Slainte Archives – Irish America Irish America Magazine Sat, 20 Jul 2019 03:40:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 Sláinte!: The Lace Place Wed, 01 May 2019 07:29:00 +0000 Read more..]]> Imagine Ireland. What do you see? Patchwork green fields, stone walls, crystal streams, ancient ruins, horses…and lace. From manor house to country cottage, windows are draped with the delicate webwork. Sofas, tabletops, dressers, beds, and tea trays hold lacy runners, scarves, and antimacassars. Brides seem like angels haloed in billowing veils.

Casual observers see only frilly bits here and there. Practical eyes note that doilies protect furniture and lace curtains let air circulate while keeping insects and peeping eyes at bay. Romantics are drawn into the spell of earlier times when frothy lace quickened the beat of a lover’s heart.

Love of lace is woven into the fabric of Irish life. Its history can be traced back to a macramé fringe worn around 800 B.C. In the old hero tales, Cuchulain’s wife, Emer, was renown for her needlework skills. Saint Patrick’s retinue included three embroiderers. In the Middle Ages, knotted hair nets kept long locks tidy. In the 16th century, Europe’s ruling class wore gold and silver lace fashioned by Ireland’s men! In fact, when lace made with white linen thread was introduced in the 17th century, Mrs. Richard Barry (Lord Mayoress of Dublin 1601-1611) scoffed at the innovation, saying it looked cheap and could be blown shapeless by the wind. But it was easy to clean so it quickly became favored by both sexes.

Archives in the National Museum of Ireland’s Art & Industry Collection record that the first time lace-making enabled impoverished citizens to earn income dates from April 1636, when the earl of Cork paid a lacemaker 10 shillings to teach the craft to a “poor begging girl.” In 1655, the government bolstered the industry by setting tariffs on imported lace. As with any forbidden fruit, taxation made lace more desirable. Around 1740, the Royal Dublin Society encouraged the craft with annual judgings and financial awards for the finest work.

Initially, all lace was crafted using bobbins. Designs were interwoven with fine threads around pins tacked onto paper patterns that were laid over pillows. This “pillow lace” was exquisitely fine, but it was tedious work. In 1809, the English inventor John Heathcoat devised a loom to produce fine cotton net yardage, enabling two new types of lace to emerge: Carrickmacross and Limerick. Though both styles are worked on a net base, the methods differ. In Carrickmacross lace, sheer fabric designs are appliqued on net, which is then embellished with embroidery stitches. Limerick lace designs are created by weaving fine thread through the net in a process similar to darning.

In 1816, Mrs. Grey Porter, wife of the rector in Donaghmoyne (a village just east of Carrickmacross, County Monaghan) collected applique laces while honeymooning in Italy. Together with her personal maid Ann Steadman, the two needlewomen copied the Italian work. In 1820, they established a lace-making class so local women could earn much-needed income.

While Carrickmacross lace had a philanthropic beginning, Limerick’s lace-making began as a commercial enterprise. In 1829, Charles Walker, a retired clergyman, opened a workshop with 24 young English women who made fine run-lace. The center boasted its adolescent workers (ages eight to 13) received “safe, profitable, and suitable employment, which will remove the indolence of apathy, poverty, misery, wretchedness, and all the unfortunate circumstances…of our unemployed peasantry.”

Edythe’s lace collar.

When famine devastated Ireland (1845-47), lace-making became a widespread cottage industry. Work was laborious, but no money was needed for tools and there were thousands of willing workers. Manor house mistresses, who learned needlework as part of their genteel upbringing, opened lace centers to help their tenants survive, then sold their products to friends and contacts abroad.

During that period, two other lace-making techniques emerged. In Youghal, County Cork, Mother Mary Ann Smith of the Presentation Convent purchased a piece of Italian needlepoint lace from a peddler. Stitch by stitch, she unraveled it, studied its construction, then taught the technique to her students. But the fine work required such patience it never flourished, remaining a product of convent schools.

In the fishing village of Blackrock, also County Cork, sisters at the Ursuline Convent ornamented altar cloths and priests’ vestments with lacy crochet. When famine struck, they shared the skill with their students, who became so expert at what had been considered “nun’s work” that the local economy improved. From convent to convent, the art spread through the south and into Kildare, where Mrs. W.C. Roberts opened a crochet center that sent teachers out across Ireland.

Families in the mountains around Clones, County Monaghan, were particularly hard hit by the famine. Mrs. Cassandra Hand, wife of the local rector and savvy about business, sent for one of the Kildare teachers. Using lace scraps from Spanish monasteries as patterns, they devised how to reproduce it in crochet. Their raised motifs were so popular that Clones designs were registered to protect them from imitation.

It was during the Famine that Irish lace earned its legendary reputation. Clever needleworkers mastered traditional patterns, then created distinctive Irish designs. In cottages across the island, flashing needles and hooks produced a cascade of shamrocks, roses, harps, butterflies, ferns, and wildflowers. As demand for Irish lace grew, so did demand for new designs. Lace schools added drawing classes. Art colleges offered lace programs. Irish lace took top honors at international exhibitions. When boots cost 60 cents, a lace skirt inset sold for upwards of $18.00! Ironically, it was Ireland’s poorest countryfolk who outfitted the wealthy in London, Paris, and New York. Many families put away enough lace money to buy their first milk cow, assemble a daughter’s dowry, or pay for passage to America.

Inevitably, inexpensive machine-made lace eroded the market for the costly handmade product. Automation ushered in by the world wars nearly tolled the art’s death knell. As the master lacemakers passed on, designs which had been closely guarded family secrets died with them until only a few remembered the craft.

Thanks to the efforts of a few dynamic women, Carrickmacross and Clones lace are experiencing a revival. Sisters at the Saint Louis Convent took over the Carrickmacross lace-making center in 1888. Almost a century later, Martha Hughes became interested in the craft and founded the first modern Irish lace co-op. In 1988, the convent formally turned over their lacemaking operation. “The sisters were emotional at the ceremony” notes Martha. “They had guarded the craft for 100 years, but they knew it was time to hand the responsibility over to a new generation that could carry the tradition into the next century.”

It was different in Clones. By 1989 only two elderly lacemakers could recall how to coax thread into intricate crochet lace. Concerned that the skill might be lost, Mamo McDonald of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association sought help from Marie Connoly, a local needlecraft expert. As each family had specialized in a single motif, Marie learned one by one how to make roses, shamrocks, fans, lilies, grapes, vines, Celtic wheels, and starbursts. When only the joining stitch, the Clones knot, remained a mystery, an aged villager demonstrated its 13 stitches, and Marie became the first 20th-century woman to learn the skill. Together, Marie and Mamo founded the Clones lace guild ( that sponsors annual lace-making classes.


