Happy St Patrick’s Day! Or Paddy’s Day, but never Patty’s Day, ok? And no mention of leprechauns, because, you know, groan. Can I just say that Lucky Charms are and American cereal and that it has nothing to do with us!
We don’t dye things green in Ireland, rivers or beer or foodstuff generally, but that is not to say that we don’t celebrate. We do, it is an important day. And I still do even now in London. It is even more important for me now, to plug in to my Irishness and catch up with my Irish friends. To have a laugh and to sing a song. To celebrate Irish food and culture.
St Patrick’s Day in the Ireland of my Youth
The St Patrick’s Day of my childhood in the eighties was a day when we were allowed to break our lenten fast. It was a day off school, a national holiday, and everyone was about. We would proudly wear a St Patrick’s Day badge on our jumpers or jackets, ribbons in green and gold or green white and cold, with a little gold harp on top. We wore green, and en route to mass (it is a religious holiday as well as a national one) we would stop at my grandmothers who would pin a soggy clump of shamrock to our green jumpers. Every St Patrick’s Day we would wear green.
Later that day we would go to the parade and watch the bands and the random speedboats (on trailers) and buses. Local businesses all had a float, including a local pharmaceutical which had a giant dancing tablet one year (would that be allowed now?!). Sometimes we would take part and march with the brownies, scouts or our Irish dancing group. We always gave up sweets for lent, and we were allowed to still get sweets every week and save them in an old biscuit tin. St Patrick’s Day was always superb, we loved it.
3 Leaved Shamrock, Definitely Not 4 Leaved Clover, OK?
Shamrock has 3 leaves, not 4. This is important and misunderstood, as the reason why it is significant (stay with me!) is that St Patrick used the 3 leaved shamrock to communicate the holy trinity as he tried to convert the pagan Irish to catholicism. Hence, it is one of the symbols of Ireland (along with the harp). Now, before you start, I know shamrock is a clover but the fact remains that shamrock within that classification is shamrock, and everything else is a clover and not shamrock. Shamrock comes from the Irish word seamróg which means young or little clover. It is a definition within the clovers, as I am an Irish person within the human race. Still human, but specifically Irish. You see? So only 3 leaves on your shamrock, please. No 4 leaf clovers. Just none.
Irish Stew, the proper way
Many will claim Irish Stew as the Irish dish. I love it, but I think bacon and cabbage pips it to the post as the Irish dish that most people had regularly when they were growing up and that they would say defines their old Irish food culture. Irish Stew was more of an occasional dish but I loved it when we had it, and I still love to make it today.
Proper Irish Stew is a wonderful thing. Irish stew is also simple, and as with the best of foods owes its layers of flavour to time and good ingredients. Tender lamb, rich broth, and gorgeous potatoes and onions. Some put carrots, I do as my mother always did. I would miss their bright sweetness. Some add barley (my sister does as my aunt did), some parsnips, I don’t. Some use stock, some water. Some use beef – but, and this is controversial – beef goes in beef stew, which is different to Irish stew (and they are both Irish confusingly). Guinness also goes in beef stew, and has no place in a proper Irish stew. Don’t even start me on wine. I add bay as the stew cooks, and thyme, with parsley to finish. Salt and pepper on the layers as I build it.
Lets Talk About Potatoes
Irish Stew without potatoes is not Irish stew, this is non negotiable. Firm potatoes are commonly used, sometimes with some fluffy potatoes which break down and thicken the stew as it cooks. Sometimes I use small waxy potatoes, peeled and halved and cooked in with the stew. More generally, I love a fluffy potato in there as my home growing up was surrounded by fields of queens potatoes, gorgeous and fluffy. I miss these and this is what I want on my stew on Paddy’s Day. However, I layer them on top and allow them to steam in the stew broth as it finishes. Sure they break a little as I serve it, but I love that.
Let’s do this! And have a terrific St Patrick’s Day.
Gorgeous Stuff from Elsewhere
A lovely recipe for Boxty from Imen over at Farmette (and lots of gorgeous reading and photos about life on an Irish farm).
- 1.2kg lamb - I used neck chops (gigot chops or shoulder work well)
- 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 4 onions, peeled, halved and sliced coarsely
- 1.2kg potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
- 750ml stock
- fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- sea salt and pepper