Monday, March 17, 2014

St Patrick's Day

St. Patrick’s Day, the saint’s religious feast day, is celebrated on March 17, the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. St. Patrick used the shamrock in the 5th century to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as he introduced Christianity to Ireland. The original Irish shamrock is said by many to be white clover (Trifolium repens), a common lawn weed originally native to Ireland. It is a vigorous, rhizomatous, stem-rooting perennial with trifoliate leaves. Occasionally, a fourth leaflet will appear, making a "four-leaf clover," thought to bring good luck.

Oxalis plants are small house plants, native to South Africa. Oxalis house plants have three leaflets on a single stem, and small, delicate white flowers with five petals. Place oxalis near the window and keep soil moist, but not waterlogged. Oxalis leaves open during the day, and at night or on a gloomy day they clamp down to the stalk like miniature umbrellas. 

St. Patrick’s Day falls during the Christian season of Lent.  The Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived on St Patrick's Day, so people would dance, drink, and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

Like many of today's St. Patrick’s Day traditions here in the United States, it turns out corned beef and cabbage is the result of transformation and reinterpretation of traditions imported from the Ireland.  Irish immigrants brought traditional foods with them to the United States, including soda bread and Irish stew. The preferred meat was pork, particularly Irish bacon, a lean, smoked pork loin similar to Canadian bacon. In the United States, pork was more expensive so Irish immigrants began cooking beef. Members of the Irish working class in New York City frequented Jewish delis and lunch carts, where they discovered corned beef. Cured and cooked much like Irish bacon, it was seen as a tasty and cheaper alternative to pork. And cabbage offered a more cost-effective alternative to potatoes. Cooked in the same pot, the spiced, salty beef flavored the plain cabbage.

Reuben sandwiches made with corned beef have become a  family tradition on March 17 each year in celebration of St. Patrick's Day, being preferred over the traditional corned beef served with cabbage. 

Reuben sandwiches

8 slices rye or pumpernickel bread
1/2 c.  Thousand Island dressing
1 lb.  corned beef, thinly sliced
8 slices Swiss cheese (Jarlsberg preferred)
1 c.  sauerkraut (Bavarian style with caraway seeds preferred)
 butter or margarine, softened

Spread 4 slices of bread with Thousand Island dressing.  Layer each slice with 1/4 lb. corned beef, 2 slices of Swiss cheese, and 2 T. of drained sauerkraut.  Spread remaining 4 slices of bread with Thousand Island dressing and place dressing-side down on top of the slices with sauerkraut.  (Some variations on this recipe call for spreading Dijon or coarse-grain prepared mustard on 1 slice of bread and dressing on the other.)  Melt butter in a large non-stick skilled over medium-high heat.  Place sandwiches in pan when butter begins to sizzle and grill 3-5 minutes until golden brown.  Turn sandwiches over and continue to grill 3-5 minutes until cheese is melted. (Alternatively, spread softened butter or margarine on outer surfaces of both sides of sandwiches.  Broil or grill slowly 3-5 minutes until cheese melts and bread browns.)

Thousand Island Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. tomato ketchup
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped (opt.)
2 T. sweet pickle relish
2 T. minced fresh onion
1 t. Worcestershire sauce or prepared
horseradish (opt.)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

Stir all ingredients together in small bowl until well blended.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

So, what exactly is "corned beef".  Alton Brown of the Food Network provides the following instructions for brining beef:

Corned Beef

2   qts.      water
1    c.        kosher salt
1/2 c.        brown sugar
2    T.       saltpeter
1               cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
1    t.         mustard seeds
1    t.         black peppercorns
8   whole  cloves
8   whole  allspice berries
12 whole  juniper berries
2               bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 t.         ground ginger
2    lbs.      ice
1    4-5 lb. beef brisket, trimmed
1    small   onion, quartered
1    large    carrot, coarsely chopped
1    stalk    celery, coarsely chopped

Place the water into a large 6 to 8 quart stockpot along with salt, sugar, saltpeter, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the ice. Stir until the ice has melted. If necessary, place the brine into the refrigerator until it reaches a temperature of 45 degrees F. Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag and add the brine. Seal and lay flat inside a container, cover and place in the refrigerator for 10 days. Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine.
After 10 days, remove from the brine and rinse well under cool water. Place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cover with water by 1-inch. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender. Remove from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.

Over the years many symbols came to be included in St Patrick's Day festivities reflective of Ireland's folklore, culture, and national identity including ethnic foods, shamrocks, leprechauns, and wearing green.

In Irish folklore, leprechauns were shoemakers who hid treasure in pots at the end of rainbows, or scattered them around in mountains, forests, or rocks.  The sound of the mischievous fairy's shoe hammer was said to entice humans searching for the elusive pot of gold, which would ultimately be snatched away in an act of leprechaun trickery.

As Irish immigrants spread out over the United States, regions developed their own traditions. Chicago’s annual dyeing of the Chicago River green started in 1962. City pollution-control workers using dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges, began a unique tradition of releasing green vegetable dye into the river, to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

Closer to home, St Patrick's Day parades are held in a number of Wisconsin communities, including Fon du Lac on the south side of Lake Winnebago.

And, if you ever happen to be in San Francisco, on St Patrick's Day (or any other day, for that matter), stop at the Buena Vista Cafe, at the Powell-Hyde Cable Car's last stop in Fisherman's Wharf, for their famous Irish Coffee.  Their Irish Coffee recipe, served since 1952, was developed in attempts to recreate the Irish Coffee served at the Shannon Airport in Ireland.

No comments:

Post a Comment