Irish-Italian Lace

It’s no coincidence that shamrocks are a design motif in much of the crochet lace made by Italian women on Isola Maggiore, an island on Lake Trasimeno in Italy’s Umbrian region. By the beginning of the 20th century, Irish crochet lace was renowned across Europe. In 1904, seeking a way to help island women supplement their families’ incomes, local aristocrat Marchioness Elena Guglielmi brought in several Kildare crochet teachers and opened a lace-making school. The students’ exquisite work became known as punto da Irlanda (“the Irish stitch”), and Irish crochet lace, originally devised to imitate Venetian needle lace, returned full- circle to Italy and launched a successful cottage industry. Isola Maggiore’s lace-making school closed after WWII, but the Irish crochet lace tradition continued as an important artistic expression of heritage. Today, a museum in the Palazzo delle Opere Pie hosts a collection of old and new lace work, and punto da Irlanda is still taught to younger generations.


Wedding Heirlooms

In 1840, when England’s Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, she wore a gown of white Carrickmacross style lace, launching the “white” wedding tradition that brides have followed ever since. More than a century later, both Princess Diana and Kate Middleton embellished their wedding ensembles with Carrickmacross floral designs. Brides seeking to honor their Irish heritage can custom order handmade wedding veils destined to become family heirlooms from The Lace Gallery ( in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. Advance planning is essential as even a fingertip veil enhanced with simple motifs will require six months or more to fabricate!

Brides who admire vintage finery have another option. The Sheelin Lace Shop ( in Bellananeck, County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland offers a variety of antique Irish lace. Items include wedding veils and headpieces, bridal purses and handkerchiefs, plus christening gowns and bonnets newlyweds will treasure for their family’s future. A collection of rare exquisite pieces is displayed in the shop’s museum.

For more information on classic Irish lace, Dover Publications ( offers several excellent books on the subject, including some with instructions on how to make it.



Lace Cookies

As the name implies, these cookies have many holes and look like lace. But they’re much easier to make!

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1⁄4 cup granulated sugar

1⁄4 cup light brown sugar

1⁄4 cup light corn syrup

1 pinch of salt

1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour, spooned & leveled

1⁄2 cup finely chopped almonds

Lace cookie

Heat oven to 375°F. In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, sugars, corn syrup and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and mix in flour and almonds just until incorporated.

Drop level teaspoons of the batter 4” apart onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, approximately 6-8 minutes.

Cool on the baking sheets (8 / 10 minutes), then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. NOTE: Watch carefully when cooking, as oven temps tend to vary and sugar burns easily. Makes 36 cookies. (Personal recipe♦

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Sláinte! Rainy Day Comfort Fri, 01 Mar 2019 08:19:00 +0000 Read more..]]> “Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain.”

– Anonymous


When people who live elsewhere than Los Angeles phone me and ask “How’s the weather?” I often reply, “What do mean ‘weather’? We only have sun.” Call me an ingrate for grousing about the bounty of sunny days we experience, but constant sunshine has a real downside. Drought.

The natural climate in Southern California is semi-desert, and it would have always remained that way but for the aqueducts that carry water to the region from sources located hundreds of miles distant. That solution was engineered more than a century ago by the brilliant Irish immigrant, William Mulholland, who must have pined for the green hills of his childhood.

The other reason I kvetch about too much sunshine is quite mundane: I find it boring. I was raised on the East Coast, where the weather varies from season to season, and even day to day. Add to that my genetic memory that stems from ancestors in Italy and Ireland, where the weather also fluctuates, and it’s not very surprising that when it rains here I am delighted.

For several years, rain has been so rare in So-Cal that in 2018 my humongous fig tree, which with even moderate precipitation produces more than 1,000 fruit, bore none at all. In the first six weeks of 2019, however, we’ve seen more rain than in the past 2 years combined. Woohoo! I am one happy gal. The heavens are watering my garden. The fig will produce plump sweet fruit. I feel cozy indoors and happily splash in puddles like a big kid outdoors. Most important of all to this foodie, I have reasons to cook hearty meals.

For most of the year, I rely on my Italian ancestry for “Mediterranean Diet” recipes. But when it rains, I go full-bore Irish. The cooks of the Emerald Isle, where it’s chilly and rainy more than most places, get top marks for preparing delicious, stick-to-your-ribs “comfort food.”

In January, when L.A.’s record-breaking deluges began, the first meal I yearned for was Dublin’s most famous dish, Dublin coddle. A traditional Saturday-night specialty, coddle consists of bacon rashers, sausages, onions, potatoes, and a savory broth that are slow-baked in a low-temperature oven. With minimum fuss, busy housewives could always be sure that a hot dinner would be ready when their men came home after a few pints in the pub, no matter the hour. When I decided to make the coddle, I called a Dublin pal who now lives in L.A. and invited him to dinner. His response was: “Coddle?!? I could eat the Bee-jazus out of a plate of that!” And he did.

A few weeks later, another round of righteous rain saw me longing for a bowl of Irish stew. Determining the difference between “soup” and “stew” is like defining shades of green. Soups tend to be more watery, have finely cut ingredients, and have drinkable broth, while stews are thicker, the ingredients are chunky, and they are eaten with a spoon. Once the potato was added to Ireland’s soup pot in the 16th century, hearty Irish stew became such a mainstay of the Celtic kitchen that it now vies with corned beef and cabbage as Ireland’s national dish. For my money, the best Irish stew is made by adding a splash of another Irish treasure: Guinness. Being more of a beer fan, I don’t especially care for the dark, somewhat bitter brew (apologies to its millions of devotees), but adding Guinness to a beef stew brings out flavor that would make even the angels smile.

In between our heavy rains, we’ve seen consistent scattered showers. Yesterday it even rained while the sun was shining – a Los Angeles miracle! Tonight, the weather guy forecasted three more storms rolling in on Pacific low-pressure systems that promise rain will fall for most of the coming week. Color me giddy with glee!

This time, I’ll be making yummy shepherd’s pie. Traditionally, the dish is made with lamb (think shepherds and sheep). Another version made with beef is called cottage pie. Basically, the dish consists of meat cooked in an onion gravy that is placed in a pie pan, covered with mashed potatoes, and baked until the potatoes become crusty. The earliest cookery books say the meat was typically bits of any leftover roast and the pie pan was also lined with mashed potatoes, like a real pie crust. These days, cooks usually start by sautéing minced lamb or beef with onions, plus a bit of flour and broth to make a gravy, then follow through with the mashed potato topping. Some cooks also add chopped carrots, celery, and peas to the meat and gravy mixture. A similar method can be followed for chicken or fish. There’s even a vegetarian variation called shepherdess pie.

One thing is certain: whichever of Ireland’s favorite “comfort foods” you serve for dinner on a blustery, wet day, you can be sure that everyone’s taste buds will be dancing with joy! Sláinte! ♦


An Irish Rain Vocabulary

People who live in a place where one natural element plays an important role in their lives have multiple words for its various forms. The Eskimo people have dozens of words for types of “snow.” Likewise, the Irish have many descriptions of “rain.”


Mist — tiny raindrops you can barely see or feel, like damp air.

Grand soft day — grey clouds, misty, not too cold, might rain later.

Drizzle — soft, misty rain that soaks through clothing.

Wetting rain — very thick mist that requires an umbrella.

Sun showers — short bursts of heavy rain intermixed with sunshine.

