Traditional, “Authentic” St. Patrick’s Day Food

He’s a desperate big, little Erin go brah;
He will pardon our follies and promise us joy,
By the mass, by the Pope, by St. Patrick so long
As I live, I will give him a beautiful song!
No saint is so good, Ireland’s country adorning:
Then hail to St. Patrick, today, in the morning!

Oh what would St. Patrick’s Day be, without corned beef and cabbage? What indeed, without the tradition so beloved of Irish Americans?

Bu there you are, that word. Tradition.

St. Patrick’s Day, as celebrated in America and anywhere other than Ireland, represents a grand nostalgic embrace of a tradition that might never have been. Where potato bread and fatty pork mixed with cabbage reigned, how did the Irish Americans jump onto the corned beef bandwagon? See this article by Francis Lam in Salon for a glimmer of the deception. For one thing, it has to do with xenophobia and social aspirations.*

Think of the sayings attributed to the early Irish immigrants: Shanty Irish, Lace-Curtain Irish, Paddy with His Pig in the Parlor, Mackerel Snapper. (Reminds one of the slurs against other immigrant groups, slurs that you may well hear today in all the surging, frothing xenophobia against Hispanics … . See the Racial Slur Database for more.)

Beef, in Ireland, was a rare dish, usually eaten by the propertied classes. Not to put too fine a point on it, beef is usually associated with the English, who as we well know, involved themselves in Irish affairs early on. And corned (salted) beef produced in Ireland appeared in the larders of kitchens even the most isolated corners of the British Empire.

So when you eat your corned beef and cabbage today, you may well be participating in a living example of culinary tradition-making.

The Guinness is another story, however. A tale of fish and isinglass.

Another “traditional” Irish food, which really began in the nineteenth century …  and likely with the American Indians’ use of pearl ash to leaven corn cakes. In Ireland, it signaled extreme poverty. See The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. “Traditionally” baked in a bastible, or cast-iron Dutch oven, near the coals in the hearth.

And — don’t add anything frilly like raisins or chocolate chips or currants or orange zest or any of that sort of thing. It’s not, ummm, how do I say this, traditional.

3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
2 – 2 1/2 cups buttermilk or sour milk

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Mix dry ingredients well. Stir in the buttermilk. Dough needs to be soft but not sticky. Knead on a floured board for 2 – 3 minutes. Form into a round loaf and place on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Cut a deep cross into the top of the loaf. Bake at 450 F for 15  minutes. Reduce heat to 400 and continue baking for another 20 minutes.

*St. Patrick’s feast day also offered, and offers, a respite from Lenten culinary restrictions!

For more on Irish food and traditions, take a look at the following:

The Festive Food of Ireland (1992), by Darina Allen

Irish Country Recipes (1990), compiled by Ann and Sarah Gomar

Land of Milk and Honey: The Story of Traditional Irish Food and Drink (1991), by Bríd Mahon

I was born on a Dublin street where the Royal drums do beat
And the loving English feet they walked all over us,
And each and every night when me da’d come home tight
He’d invite the neighbors outside with this chorus:

Oh, come out you black and tans,
Come out and fight me like a man
Show your wives how you won medals down in Flanders
Tell them how the IRA made you run like hell away,
From the green and lovely lanes in Killashandra.

Come tell us how you slew
Those brave Arabs two by two
Like the Zulus they had spears and bows and arrows,
How you bravely slew each one
With your sixteen pounder gun
And you frightened them poor natives to their marrow.

Oh, come out you black and tans,
Come out and fight me like a man
Show your wives how you won medals down in Flanders
Tell them how the IRA made you run like hell away,
From the green and lovely lanes in Killashandra.

Come let me hear you tell
How you slammed the great Parnell,
When you fought them well and truly persecuted,
Where are the smears and jeers
That you bravely let us hear
When our heroes of sixteen were executed.

Oh, come out you black and tans,
Come out and fight me like a man
Show your wives how you won medals down in Flanders
Tell them how the IRA made you run like hell away,
From the green and lovely lanes in Killashandra.

The day is coming fast
And the time is here at last,
When each yeoman will be cast aside before us,
And if there be a need
Sure my kids will sing, “Godspeed!”
With a verse or two of Stephen Behan’s chorus.

© 2010 C. Bertelsen

25 thoughts on “Traditional, “Authentic” St. Patrick’s Day Food

  1. i had no idea that such good food is associated with this colourful saint
    we saw lots of green-clad people in london while we were there on his special day!

  2. Loved the post. I’m of Irish extraction, but never liked corned beef and cabbage. Now I know there is no obligation to eat it (not that I ever did).

    Following one of your links, I discovered comments suggesting that a more traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal would be colcannon and bacon. Now that’s something I would enjoy eating for a celebratory dinner.

    Happy St. Patrick’s day and thanks.

  3. GREAT post, Cynthia. I love the tidbits:) Whenever I make Irish Soda Bread, one of the few breads I can actually bake, people ask why I don’t include raisins.

    Thanks for sharing…

  4. Rather good blog and I’ll be trying your recipe for Irish Soda Bread (as soon as I have an oven again). Looking forward to reading more of your work!

  5. I got that little piece of information from Saints of the Roman Calendar, by Enzo Lodi. Another source, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, compiled by Donald Atwater, has his birthplace as Bannavem Taberniae, but, other than Lodi, no one seems to know where precisely that is. It seems somewhat logical, I think, to place it in Wales, given the proximity of Wales to Ireland. That’s my vote, anyway, until proven otherwise!

  6. Cynthia, yours is the first I’ve seen claim Wales. Most others say Scotland. But either way, he wasn’t Irish. It’s also a Holy Day of Obligation in Ireland, not a beerfest.

  7. Love this blog. Today’s my birthday so anything Irish or green kinda goes with the day right?
    Thank you for sharing.

  8. Thanks for that! Who knew? I will be celebrating my St. Pat’s with a large Smithwick’s. I’m not sure how traditional it is but it is definitely Irish!

  9. No, he wasn’t. As you also wrote, he was British, likely born in Wales to Roman parents, his father Calpurnius Sucatus, a minor official. When he was 16, pirates kidnapped him and sent him to be enslaved in Ireland.

  10. Would yon Stephen by a relative of Brendan, Brendan Behan, I wonder?
    Anyway – here’s the story of how St Patrick expelled or should I say drove – the snakes out of Ireland long ago. In cartoon form. It’s my favourite St Patrick’s joke.

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