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Copyright © 2017 Nicole Al-Shafie


St. Patrick's Day: A Brief History & Food For the Feast

March 17, 2017

It’s St. Patrick’s Day and in America, St. Paddy’s day is a day to celebrate the Irish and Irish American culture, primarily by wearing green garb, eating and drinking, or through religious observances, parades and parties. Surprisingly, the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade happened in New York City in 1762, not in Ireland. Historically, Lent restrictions on foods and alcohol were lifted in Ireland and for many Catholics in the US and the day came to be known as "Christian Feast Day."


The first Irish dish that may come to mind (if you’re an American) is Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Guinness perhaps. Guinness is the unofficial, national intoxicant of Ireland and has it's own complicated history, but Corned Beef and Cabbage, on the other hand, didn’t originate in Ireland. It began when Irish immigrates in the United States yearned for a taste of home. In Ireland, pork was consumed over beef because it was ubiquitous, less expensive, and cattle was mainly used for milk production, not meat. Upon settling in the big apple, they found the opposite was true. Bacon was substituted by corned beef because NYC Jewish delicatessens sold the cured, cooked beef and the Irish found it simply delicious. Cabbage, which was traditionally Irish, was paired with the beef instead of bacon, and potatoes were left out of the equation all together to save on cash. So there you have it, the origin of Corned Beef and Cabbage – an American story!


Here are some other traditional Irish dishes:


· Irish stew - lamb, mutton, or goat

· Irish Shepard’s Pie - meat and vegetables topped with potatoes

· Full Irish breakfast - bacon, sausages, black & white pudding, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, fried potatoes and soda bread

· Boiled bacon and cabbage - with potato

· Irish salmon (seasonal) and smoked salmon

· Soda bread: sweet or savory - bicarbonate, buttermilk and flour

· Black and white pudding - sausage

· Coddle (one-pot stew) - pork, potatoes and onions

· Barmbrack - fruity tea loaf, sometimes used to tell fortunes


We must not forget about the potatoes. Not only are they served with boiled bacon and cabbage, in Irish stew and coddle, alongside an proper Irish breakfast and poached salmon but potatoes are also the stars of several signature dishes:

· Boxty - grated potato mixed with

mashed potatoes to form a potato

pancake, dumpling or bread

· Colcannon (pictured here) - classic mashed potatoes, cabbage or kale with butter or cream and scallions

· Champ - another mashed potato favorite, flavored with scallions,

milk and butter                                                     


The potato has a long and complicated history. I don’t think there’s any other culture that is more closely associated with the potato. Believe it or not, potatoes didn’t originate in Ireland, but in South America. In present-day south Peru and northwest Bolivia, indigenous South Americans cultivated potatoes more than ten thousand years ago. In 1536 the Spanish Conquistadors brought them back to Europe. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589 and it took almost 40 years for it to spread to the rest of Europe. Tragedy struck in 1840s when a potato blight spread throughout Europe, which caused much of the potato crops to rot. Under the oppressive British rule, the Irish were hit the hardest primarily because the impoverished working class’ main source of nutrition was from potatoes (almost 50% of the Irish population exclusively ate potatoes). As a result of the situation in Ireland, the Irish Potato Famine was deadly and a great many immigrated to North America. Irishmen had immigrated to the United States before the famine but by the 1840s, half of all immigrants in the US were Irish.


This large group of Irish Americans continued to support their Irish counterparts in Ireland and supported Independence from Britain. Out of loyalty to Ireland, they revived the Ancient Order of Hibernians (an Irish Catholic Fraternity Organization that is still around today) and proudly celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.


It has been 255 years since the first St. Patrick’s Day observance in the United States and now it’s celebrated throughout the country and in other parts of the world. Many cities dress streets and buildings in green, some dye their waterways or fountains green and parades traditionally run from the east the west coast. Today, the official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the world’s oldest civilian parade, as well as the largest in the United States.


Regardless if you are of Irish heritage, St. Patrick’s Day is undeniably imbedded in our culture. If you choose to celebrate today, my hope is that it’s with people you love, along with a delicious meal.  Now you have a bit more history to chew on. 













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