Cloudburst — a sudden, heavy shower that does not last long.

Lashing rain — heavy raindrops that bounce off the ground.

Trying to rain — solid cloud cover and heavy air, as if it might rain.

Driving rain — rain that beats against the windows, harsh and steady.

Rotten rain — steady rain that requires an umbrella.

Spitting rain — intermittent showers with medium raindrops.

Pelting rain — large raindrops that soak clothing and sting skin.

Pissing rain — heavy rain that requires fast windshield wipers.

Torrential rain — relentless rain that wipers can’t keep up with.

Pouring rain — continuous, heavy rain that challenges umbrellas.

Heavens opened — a sudden, heavy rain shower.

Downpour — a sudden, heavy, and long-lasting rain shower.

Thunder shower — a sudden heavy rain shower with lightning.

Shocking rain — heavy rain that runs off the land in rivulets.

Bucketing rain — sudden heavy downpours that can cause floods.

Raining stair rods — big, fat raindrops coming straight down and really hard.

Hammering rain — non-stop, heavy rain.



Dublin Coddle

1⁄2 pound thick bacon slices cut in 3” lengths

1 pound Irish pork sausages

1  1⁄2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced 1⁄2” thick

1 pound onions

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Boil a kettle of water. Put the bacon and sausages in a saucepan and pour in enough boiling water to cover. Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Remove the bacon and sausages to a greased oven-proof casserole dish and save the liquid. Place the potatoes and onions on top of the sausages and bacon. Pour in enough reserved boiling liquid to cover. Season with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with aluminum foil or a lid. Place casserole in the oven and bake for one hour. Serves four.


<em>A hearty scoop of Irish Beef Stew.</em>

A hearty scoop of Irish Beef Stew.

Irish Beef Stew

1 pound beef cut in bite-sized chunks

1 cup flour mixed with salt & pepper

Olive oil

3-4 large carrots, peeled and cut in bite-sized chunks

2-3 large potatoes, peeled and cut in bite-sized chunks

2-3 onions, skins removed and cut in eighths

Water to cover

1⁄2 cup Guinness

Dust beef generously with flour mixture. Heat some olive oil in a large soup pot. Brown beef. Add carrots, potatoes, and onions. Cover with water and Guinness. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer at least two hours until beef is tender. Add salt to taste. Serves four. (Accompany with crusty bread to soak up every drop of the gravy!)­­­


Shepherd’s Pie

Note: This is technically cottage pie. To make true shepherd’s pie, use ground lamb instead of beef.

4 cups mashed potatoes

1  1⁄2 lbs ground lean beef

1 medium onion, diced

2 carrots, diced 2 stalks celery, diced

1 cup peas (frozen is fine)

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp flour

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 cup beef broth

2 tsp Worcestershire

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1⁄2 tsp salt (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Sauté beef in a medium skillet over medium heat until browned, 7-10 minutes, then remove to a bowl. Add the onions, carrots, celery, peas, and garlic to the beef drippings in the pan and cook until soft. Reduce the heat to medium and add the tomato paste and flour. Sauté until the flour is completely moist. Return the beef to the pan. Add the broth, Worcestershire, and thyme. Simmer 5-10 minutes, until the gravy thickens. Add salt to taste. Transfer the meat mixture into a greased 8”x8” baking dish. Spoon the mashed potatoes over the meat mixture and smooth, especially at the edges, to keep gravy from bubbling over. Place the dish in the oven on a sheet pan to catch any drips and cook for 20-30 minutes or until the mashed potatoes are golden. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Makes four servings. ♦


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Sláinte! Auld Lang Syne Sat, 22 Dec 2018 08:17:13 +0000 Read more..]]> With the New Year in mind, Edythe Preet writes about Robert Burns: Scotland’s Immortal Bard.


In case any reader has ever wondered how a gal named Preet could claim Irish ancestry, here’s my genealogy: my maiden name was Burns, my father was George Burns (mom heard many a “So are you Gracie?” wisecrack), and dad’s mom was a McCaffrey, born in County Fermanagh. Like thousands of Northern Ireland’s population, Margaret McCaffrey was a descendant of the Scots who immigrated to neighboring Éire during the 16th and 17th centuries.

While Dad was Irish to the core, he held one particular Scotsman in highest esteem: Robert Burns, Scotland’s Immortal Bard. Dad loved poetry, and he took great pleasure reciting his ancestor’s rhymes (especially the racy or politically barbed verses) with vigor and full brogue. So it is to the Scots-Irish among us that I dedicate this article.

Every New Year’s Eve, as the clock strikes 12, people the world over raise their glasses in a toast and their voices in song: “Lest auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind … we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne.” Those heartfelt words, enjoining us to always remember and hold dear the good times and good friends we have known, were penned by Robert Burns.

Burns, the man, was a humble country farmer. Burns, the poet, was a romantic, a humorist, a philosopher, a champion of human rights, and a fervent patriot. Born January 25, 1756, he lived in a time of international political upheaval that witnessed the American, Irish, and French revolutions, which changed the course of history. His sentiments won the hearts of his countrymen and patriots everywhere, and his words are etched forever in the English language.

“A man’s a man for a’ that,” the phrase that has become a mantra of oppressed people the world over, is found in the allegorical epic “Tam O’Shanter.” “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men’’ appears in “To a Mouse,” and “To see ourselves as others see us” in “To a Louse” (which he was inspired to write one Sunday in church while watching one of the loathsome blood-suckers crawl about a fellow parishoner’s shoulders). The poem “Man Was Made To Mourn” addresses the injustice and inequality of the human condition, and “My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose” is the paragon ode to ardent and enduring love.

Throughout his life, Burns fought the force of the establishment with the power of poetry. Nothing, and no one, escaped the scathing satire and wry humor of his pen. At a time when speaking up was the surest and quickest route to exile and deportation, Burns boldly criticized the Crown, the Church and the entire legal profession. He wrote of justice, honor, love and freedom – the highest of human ideals. He articulated the grief of his disenfranchised nation and encouraged all people far and wide who would dream of higher aspirations.

From his deathbed, Burns whispered, “In a hundred years, they will remember me,” and indeed they have. On January 25 in bonny Scotland and wherever those of Caledonian descent are found, Burns Night Suppers honor the Bard in a way that would please him immensely – with food and drink and caustic verse aplenty.

The stars of the evening, other than Burns himself, are the haggis and malt whisky. Taken separately they are notably delicious, consumed together they are ambrosia fit for the gods. Though many food critics disparage the haggis as coarse peasant fare, this most quintessential of Gaelic dishes is truly a gourmet’s delight.

Admittedly, perusing haggis recipes can be somewhat off-putting because they call for minced offal (heart, tongue, liver and lung) to be mixed with oats, salt and pepper, then stuffed into sheep or cow tripe (stomach), trussed, closed and boiled for hours. Letting the description dissuade you from tasting it would be a classic case of judging a book by its cover. Indulging in a plateful of steaming, spicy, sliced haggis is one of life’s great taste treats, especially when said slices are liberally doused with a fine, aged, malt whisky.

