Beware the approach of the little people dressed in green jackets and pants. Be on the lookout for leprechauns this weekend with the coming of St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday. These little Irish fairy folk have been busy making shoes all year and hoarding their gold in pots at the end of the rainbow. They aren’t willing to share and you won’t likely look quick and run fast enough to catch one, but if you do, they may grant you three wishes in exchange for their freedom. If you can’t catch a leprechaun you can still take part in the festivities of the day by donning your greens.
If you were in Ireland, you would be involved in a much bigger event than we are likely to experience here. The day commemorates St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. As such you might attend church services, wear green attire and be justified in breaking for just that day the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol. The observance has spread everywhere that the Irish have settled.
St. Patrick’s Day is not a federal holiday in the United States, but it is a popular informal observance that came to our country along with Irish immigrants. This holiday honors St. Patrick and celebrates Irish culture. In the U.S., the observance is simple: Wear green or get pinched. All that is green is welcome. In some cities, like New York and Salt Lake City, the festivities are carried further with parades.
The fun of the day is to celebrate Ireland and on March 17 everyone can be Irish for just a few hours. In keeping with the occasion you may want to go so far as to indulge in Irish fare from Irish stew and corned beef and cabbage to special Irish soda bread. Don’t forget the vegetables that are unabashedly referred to as “Irish” potatoes despite the fact that they were taken to Ireland from the Americas along with corn and squash. It was probably the Americans of the South who dubbed white potatoes “Irish” potatoes to distinguish them from the sweet potato. Boil those “Irish” vegetables or take it a bit further to make champ or poundies, which I’m told are simply mashed potatoes with green onion and a well of butter in the center. The supposed best way to eat them is to begin around the edge and dip each bite into the butter, which of course will diminish as you approach the center.
The terms champs or poundies are every bit as good as the term “mashed” potatoes — the meaning is about the same. To champ means to bruise, pound or smash — hence the term poundies.
Nevertheless the “mash” in a meal of bangers and mash refers to mashed potatoes cooked up to go with bangers. The bangers are sausages typical to both England and Ireland. Traditional bangers are made with pork, but they can also be made from beef. The term, it is said, comes from the popping sound the casings make when they are cooked because of dried bread crumbs mixed with the sausage. Irish stew is a simple dish made usually of lamb or mutton with potatoes and onions.
If lamb is not your meat of choice, Americanize it with beef or pork. As the Irish fled to America during the Irish potato famine, they brought this simple inexpensive dish and adapted it to fit the foods available here. As sheep were not as available here, they adapted to use other meats as well.
Corned beef has a lot of possibilities beyond the traditional corned beef and cabbage dish. Cook it and serve it hot with vegetables for its first appearance. No one will find the leftovers tedious when it becomes Reuben-style sandwiches for its second time around — even if the Reuben sandwich isn’t strictly Irish.
Corned Beef and Vegetables
4 pounds corned beef brisket
3 carrots cut into 3-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 2- inch pieces
2 medium onions, quartered
1 cup apple juice or dry white wine
1 bay leaf
3 whole cloves
Wash brisket under cold running water to remove extra brine. Place in a crock pot. Add vegetables to crock pot with juice or wine, bay leaf and cloves. Cover and cook on low for eight hours or until tender. Transfer meat and vegetables to a heated platter. Pour juices into a sauce boat to serve with meat.
Russian or Thousand Island dressing
Spread bread with Russian or Thousand Island dressing and top with slices of corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. Grill in butter until the cheese melts.
Champ or Poundies
1 pound potatoes
8 to 10 spring onions (scallions)
2 cups milk
6 ounces butter
Wash, peel and boil the potatoes in a large pot until fully cooked. Drain. Add a spoonful of butter and a little milk to potatoes and mash until smooth and creamy with a hand masher. Chop scallions into small pieces and add them to the mashed potatoes. Mix. When serving, form the potatoes into a volcano shape leaving a well in the middle of the serving. Add a spoonful of butter into each well and then fill with milk. Serving suggestion: Serve with baked beans, sausages or fried eggs.