Preface: Celebrated every year on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day is a feast to commemorate the death anniversary of St. Patrick- one of Ireland’s patron saints who ministered Christianity in Ireland in the 5th Century. Very few are aware that my maternal Great grandmother was Irish who I had the privilege of knowing for 13 years. Having the Irish gene in me, therefore, helped me to rediscover this day in a different light. Read on.
I take immense pride in my family history, mostly because it is so vast and diverse in religion, culture, and food. My maternal side has always taken my fancy, well mostly because they’re Anglo-Indians with Irish genes, which makes them super cool to chill with; and when that engulfs into the equally cool Punjabi culture, expect the epitome of SWAG.
My Great grandmother- Daphne, was a child bride, a young mother of four daughters and a fearless woman. Her life stories have encompassed into genes of strength in all the women in my family. When I discovered she was Irish, my interest in the Irish culture started to grow and it was then I realized how both the Indian and the Irish cultures are strikingly similar, including the tri-color of our flags!
For starters, Ireland was once part of the British Empire, while India was a former British colony. Both countries strived for independence and a revolution was taking place, almost simultaneously in India and Ireland.
Secondly, Ireland and India share the common bond of mythology. Talk to an Irishman on Indian mythology – flying elephants, shape-shifters, multiple-headed demons – and he’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Why? because the Irish have their own collection fascinating Celtic tales filled with mythical creatures itself.
In fact, just like India’s Vedic culture, Ireland is steeped in myths and legends, and Celtic sites abound with tales of Gods and Goddesses who are as fierce as they are generous. Nature is worshipped, and faith brings miracles in both cultures.
Just as ancient Hindu texts assert that life began when river Ganga descended to Earth from Shiva’s matted locks; similarly Celtic mythology has Goddess Danu, the ‘Mother of all Gods’ who was born when a single drop of water fell onto a volcanic Earth.
Coming to family life, most Irish stay in joint families as well. In fact, all offices shut exactly at 6pm because employees are supposed to either relax with a glass of Guinness beer or go back home to spend quality family time.
St. Patrick’s Day
St.Patrick’s Day is a global celebration of Irish culture on March 17. It remembers St. Patrick, one of Ireland’s patron saints, who ministered Christianity in Ireland during the fifth century.
Why do people wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?
It’s said that blue was originally the color associated with St. Patrick’s Day but over time the color green took over as a popular choice due to Ireland’s nickname being “The Emerald Isle”.
According to Irish folklore, another reason why people wear green on St. Patrick’s Day is to hide from the mythical imp called a Leprechaun.
The leprechauns are wizened, bearded old men dressed in green and wearing buckled shoes, often with a leather apron. Sometimes they wear a pointed cap or hat and are principally roguish tricksters who will deceive whenever possible.
According to Irish legends, people lucky enough to find a leprechaun and capture him can barter his freedom for his treasure or ask for three wishes in return. Anyone who didn’t wear green, would be pinched hard by the Leprechauns and therefore it has become a tradition even today to pinch anyone not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day.
Traditional Eats On St. Patrick’s Day
When it comes to food, the Irish generally believe in eating wholesome. Most of their food is comfort food which requires minimal ingredients and seasoning and yet offer great taste. Some foods are even conjured up with leftovers but offer an immense amount of solace, not to mention soul satisfaction.
While most Irish families will have a different take on what is traditionally served on St. Patrick’s Day. I have managed to compile my list of some of the most popular dishes for your perusal.
1) The Irish Stew
The Irish stew is a traditional dish made from lamb or mutton with potatoes, onions, and parsley. The Irish raised primarily sheep and root crops for subsistence. The sheep provided wool for warm clothing, milk for drinking and cheese making, and eventually, meat after the animal reached the end of its productive years. Potato was the main food crop and hence this becomes an all-time favorite in every Irish household.
2) Bacon and Cabbage
Bacon and Cabbage are renowned as one of Ireland’s best known traditional recipes.