How haggis came to be Scotland’s best-known menu item is a matter for conjecture. In prehistoric times, slices of meat could be smoked over an open fire and kept for later use without spoiling, but the humbles or innards spoiled quickly, and it was necessary to consume them as soon as possible.

Prior to the invention of pots and pans, the easiest way to cook bits and pieces of meat was to place them in the animal’s bag-like stomach and boil the whole affair in a water-filled pit heated with red-hot stones. Adding grain (in Scotland and Ireland, it was oats) allowed the nutrient-rich juices to be absorbed rather than dissipating into the cooking liquid.

By the late 18th century, Scotland had been joined with Ireland, Wales, and England to form the United Kingdom, and while haggis was still the most popular Scottish meal, many gentrified Scots were attempting to modify their national culture by adopting English pronunciation to fit into the new society. Burns lambasted the trend by writing “The Address to the Haggis,” a pointed social satire in a full, flaming Scots dialect. It was an instant hit. More than 200 years later, it is still recited in a broad brogue at every Burns Supper.

The night’s other star player is malt whisky. Arabia gets the credit for devising the alcohol-distillation process, which was subsequently discovered by monks traveling through the Middle East in the early days of Christianity. When the Church began sending missionaries to Ireland and Scotland in the sixth century, the pious prelates applied the same technique to a brew of the local grains – malt and barley – and invented malt whisky. Gaels took to the drink like ducks to water.

Should you choose to host a Burns Night Supper, be advised that there is a formula to the event. The evening festivities begin with a welcome, followed by recitation of the “Grace Before the Meal,” which Burns delivered when he supped with the Earl of Selkirk who shared the poet’s libertine political views. “Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it. But we hae meat and we can eat, And sae the Laird be thankit.”

The meal begins with a serving of cockaleekie soup, after which a steaming hot haggis is ceremoniously brought into the room to the wail of bagpipes. An honored guest then recites “The Address to the Haggis” and all toast his performance with glasses of whisky, after which the noble haggis is retired to be sliced and dished up with portions of its traditional accompaniments – neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes).

While waiting for dinner to be served, the evening’s honored guest speaks to the memory of the Immortal Bard, and more whisky is downed. Then a gentleman delivers “The Toast to the Lassies” (usually full of tongue-in-cheek wordplay) and more whisky is downed. Then a lady responds with “The Toast to the Laddies” (usually a wee bit bawdy) and more whisky is downed.

While dining on the haggis (over each serving of which is poured a healthy measure of whisky), guests take turns reciting their favorite Burns verses, and after each performance more whisky is downed. When the dishes have been cleared, it’s time for dancing to the tune of fiddles and bagpipes, and between each reel more whisky is downed.

When everyone is nigh unto swooning from the heady pace of the dance, all hoist their once-again full glasses of whisky in a final toast and raise their voices in song: “Lest auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind, we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne.” Sláinte! ♦



NOTE: Full information on staging a Burns Supper – including poems, toasts, and songs – can be found at

<em>A plate of mashed neeps, tatties and haggis.</em>

A plate of mashed neeps, tatties and haggis.


Cockaleekie Soup

6 leeks, washed & sliced thin

3 cups boiling water

1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 1⁄2 cups chicken broth

1⁄2 cup cream

Place the sliced leeks in a medium soup pot with the water and salt; simmer for 5-7 minutes until tender but not mushy. Add butter and chicken broth, bring to a boil. Stir in the cream. Makes 5-6 cups soup.

– Personal Recipe


Mashed Neeps & Tatties

1 1⁄2 pound potatoes, peeled & quartered

1 1⁄2 pound turnips or rutabagas, peeled & quartered


Salt and pepper

In two separate pots, cover potatoes and turnips with water and boil until tender. Drain, combine, and mash, adding cream as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 6-8.

– The Robert Burns Club, Milwaukee


Modern Haggis

1⁄2 pound calf’s liver

1⁄2 cup oatmeal

2 tablespoons shortening

1 medium onion

1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper

1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg

1⁄2 teaspoon mace

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

Boil the liver and parboil the onion. Reserve 1⁄2 cup of the stock. Mince the liver and onion together until the texture of coarse meal. Lightly brown the oatmeal and then mix all the ingredients together, along with the reserved stock. Place in a greased bowl. Cover with aluminum foil and place in a steamer. Steam for 11⁄2 hours. Serves 4-6 Haggis lovers, or 6-8 more dubious diners.

– The Robert Burns Club, Milwaukee

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Sláinte!: New Wave Greens Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:20:39 +0000 Read more..]]> The therapeutic benefits of seawater and seaweed baths, as well as seaweed as an important food source, is explored by Edythe Preet.


I’ve got this thing about immersing myself in water. I like it body temperature or better. Thus, although Ireland has beaches aplenty, plunging into its frigid sea is out of the question, and I usually limit my adventuring to manor houses, monasteries and ancient Celtic sites. On one auspicious journey, however, a tiny red notation on the road map caught my attention. It read Hot Seaweed Baths. I made a detour.

Perched on a windswept cliff that overlooks six miles of pristine North Atlantic beach, Kilcullen’s Bath House in Enniscrone, County Sligo was built at the turn of the century during the elegant Edwardian Age. When Michael Kilcullen (great-grandson of the original owner) ushered me into my private bathing room, it was apparent that in all the intervening decades, not a faucet, or shower pull had been changed.

Cheery flowered tiles lined the walls. Bright red wooden decking covered the floor. An age-checked beveled mirror hung on one wall. A large window looked out to the endless sea. An antique steam cabinet filled one corner. But the room’s most amazing piece of equipment was the bathtub. Claw-footed, massive, and eight feet long if it was an inch! I could easily have moored a boat to the drain stopper’s iron ring.

Michael turned the heavy brass tap, and as heated sea water began pouring into the tub, he dumped in a bucketful of fresh cut seaweed. Immediately, the water turned golden ochre and the brown wrack became vibrant emerald green. Instructing me to have a steam and then soak as long as I wished, Michael pointed to an immense showerhead positioned over the tub, and with a merry gleam in his blue eyes, said, “Now don’t go forgetting to have a cold shower after. It’ll seal in the seaweed’s healthful iodine and natural oils.”

I did it all, well almost all. I stepped into the cabinet, sat on its wooden bench, pulled the ancient lever, and let the steam whoosh about me until I was cooked like a lobster. I slid into the tub, floated like a cork, and let the wrack’s rich emollients soak through to my road-weary bones. I dunked underwater blowing bubbles like a great big fish. I traced patterns in the sand at the bottom of the tub. I draped ropes of slippery seaweed all about me and pretended I was a beautiful mermaid. I had Michael take my picture. He said he’d seen it all before.

I skipped the cold shower part, of course. Nothing on earth could tempt this woman to splash herself with ice water. But did I miss the moisturizing bonus? Not at all. I emerged from my soak with silky smooth skin, and it stayed that way for days.

Seawater and seaweed baths, known as thalassotherapy, are famous for their therapeutic benefits throughout Europe. Greek and Roman records from the first century B.C.E. mention herbal medicines and cosmetic preparations made with seaweed. Modern preparations include soaps, lotions, shampoos, conditioners, shower gels, and even packets of powdered seaweed that can be mixed in bathwater to create home thalasso-treatments.

More importantly, seaweeds have been an important food source for thousands of years, as indicated by the Chinese writer Chi Han, who noted their importance in 300 B.C.E. China is now the world’s largest producer of mixed purpose seaweeds, with an annual crop of 2.5 million tons, and Japan nets nearly $1 billion on its harvest of nori which is used extensively in sushi preparation.

More than 500 varieties of seaweed can be found in Ireland’s pristine waters, especially along the indented western shore, where mild temperatures, good wave action, and a varied rocky substrata provide an excellent growth environment. Most harvesting occurs in the Gaeltacht regions of counties Galway, Mayo, and Donegal. In 1994, the crop weighed in at 34,600 tons, securing Ireland’s position as one of the world’s important seaweed producers.

During the Great Famine of 1845-50, fortunate coastal dwellers supplemented their meager diets with a variety of seaweeds which are rich in iodine, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and many vital trace minerals. Several types of seaweed have long been important Irish dietary components.

Dulse, a reddish-brown seaweed unique to North Atlantic and Pacific Northwest waters, is found all around the Irish coast and has been eaten since the 12th century when the “Hymn of Columba” recorded dulse-picking as one of a monk’s daily chores. “A while gathering dulse from the rock, a while fishing, a while giving food to the poor, a while in my cell.” It is often eaten plain or served as an accompaniment to bowls of steamed mussels. Dulse and yellowman (a bright yellow toffee) are traditional snacks sold at the annual Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, County Antrim. Customarily given by a boy to his sweetheart, they appear in the song lyric “Did you treat your Mary Anne to dulse and yallaman at the auld Lammas Fair, oh!.”

Carrageen, also called Irish Moss, grows in clusters of purple-brown fan shapes. It is found on stones and rocks all along the Atlantic coast, and although it can be used fresh, most people prefer using product that has been bleached and dried by rain and sun. When reconstituted in water, Carrageen releases a gelatinous substance that makes an excellent thickener in soups, drinks, jellies, and milk puddings. The plain gel is also a tried-and-true home remedy for soothing the inflamed membranes of mouth and throat when irritated by a cold or flu.

Sloke is also known as sea spinach or laver. It has thin, translucent purple-green fronds and can be found on rocks and stones up and down the beaches all around the Irish coast. After being washed, soaked and simmered for several hours, it is traditionally served as a vegetable with fish or ham.

Sea-kale and samphire are two delicate seaweeds which both taste somewhat like asparagus. Unfortunately neither can be dried and you will have to travel to Ireland to experience their exotic flavor. Sea-kale, known as strand-cabbage, can be found growing wild on the sandy beaches of Donegal and in select greengrocers. Samphire grows in muddy salt marshes particularly on the east coast and when picked young is tender enough to be eaten raw.

Since ancient times, seaweeds have been used to cure what ails, within and without, but this is the information age and like so many other things, even these venerable gifts of the sea have gone high-tech. Further information on Ireland’s seaweeds can be found on the internet ( courtesy of Chris Hession, who runs the Irish Seaweed Industry Organization, and Michael Guiry, professor of marine botany at University College Galway. Adventurous cooks can order additional recipes, a tasty snack called Sea Chips and a selection of seaweeds including dulse from: Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, Franklin, ME 04634, telephone: 207-565-2907. Slainte! ♦



<em>Moules frites with rose and pastis.</em>

Moules frites with rose and pastis.

Mussel, Dulse & Rice Broth

(Gerry Galvin, chef: Drimcong House, Moycullen, County Galway)

48 mussels, rinsed and beards removed

1 cup white wine

1 cup water

1 ounce dried dulse, washed and shredded

1 cup cooked rice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Place mussels in a large stockpot with wine and water. Cook over medium heat until all the mussels have opened. Remove mussels, shell, and set meat aside. Discard the shells.

Strain stock into a clean saucepan. Add rice and dulse. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook until dulse is tender, about 10 minutes. Add mussels and stir in chopped dill. Spoon into large bowls and sprinkle on grated parmesan. Makes 4 servings.


Carrageen Jelly

(Irish Traditional Food – Theodora Fitzgibbon)

1⁄2 ounce carrageen

1 pint water

2 teaspoons lemon juice

sugar to taste

small wine glass of sweet sherry

whipped cream

Soak the carrageen in water for a few hours, then rinse well and drain. Put in a pan with 1 pint of water and simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain and discard the carrageen. Add the sugar, lemon juice and sherry to the strained liquid and stir. Pour into 4 small heatproof dishes and refrigerate until set. Serve with whipped cream. Makes 4 servings. ♦

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Sláinte!: Ahoy Me Hearties Sat, 01 Sep 2018 06:16:05 +0000 Read more..]]> Celebrate “Talk Like a Pirate Day” on September 19 by upping your knowledge of these Irish buccaneers of yonder years. Read on and ye’ll discover the Irish men and women who sailed the high seas as pirates, buccaneers, and privateers. Some lived to a ripe old age. Some were cut down in their prime. All left their mark on the pages of history.


Grace O’Malley (Grainne Ni Mhaille)

Ireland’s Pirate Queen (1530-1603)

Many think Grace O’Malley was merely the leader of a 16th-century band of cutthroats that pillaged and plundered any ship they encountered on the Irish seas. That’s a classic example of “alternative facts”. Grace really was an Irish Queen. The O’Malleys, one of the noble seafaring families of Connacht, had ruled the land surrounding County Mayo’s Clew Bay for centuries. Grace’s father, Eoghan Dubhdara Ni Mhaille, was an O’Malley chieftain, and when he died, Grace became lord of the clan. She managed the family’s landholdings, directed operations of its fleet, collected tariffs from ships fishing local waters, traded with ports as far distant as Spain, and crushed any who challenged O’Malley territory. Married twice to heirs of other noble Connacht families, both unions increased the O’Malley landholdings and the clan’s importance in the West. Mother of four children, the youngest was born at sea on a trading voyage. The next day, when Grace’s ship was attacked by Turkish pirates, she led the counter assault and captured the Turk’s vessel. As chieftain of the O’Malleys, Grace’s battles had primarily been with feuding Irish clans, but the tide shifted as England expanded its domination of Ireland. Gradually, the Irish lords pledged loyalty to the Crown, save for those in the North and the West. In 1584, Elizabeth I named Sir Richard Bingham as Governor of Connacht. Determined to destroy the Irish way of life, he called Grace “nurse to all rebellions in the province.” As the Irish fought against their fate, Grace’s fleet attacked Bingham’s troops, disrupted trade, ferried fighters to the rebels, and raided seaports. In 1593, Grace wrote to Elizabeth petitioning that the O’Malley lands Bingham had seized be returned to her, and pledging to support the Crown. The Queen sent back 18 interrogatories that Grace answered, but before Elizabeth could respond, Bingham imprisoned Grace’s half-brother and her youngest son. Grace immediately sailed to England and demanded a royal audience. On September 6, 1593 the two Queens negotiated for several hours, with Elizabeth agreeing to release Grace’s family members and restore the O’Malley lands, and Grace pledging to fight for the Crown rather than against it. When Bingham released her kinsmen but refused to restore the O’Malley property, Grace resumed aiding the Irish rebels until she retired to Rockfleet, her favorite property on Clew Bay, where she died in 1603.

