Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Patrick's Day is an enchanted time -a day to begin transforming winter's dreams into summer's magic. ~Adrienne Cook

St. Patrick's Day is a joy for me each year, mostly because I love reading all of the articles and blogs focused on Ireland and Irish cooking. My grandfather was a merchant seaman who was born in Ireland, and I love Irish history and lore. Sadly he died before I was old enough to speak with him, but one day I hope to visit Ireland.

Though the stores in the U.S. all put corned beef and cabbage on sale for St. Patrick's Day, it isn't truly a traditional Irish dish. One might call it more of an Irish American favorite. The Irish were very thrifty, using what they had on hand and what was available. Irish stew is more typical of what was often cooked on farms in Ireland throughout the years, which is why it's traditionally made with lamb (mutton). The recipe below is a very simple one from The International Cook Book, published in 1929. My notes below the recipe give you an idea of how the recipe was customized as needed.

Irish Stew

2 pounds lamb
6 whole potatoes
2 tbsp. flour
2 cups peas
1/2 tsp. black pepper
6 carrots
6 small to medium onions
1 tbsp. salt

Cut the lamb into small pieces, and dredge each piece with flour. Brown in a frying pan. Put in a kettle, cover with water, and cook slowly for two hours. After cooking 30 minutes add the vegetables which have been diced. Season with salt and pepper. Thicken with flour moistened with enough cold water to form a smooth paste. Serve with or without dumplings.

Notes: To truly join in the Irish farm tradition, you'd adjust this recipe to what is readily available to you in your area. Perhaps beef is on sale this week; use that instead of lamb. The vegetables can be varied as well. Instead of peas, perhaps there will be another green vegetable on sale or on the discount rack. It's about living sensibly within your means, and cooking with ingredients that will keep your family healthy and full. It's not garden season for most of us, but they would have also used what produce was in season, straight out of the garden.

You can read more about traditional Irish food in an article I wrote a few years ago here:

Bread was also a staple in Irish kitchens. It's still a favorite today for Irish Americans and those living in Ireland. The following recipe is from the New York Time Cook Book, published in 1961.
Imagine how wonderful bread tasted that was made on an Irish farm where the ingredients were fresh, and the butter was made by hand.

Irish Sweet Bread

3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. soda
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg, unbeaten
1 1/2 cups sour milk or buttermilk
1 1/2 cups raisins, chopped
1 1/2 cups currants
1/4 chopped citron or chopped candied lemon rind

Preheat oven to slow (325 degrees F.). Sift together the flour, salt and soda. Cream together the shortening and sugar and the molasses. Beat in the egg. Alternately add the dry ingredients and sour milk, stir in the fruit. Pour the batter into two greased 8x4x2 1/2 inch loaf pans and bake one and 1/4 hour. Makes 2 loaves.

One of my favorite articles to research and write was the one I put together for St. Patrick's Day a few years ago about Irish tea traditions. I included history and recipes:

I hope you enjoy St. Patrick's Day on Thursday:)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring & Picnics Are Around the Corner

I'm fairly sure spring is around the corner, or at least I hope so because I am mighty tired of cold weather. To go along with my warm weather thinking I found some neat picnic tips from the Watkins Household Hints book from 1941. It's interesting how different picnic food was during that time. We take the kids out to Lake Michigan quite a bit in the summer, and I've found that the small bags of charcoal that already have lighter fluid included are great for picnics. We usually have burgers or hot dogs, chips, soda, fruit or we stop for ice cream. We've found for a quick picnic it's better to keep it simple. The tips below are more like what I've done when we go camping for a weekend.

1. Select a picnic site in advance, with woods enough for shade, a level open space for games and sports, dry ground that is well drained, good drinking water, and, if possible, near a shelter in case of rain.

2. Plan a simple, easily prepared menu, make a list of each item of equipment needed, containers for carrying food, tablespoons for serving, a sharp knife, long handled fork and spoon, a long handled frying pan, wire grill, pan holders, toasting fork, matches, can and bottle opener. Have plenty of paper plates, paper cups, paper napkins and pasteboard "silverware".

Vacuum bottles are indispensable for carrying hot or cold drinks. Vacuum food jars will carry chilled salads and hot vegetables as if served from the home kitchen. A roaster is excellent to carry a ham or meat loaf. Pack all spillable food in tightly sealed containers.

3. Build the picnic fire between two stones to balance a grate. Have the fire low, a mass of red embers, and use a wire or oven rack. Have the camp fire some distance from the lunch table in order not to be disturbed by the smoke. Rub yellow soap on the outside of the coffee pot and kettles before placing over the fire. This will make cleaning easier.

4. Picnic meals may be prepared at home or the meal may be cooked over a camp fire. Or make the sandwiches at home, wrapped in waxed paper, then in a damp cloth, then in a dry one. Just before serving, use a long handled fork and toast the sandwiches over a bed of coals.

On OFL we have a wonderful feature on edible dandelions: