cabbage.
It seems that when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, I’m one of the few people who aren’t wearing a shamrock or something green, a custom for those who are of Irish descent.
But I know that not everyone who is wearing green can make that claim, especially up and down the Red River Valley, where the descendants of Norwegians, French and Germans (among others) are numerous. I suspect “going green” has more to do with being part of the festivities than anything else.
And just like any kind of celebration, food plays a major role on this day that’s been recognized since the 1600s and commemorates the death of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.
While I’m not Irish, the food of the Emerald Isle always has been a favorite of mine. On more than one St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve sampled Irish fare.
I remember a number of times eating Irish stew (“ballymaloe” or “stobhach gaelach” as it is called in Gaelic) at the old River Bend Restaurant in East Grand Forks and Griggs Landing in downtown Grand Forks, when they were owned by the Blackmun family, who loved to celebrate their Irish heritage.
And I also recall a few meals of corned beef and cabbage at Whitey’s in East Grand Forks.
While the stew (traditionally a peasant dish.) has been part of the Irish peoples’ diets for many years and still is a common meal among many families today, some say corned beef and cabbage isn’t authentic Irish fare and didn’t become associated with them until they immigrated en masse to the U.S. during the mid-19th century potato famine in their homeland, a fact that is disputed by Ireland’s foremost cooking authority — cookbook author, TV personality and teacher Darina Allen.
Allen, who is founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland, includes a recipe for corned beef and cabbage in her cookbook titled “Irish Traditional Cooking.”
And in a story on epicurious.com, Allen says although corned beef is “almost a forgotten flavor in Ireland,” where it once was an extremely popular and important food for all classes, it appears poised to make a comeback.
“(Irish) chefs are serving a lot of peasant foods and highlighting them again,” Allen said. “Over here, just as over on your side (of the Atlantic), a lot of younger people are getting involved in curing their own bacons and hams and things again, making sausages and salamis.”
My own experience in preparing Irish food is somewhat limited, although I’ve dabbled in shepherd’s pie on a couple of occasions.
But after listening to a colleague rave about the boxties she used to eat at Jack Quinn’s Irish Alehouse and Pub in Colorado Springs, Colo., I’m planning on trying my hand at a few more Irish mainstays. And I’m thinking boxties just might be where to start.
A boxty, in case you don’t know, is a traditional Irish potato pancake that’s often wrapped around meat, fish and vegetables.
The ones my co-worker, Megan, touted were filled with tender corned beef, braised cabbage, topped with a rich mustard cream sauce and served with fresh seasonal vegetables. (See recipe for a corned beef boxty with mustard sauce at www.grandforksherald.com/ event/tag/group/Features/tag/food/.)
The Irish used to believe that boxty was good for putting weight on single women so they could find a husband, and even celebrated this with their own poem:
“Boxty in the griddle, boxty in the pan, If you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get a man.”)
In this day and age, I can’t imagine anyone who would want to gain weight to get a spouse.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.