Anne Bonny

Caribbean Buccaneer (1692-1787)

Born in County Cork, Anne Bonny was the illegitimate daughter of a married lawyer named William Cormac and his maidservant Mary Brennan. Little is known of Anne’s youth except her father dressed her as a boy and hoped she would become a law clerk. When the news got out about his daughter, Cormac was disgraced and fled to the Carolinas where he became a successful merchant, amassed a fortune, and bought a plantation. When Anne married a “wannabe” pirate named James Bonny who had eyes on William Cormac’s estate, her father disowned her. With access to her father’s fortune cut off, James and Anne moved to New Providence Island in the Bahamas that locals called “The Republic of Pirates.” There James came up with the “easy money” scheme of accusing men he didn’t like of being pirates and turning them in to the authorities for the reward. Anne, meanwhile, had fallen for a real buccaneer, “Calico Jack” Rackham, and they sailed off to Jamaica to pursue a life of piracy together. Anne had fiery red hair plus a red-hot temper to match, and was thought to have murdered a servant who crossed her while still a girl in Ireland. She and Calico Jack stole a fast ship and spent several years plundering galleons on the Spanish Main for treasure. In October 1720, their ship was attacked by a Jamaican naval patrol and all aboard were captured. Calico Jack, Anne, and the whole crew were tried and sentenced to death. As she was pregnant at the time, Anne pleaded for the court’s temporary clemency, which was granted. Then one night while awaiting execution, she disappeared from her cell. People assumed Anne’s father had bought off her jailers but it could not be proven. She was never seen again.

Luke Ryan

Privateer & Captain of The Black Fleet (1750-1789)

If prodigy were a term applied to piracy, Luke Ryan would be a candidate. Born in a coastal village of County Dublin, his youth was spent working in shipyards and at sea. At age 16, he abandoned a ship’s carpenter apprenticeship and joined a regiment of Ireland’s Wild Geese that fought for France on the Continent. But the sea inexorably called him. When the American Revolution erupted, England began issuing letters of marque to Irish smugglers, raising them to the status of “privateers” empowered to attack enemy ships and seize their cargoes. Seduced by the lure of legal piracy, Ryan who had returned to the sea and been doing well as a smuggler, signed on. Soon realizing that American ships were few locally whereas British merchantmen loaded with goods were plentiful, Ryan acquired letters of marque from France that was both at war with England and allied with the Americans. In May 1779, Ryan’s ship, loaded with contraband, was seized by British revenue agents, his crew was captured, but Ryan escaped. What ensued could have been a scene out of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Ryan freed his men, reclaimed his ship, and sailed for France where his agent Jean Francois Torris introduced him to Benjamin Franklin who had been searching for swift ships and canny captains to help the Revolution. At age 25, Ryan began sailing under American colors in the ship he renamed The Black Prince with a loyal crew he had rescued from certain death, and carrying letters of marque from three nations. America and France might look aside at Ryan’s triple commissions, but capture by the British meant death. In just the first two years of his agreement with Franklin, Ryan and his group of ships, known as The Black Fleet, captured more than 114 ships and were the most successful of all the American privateers that wreaked havoc on the British. One American naval officer observed, “I have sailed with many brave men, but none the equal to this Captain Luke Ryan for skill and bravery.” Just as England began negotiations to end the American Revolution, Ryan was captured. Since he had never been granted American citizenship, he was tried as an Irish traitor to the Crown and condemned to death. Three appeals repeated the sentence, but on the fourth Ryan was pardoned. He tried to claim 70,000 pounds his French agent had been holding, but was told it had been stolen. Because he could not pay a doctor for inoculating his family against smallpox, Ryan was thrown in Debtor’s Prison where he died from an infected wound. He was only 39 years old. Sláinte!


September 19 – International Talk Like A Pirate Day Back in 1995, John Baur and Mark Summers were playing racquetball when Mark missed a shot and hollered “Aaargh!”. Naturally, they finished the game hurling volleys of pirate jargon at each other. It was such a hoot, they decided to dress like pirates and talk like pirates every year on September 19th. Friends joined in the fun, Pulitzer prize-winning writer Dave Barry published an article about the farce, and social media spread the word. Unlike real pirate life which was grim, this celebration is all in fun. There’s even a group of swashbuckling gals in Florida that call themselves Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O’Malley!


For a brief time after leaving port or capturing a well-provisioned ship, pirate grub was tasty, but it quickly turned terrible. Meat spoiled, fruits and vegetables rotted, and hardtack biscuits developed weevils. While vittles were fresh, the galley produced large platters of Salmagundi, a layered “salad” of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, easily grabbed with fingers or plucked from the plate with a dagger.

Ingredients & Method:

Chop into small chunks turtle meat, chicken, pork, beef, ham, pigeon, and fish. Marinate with spiced wine and roast. Add the meats to boiled chopped cabbage, anchovies, pickled herring, mango, hard-boiled eggs, palm-hearts, onions, olives, and grapes. Add pickled chopped vegetables and garlic, chili pepper, mustard, salt, and pepper. Serve in a mound upon a large dish. (Recipe: National Geographic Magazine – 8/19/2014, “Eat Like a Pirate” by Rebecca Rupp

Spiced Rum:

On long sea voyages, kegs of water quickly turned stagnant and slimy. That didn’t happen with alcohol. Thirst quenchers on a pirate ship were usually beer, wine and rum (often flavored with spices). Over-indulging could have dire consequences as when “Captain Jack” Rackham, Anne Bonny, and the whole crew were so intoxicated they were easily captured by authorities.

Ingredients & Method:

1 750 mL bottle decent 1 750 mL bottle decent aged rum 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise 3 whole cloves 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces 5 whole allspice berries 5 whole black peppercorns 1⁄2 piece star anise 1⁄8 tsp fresh-grated nutmeg 3 quarter-size pieces fresh ginger 2 3-inch strips fresh orange zest, white pith removed
Combine everything in a large jar and seal. Keep in a cool, dark place for a couple of days, shaking it once a day to distribute the ingredients. Start tasting it after 48 hours; adjust ingredients if necessary, and when it tastes just right (probably no longer than 4 days total), strain and bottle.(Recipe: Paul Clarke, serious ♦

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Sláinte! Music: The Food of Love Wed, 09 May 2018 05:20:48 +0000 Read more..]]> With Father’s Day in mind, our columnist writes about her own dad, “a true Irish bard.”


I live with a disc jockey. No, not like one you’d find in a dance club, not at all. My jock lives in my head. His repertoire is wide and deep, it ranges through all music genres, and I never know what tune he’s going to spin next.