Most Irish families would keep a pig and it was given the title of the ‘Gentleman who pays the rent’. Why? well, the pig used to be fattened up by families and over the Summer the pig would be sold to the market. The money from that sale was a major contributor to all-important payments.
The pig would then be slaughtered and the meat distributed amongst neighbors. There was no refrigeration in the olden days so everything had to be eaten fresh and as a result, this activity in itself bound the community together.
The ham was salted and then hung above the fire to give it that nice smokey flavor. The curated bacon, would be put into the cooking pot and potatoes and cabbage were added to make this delicious traditional Irish recipe.
3) Soda Bread
Apart from potatoes and Shepherd’s Pie, perhaps the most famous food of the Emerald Isle is Irish Soda Bread, a simple classic that is baked in droves in the weeks and days leading up to Saint Patrick’s Day.
Today, this traditional treat is a symbol of celebration for many. However, the bread’s history in Ireland began more out of practical necessity than culinary fun.
Due to Ireland’s financial strife and lack of access to ingredients, the inspiration for Irish Soda Bread was one of necessity, in order to make the most of the basic and inexpensive ingredients available: “soft” wheat flour, baking soda, salt, and soured milk.
For soda breads, “soft” wheat flour was most essential- a low-gluten variety of flour used in most quick bread recipes. Since Ireland’s unique climate is only suitable to growing wheat of the soft variety, soda bread became a perfect match for the country’s home cooks.
Soda bread was also an ideal Irish recipe as even families who lived in the most isolated of areas with little access to cooking equipment were able to create this simple and filling dish.
Since many of the lower-class and farmhouse kitchens had no oven access, the bread was cooked in iron pots or on griddles over open hearths. This unique cooking method resulted in the signature dense texture, hard crust, and slight sourness that soda bread is known for.
4) The Irish Roast Dinner
The Irish roast dinner takes its inspiration from is the traditional Sunday British meal, typically consisting of roast meat, roast potato, and accompaniments such as Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, vegetables, and gravy. Being a part of the British regime earlier on, most established families used to follow this tradition and this later became an important component of a St. Patrick’s Day meal.
5) Irish Scones
Scones are traditionally connected with Scotland, Ireland, and England, but exactly who deserves the honor of invention, no one knows.
These are basically related to the ancient Welsh tradition of cooking small round yeast cakes (leavened breads) on baked stones, and later on griddles.
Originally, scones were made with oats, shaped into a large round shape or into four or six triangles, griddle-baked over an open fire. With the advent of oven baking, the round of dough was cut into wedges and the scones were baked individually.
Traditionally, an Irish scone is often made with sultanas and great to serve along with tea.
6) Green Beer
Green beer has become a staple of the increasingly popular St. Patrick’s Day celebrations world over.
Just about any bar, you walk into on March 17th will be serving the festive favorite. It is believed that the tradition of green beer started with the Irish tradition of dropping a clover in one’s drink then gulping it all down for good luck, but the most colorful beer is in fact not an Irish invention but an American-born innovation.
The process requires a lot of moxie and a little blue food coloring. Regardless of who invented it, the first people to make green beer probably made it the same, slightly unintuitive way it’s made today: a mixture of beer and blue food coloring (the blue mixes with the natural yellow of the beer to make green).
“Green beer” is a term that beer brewers still use today to describe beer that’s too young (or “green”) as still contains acetaldehyde, which can make the beer taste bad because it’s not fully fermented.
7) The Crisp Sandwich
Nothing but simple bread and butter and potato chips in between, the Crisp Sandwich is a popular St. Patrick’s Day treat along with a side of Green beer. Why you ask? because this is actually considered to be a great hangover cure. Bet you didn’t know that did you?
Well now that you are close to the Irish tradition, which one of these wonderful delicacies would you give a try? Do let me know on the comments below. Or simply give a shout out to my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. I hope you guys loved reading this as much as I loved compiling this.
Till next time, Take it with A Pinch Of Salt!