The traditional St. Patrick’s Day feast is corned beef and cabbage. Potatoes round out the meal and can be boiled or mashed. I make them as colcannon, mashed potatoes into which butter, milk, salt and pepper, and cooked and chopped kale is mixed. So simple, so good. I used the remaining container of frozen kale from last year’s garden to make the batch shown. Make extra, because it goes well with everything. I especially like a scoop on a plate of eggs.
For the uninitiated, corned beef comes as a point cut or a flat cut, which is slightly more per pound, but a better choice. Put it in a pot, cover with water, add the packet of pickling spices that came with it, bring all to a boil, then reduce heat and cook for about three hours. If you want to boil the potatoes in the same pot, add them before the meat is fully cooked.
The one-pot boiled dinner likely came about because Irish peasants did not have a lot of utensils. A good, big pot was critical to cooking the meals necessary to feed large Irish families. It is the subject of an old tune, “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder,” which can be heard sung by vaudevillian Edward M. Favor on a 1901 Edison phonograph and cylinder record from 1901. I cannot listen to or sing this ditty without laughing. I thought I’d throw it in here in honor of the day and all the families who have their own big pot.
The other traditional dish that must be mentioned is Irish Soda Bread. Also simple, and nothing beats it toasted with lots of butter. If you don’t have a wide-slot toaster, run thick slices under the broiler for a bit. Once cold, a 15-second microwave nearly duplicates that warm-from-the-oven flavor. Once you taste it, you won’t want to wait until next St. Patrick’s Day to enjoy the caraway and raisin-rich bread that is appropriate for any meal from breakfast to the evening snack.
One note of advice. Caraway seeds and all the other spices in the supermarket are waaay overpriced. I have been buying in bulk for decades and my favorite source is San Francisco Herb (sfherb.com), which now also has an East Coast sister store, atlanticspice.com. The minimum order is reasonable, and you will be stunned to see how much you can get for your money from either. I have been known to write these websites on pieces of scrap paper and give them to strangers I observe clutching their chests in panic as they read the prices of spices in the supermarket.
I checked the price of caraway seeds at the local chain to do a proper comparison. One of those little jars with the red tops contains .25 g. of caraway seeds for $5.75. That comes out to $102.22 a pound. San Francisco Herb sells one pound for $3.70. If that boggles your mind, get a couple of friends together and order things you can split. Imagine having your pantry stocked with every wonderful spice you’ve ever used or wanted to try.
Irish Soda Bread
- 5 c. flour
- 1 c. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- ½ c. butter
- 2 ½ c. raisins
- 3 Tbsp. caraway seeds
- 1 egg
- 2 ½ c. buttermilk
- Into a large bowl, whisk or sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
- Cut in butter until it is in small pieces.
- Stir in raisins and caraway seeds.
- Mix egg into buttermilk and add. Note: Soured milk can be substituted for buttermilk. Make it by putting 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice or white vinegar for each cup of “buttermilk” needed into an empty glass measure. Then fill with regular milk to the desired level. For this recipe, that would be 2 ½” Tbsp. of lemon or vinegar and enough milk to equal 2 ½ c. total.
- Blend by hand only until all is moistened. Spread in a large buttered pan or divide between two buttered bread pans. The pan shown is 9 ½” across and 2 ½” deep. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If it isn’t quite done and the top is well-browned, lay a piece of foil over it as it finishes up.
Sheila Velazquez is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in more than 100 print newspapers and magazines, including Grit, New Woman, the Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register, the San Antonio Express-News and Bay Area Parent. Her awards include two from the Society of Professional Journalists for a syndicated column. Sheila has contributed to online websites, including commondreams.org and dissidentvoice.org. She served as contributing editor of Organic Producer magazine and wrote biographical material for reference collections that include “Contemporary Authors,” the “Encyclopedia of International Biography” and “Notable Sports Figures.” Feel free to send her an e-mail.