Some days his pick is my first waking thought. Other times it’s inspired by one word that relates to something I’m doing, like “June Is Busting Out All Over,” the rollicking ode to the joys of early summer from Rogers & Hammerstein’s Broadway classic Carousel that started playing when I began writing this piece. I can make requests, but often he pre-empts me with his own choice, sometimes on a loop so it plays over and over again, until it makes me crazy.

This is not a new phenomena. My disc jockey has been serenading me all my life. I suspect that my parents’ love of music started it all. Both Mom and Dad sang, not professionally, nor for any recognition of any sort from anyone. They simply had “song” in their hearts. Mom’s melodies were mostly popular hits from the ’30s and ’40s, with now and then a nod to Gilbert & Sullivan. Dad, on the other hand, was a true Irish bard. While his catalogue ranged from Latin hymns chanted during a Catholic Mass and folk songs he’d learned from his Irish mother to ditties he’d picked up during his WWII Air Force service in Australia, Dad often told me that he especially loved music that told a story.

In old Ireland, the exploits of both mythical heroes and actual kings were all preserved for future generations through oral history. This was the realm of two highly respected personages: the seanchaís and the bards.

In the days of the High Kings, every clan had its resident seanchaí whose job it was to recount the group’s history, recite the Brehon Laws, and entertain gatherings with spellbinding performances of the old myths and legends. While most seanchaís were part of a chieftain’s inner circle, some traveled from village to village trading their services for food and shelter. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, William Butler Yeats, Lady

Gregory, and Padraic Colum, among other literary notables, spearheaded the Celtic Revival that reawakened interest in the seanchaís’ oral history tradition. Thanks to their dedication and perseverance, many of the old tales were written down, published and distributed globally so that Irish emigrants who had fled their homeland during the Great Hunger would not lose touch with their heritage.

George Francis Burns, the author’s father.

These days, numerous Irish storytelling festivals celebrate the seanchaís’ time-honored craft, with the most famous being the Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival (

Situated eight miles off the coast of west Cork, Cape Clear is Ireland’s southernmost inhabited island and its unique scenery is a stunning backdrop for one of the most renowned storytelling festivals in the world. Since 1994, would-be seanchaís have attended the festival’s storytelling workshops and guest international storytellers have enchanted audiences with their tales and diverse oratory styles. The 2018 event is scheduled for August 31 to September 2, so there’s still time to make arrangements to attend!

In pre-Christian Ireland, even before seanchaís came on the scene, Ireland’s past was kept alive by the bards. Those who aspired to that exalted profession attended colleges in Clogher, Armagh, Lismore, and Tamar where the highest level of achievement was to become an ollamh, who toiled for 12 years, memorizing more than 300 heroic sagas and poems, 250 primary legends, and 100 secondary stories, learning how to compose heraldic poetry, and mastering the art of playing the harp. When his studies were complete, the bard was awarded a symbolic cloak of crimson feathers and went out into the world singing the histories in his own way, adding to and shaping old tales in his own style, creating new mesmerizing poems and stories as the spirit moved him, and always accompanying his performances with the music of his harp.

Imagine what it must have been like to witness a masterful bard play the harp and sing in a great hall illuminated only by flickering candlelight or under the night sky on the edge of a battlefield beside a glowing campfire. The sound of his voice and music must have been hypnotic. It is told that by the power of his song, a bard could encourage warriors to win battles or cause crops to wither and die. Some, who fell into trances when singing, are said to have predicted future events. A bard’s praise was coveted and wooed with lavish largesse. Only a foolhardy chieftain would ever insult or ridicule a bard, as the transgressor’s payback would be the poet’s scathing satire that would spread through the region as fast as wagging tongues could carry it. So respected were these encyclopedic minstrels of Irish history, laws, myths, heroic sagas, and poetry that they were exempt from prosecution of all crimes except treason and murder. Only the High Kings were more revered.

The genius harpist Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1763) is considered by many to have been Ireland’s last bard and by some to have been Erin’s greatest composer. Blinded by smallpox at the age of 18, he devoted himself to creating music on his beloved harp. During life, O’Carolan journeyed all over

Ireland, and by the time he died, he had composed more than 200 melodies, many of which are still played by Ireland’s modern musicians.

When I was a child, my family owned a television and several radios, but we didn’t have a stereo system. Then one Christmas morning I discovered Santa had left a little RCA 45 rpm record player under the tree for me! Another package tagged “Love from Mom & Dad” contained a petite six-record set of classical music: Rimsky Korsakov’s magnificent Scheherazade symphonic suite. In retrospect I’ll bet it was Mom who made sure my first recorded music was a classical masterpiece, and Dad who chose one that told a story. There were no words, but like O’Carolan’s mystical melodies that could evoke visions of fairies and fabled heroes, the music carried me away to Scheherazade’s tales of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights imagining Sinbad sailing tempestuous seas and Aladdin soaring through the sky on his magic carpet. Proving to me for all time that music is best when it marries story, just like Dad always said. Sláinte!


Shakespeare called music “the food of love,” I know it’s true because every time I hear one of Dad’s favorite tunes, I remember how happy we both were when he shared each one with me. I hope you will enjoy this little “concert” featuring just a few of the many songs I grew up with.

Children’s Medley

The Clancy Brothers

This group of children’s songs was recorded at a Clancy Brothers concert Dad and I attended more than 50 years ago. From that night on, we called him “Shally” (after the snail in song #2) because all the ladies loved him.

The Wild Colonial Boy

The Clancy Brothers

The Clancy Brothers were Dad’s favorite Irish performers and he was delighted when they made their American debut singing his favorite ballad of an Irish immigrant who became Australia’s Robin Hood.

O’Carolan Medley

The Chieftains

Dad always said there was no sound sweeter than the Irish harp.

Barney Mc Shane

Irish Folk Song

Dad sang this often and never failed to give me a wink when he reached the line ‘“it’s not the tea from China but the real old mountain dew.”

Waltzing Matilda

Unofficial Australian National Anthem

Dad learned this tune when he was stationed in Australia during WWII. It and the U.S. Air Force Anthem “Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder” were the first songs I learned.

Abdul Abulbul Amir

Sung by Brendan O’Dowda

I always thought Dad made this song up until I researched this article and discovered it was penned in 1877 by the Irish songwriter Percy French to commemorate the Russo-Turkish War.

The Black Velvet Band

Sung by the legendary Luke Kelly

While Dad loved singing this 19th century ballad, he also loved reciting its epic 20th century American derivative, The Blue Velvet Band.

The Raggle Taggle Gypsies

Irish Folk Song

With his coal black hair, twinkling blue eyes and ability to tell fortunes with a deck of cards, Dad might easily have had some Irish gypsy blood running through his veins.


One tune Dad sang often, especially when we went crabbing at the crack of dawn on the Jersey shore, was “Molly Malone” (here sung by The Dubliners). While cockles aren’t easily found, mussels are… and this is THE best way to prepare them!

