A Taste of St. Patrick’s Day

A closer look at classic Celtic cuisine


The luck of the Irish is at our doorstep. That’s right—St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner! So say “sláinte mhaith” (“cheers to good health” in Gaelic) to your nearest and dearest, and celebrate your inner Irish.

There are always the obvious ways to spend St. Patty’s Day. Go see a parade. Listen to live Irish music. Hit up your closest Irish pub. Or how about a home-thrown Celtic celebration?

However you choose to show your love for the Irish, it might help to know how this whole cóisir started—that’s “party” in Irish.

Why We Celebrate

Every year on March 17th, Irish men and women—and pretty much everyone else of age—gather their best green attire and rejoice with a pint and some form of spud to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s Day, aka the feast of Saint Patrick, observes the death of the patron saint of Ireland. Now the day is widely known as a good reason to eat, imbibe and show some good ole Irish spirit. But why?  

Once upon a time, in the late 4th century, 16-year-old Saint Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave. Patrick managed to escape but returned to Ireland around 432 to convert the population to Christianity.

Irish legends have since spoken of his triumphs and tribulations. It’s even said that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland using only a shamrock; hence, the shamrock’s relation to good luck.

To this day, people of all descents celebrate his life with festivities and feasts featuring the famous Irish dishes you know and love. So if you’re looking to host your own St. Patty’s celebration, here are some yummy dishes to help you get your Irish party started.

So Many Recipes. So Many Potatoes. So Little Time.

Most people equate Irish cuisine with potatoes, and rightfully so. The introduction of the spud to the Emerald Isle was met with great enthusiasm. It was cost-effective, filling and easy to grow. Potatoes were everything to the Irish. And while the Irish potato famine of the mid-1800s wiped out almost all of the country’s supply, the root vegetable still lives on in storied recipes to this day.

But there’s more to Celtic fare than just spuds.

Here are 5 dishes deeply steeped in the history and heritage of Ireland.

Shepherd’s Pie

Gaelic Translation: Pióg an Aoire

Meat pie topped with mashed potatoes. Simple enough, right? Don’t let the recipe fool you. Any dish that’s been around as long as this one is sure to have a few fascinating stories behind it.

So where did this delicious dish originate? Back in the 1700s, Irish housewives were looking for a way to utilize leftovers in a tasty way. While husbands and children might have shuddered at the thought of minced meat and mashed potatoes, the women found a way to make it work.

To make your own pie at home, you’ll need ground lamb or beef, mashed potatoes, broth and vegetables. Toss it all together and there you have it—Shepherd’s pie.

Soda Bread

Gaelic Translation: Arán Sóide

Readily available ingredients made this item an Irish staple in struggling households. Traditional soda bread is a simple mixture of flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk.

This quick dish was ideal for families in more remote areas of Ireland with limited access to standard cooking equipment like an oven. These farmhouse families were able to whip up a batch of soda bread using more common cookware, like iron pots and griddles.

Food and lifestyle writer Cynthia O’Connor O’Hara often shares her Irish family’s own recipe for soda bread as a gift around St. Patrick’s Day.

“The recipe has been in our family for generations,” O’Hara says. “A traditional afternoon treat, soda bread made with raisins pairs deliciously with tea. For dinner, raisins are generally omitted and the bread is passed around at the table.”

Today it’s enjoyed on the patron saint’s holiday, serving as a good match for an Irish pint and other festive fare.

Irish Stew

Gaelic Translation: Ballymaloe or Stobhach Gaelach

Yet another dish created as a means to an end—a food of necessity now turned to for comfort—Irish stew is reflective of Ireland’s peasant roots.

And while most enjoy this hearty meal made with beef, its earliest renditions used mutton. It was lower in cost, easier to obtain, and some might argue it even tasted better. Just add some potatoes, onions and other root vegetables, and slow-cook to perfection.

Colcannon

Gaelic Translation: Cál Ceannann

A Celtic celebration simply wouldn’t be complete without some cabbage.

A classic combo of potatoes, cabbage and butter, colcannon was essential to Irish culinary comfort. After the potato was introduced to Ireland in the late 16th century, it became a must-have for most dishes. And colcannon was no exception.

Lisa Lightner was raised in an Irish household. She remembers how big a deal St. Patrick’s Day was when she was growing up. Since then, she’s tried incorporating the same kind of enthusiasm in her own home. And sometimes she adds a twist. “Last year, I made colcannon,” she recalls. “I've made it before, but this time I thought kale would be a colorful and modern touch instead of cabbage.”

Boxty

Gaelic Translation: Bacstaí

And the potatoes keep on coming! This traditional Irish potato pancake is more closely associated with the northern part of the country, but it’s loved worldwide for its crunchy texture and creamy buttermilk qualities.

Making boxty on St. Patty’s Day is common practice. But with a recipe this easy, why not make it all year long? A quick mix of raw potatoes, mashed potatoes, egg, flour, milk, and salt and pepper to taste, and you’re ready to fry this Irish breakfast favorite.

So there you have it—5 delicious dishes from the Emerald Isle to kick-start your upcoming St. Patrick’s Day celebration.


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