Steamed Mussels 

(personal recipe)

5          pounds black mussels (preferably from Prince Edward Island, Canada)

1          large onion, chopped

4          stalks celery, chopped

2          garlic clove, minced

1⁄2       cup olive oil

1          tbsp minced parsley

1          tbsp minced fresh basil

Fresh ground black pepper

1⁄2       cup white wine

2          cups canned tomatoes, chopped but not drained

Clean mussels under running water and tear off their “beards” (the black strings by which they attach themselves to their anchorages in the ocean). Discard any mussels that are broken, cracked, open, or don’t close when tapped. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot and add the onions, celery, garlic, herbs, and a few grindings of black pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat until the veggies are somewhat soft. Pour in the wine, raise the heat and boil until the wine is reduced by half. Stir in the chopped tomatoes with their juice, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Add the mussels, cover the pot again, and cook over high heat for 10-15 minutes until all the mussels have opened, stirring occasionally to make sure each one contacts the broth.

Serve in big bowls accompanied by crusty bread for dunking. Serves 4-6.


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Sláinte! Calling All Fools, Fairies, and Leprechauns Wed, 28 Feb 2018 06:08:57 +0000 Read more..]]> The history of April Fools’ Day and tricksters of folk mythology. 


April is full of surprises. When spring sunshine starts warming the earth, night can fall on a brown leafless landscape and day break to green grass and golden flowers splashing the garden with color. A balmy day can suddenly turn cold, gray, and rainy. As the weather capriciously switches from sunshine to storm, Mother Nature seems to be playing a colossal joke on us. How appropriate then, that April opens with a celebration given to light-hearted jesting called All Fools’ Day.

Some scholars say that April’s name derives from the Latin aperire, meaning “to open,” alluding to buds opening on trees and flowers. Others point out that the Romans named months after divinities, and because most animals mate in the spring, April was sacred to Venus, the Roman goddess of love. This leads some scholars to suggest that the Romans named the month Aphrilis after the goddess’s Greek equivalent, Aphrodite. During the Veneralia festival on the first of the month, lovers ordered each other to perform senseless tasks to prove that love, which makes fools of both commoners and kings, rules over logic. The Greek spring festival of Cerealia may be the origin of “the fool’s errand,” as it recalls how the goddess Ceres fruitlessly followed the echo of her daughter’s scream when the girl was abducted by the god of the Underworld.

The modern tradition of April Fooling probably began in France. The Roman calendar had marked January 1 as the beginning of the new year long before Christ’s birth, but the medieval Church chose March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, as its new year celebration. Exactly nine months before Christmas, the day commemorated the angel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear a son.

Like many festivals of the middle ages, the Church’s New Year was celebrated for a week. On the final day, April 1, people exchanged gifts and best wishes for the coming months. In 1564, Charles IX of France decreed his nation would return to the Roman tradition of starting the year on January 1st. But habits die hard, and the French were slow to accept the change. Eventually, jokers began making fun of the old ways by sending tongue-in-cheek “gifts” on April 1.

A traditional leprechaun in red coat and breeches, one of Ireland’s most notorious tricksters. (Photo: Sybil Shearin / Children Story Tales)

Many of Earth’s ethnic groups have shown a fascination with gullibility, trickery, and customs of fooling people. The Norse pantheon includes Loki, the god of deceit whose meddling caused trouble for gods and humans alike. In Africa, the Ghanaians’ glib Anansi the spider can always talk himself out of the mischief he causes. In Hopi myths, Kokopelli’s enchanting flute music can cause women to suddenly be with child. The playful Hawaiian Menehune enjoy dancing and singing, but if humans approach, vanish instantly. When it comes to belief in mischievous sprites, however, Ireland outdoes all cultures, hands down.

Scattered about the island stand numerous grassy raths (hills) that legend holds are home to Ireland’s fairy folk, the magical Tuatha Dé Danann. In Lebor Gabala (The Book of Invasions, an oral history transcribed at the turn of the 11th century), it is recorded that long ago when the Tuatha Dé Danann arrived, they encountered an earlier Celtic population, the Fir Bolg, whom they defeated at the Battle of Moytura, on the Galway-Mayo border. Despite their otherworldly powers, the Danann were conquered by the next wave of invaders – the Milesians. To maintain peace, it was agreed that the Milesians would rule above ground and the Danann would live below the green hills, emerging only at night to frolic and make mischief by the light of the moon.

As time wore on, yet another group arrived in Ireland – mortal men and women. Who was the butt of their tricks mattered not a whit to the fairy folk, who turned to plaguing the newcomers by rotting their crops, sickening their cattle, and replacing babies in their cradles with logs. The cruelest joke was played on any hapless man who dared to travel alone after sunset and chanced upon a fairy troop cavorting in the moonlight. After being tricked into dancing with the Fairy Queen until dawn, the foolish fellow was carried off to live with the fairies forever. In the rare case when the captive escaped and returned to his village, he found that all the townspeople had grown old while he had remained young under a fairy spell.

Meat loaf “cake.” (Photo: Brit+Co)

The most famous Irish fairy is the leprechaun, a word commonly thought to derive from the Irish phrase leith brágan, meaning “half-shoe.” In Irish Wonders, published in 1888, D.R. McAnnally writes, “The Leprechaun is about three feet tall, dressed in a little red jacket and red breeches with buckles at the knee, grey stockings and a cocked hat over a little, old withered face.” In most stories he is portrayed mending a single shoe that its fairy owner wore thin by dancing (hence “half-shoe”). According to the illustrious Irish writer W.B. Yeats, leprechauns grow very rich from making shoes and have crocks of gold buried in secret spots around the island.

Many mortals have tried to catch a leprechaun and force him to reveal the hiding place of his riches, but they have all been outwitted by the wily fairy. In one tale, a country youth named Tom Fitzpatrick followed a tap-tap-tapping sound until he spied a leprechaun repairing a tiny shoe, whereupon he grabbed the fairy and demanded to know the location of his treasure trove. The leprechaun moaned and groaned and denied he possessed any wealth at all, but Tom persisted until the little cobbler led him through a stone-filled field to one particular rock. “Dig there,” wailed the leprechaun, “and you will find my gold.” Since Tom didn’t have a shovel, he tied his neckerchief around the rock and made the fairy promise to leave it in place while he retrieved the tool from home. Alas, when Tom returned, he discovered that the leprechaun had tied an identical scarf around every stone in the field.

According to my Dublin-born pal Paul, these days the tapping any Irish family hears outside their door on the evening of April 1 is more likely a knick-knack prank played by a naughty child who runs off laughing just as the door is opened. A more innocent joke can be played at the dinner table by serving a meal that isn’t at all what it seems to be. Then you can be the one giggling “April fool!” Sláinte! ♦



Meat Loaf “Cake” (personal recipe)

Note: Just before serving, announce “Tonight we’re having cake for dinner!” When the “cake” is cut into serving wedges revealing the ruse, cry “April fool!”


2          lbs lean ground beef

3          large eggs

1          cup breadcrumbs

2⁄3       cup sliced green onion

1⁄2       cup milk

1⁄2       cup chopped fresh parsley

2          large garlic cloves, minced

2          tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1          teaspoon salt

1⁄4       teaspoon black pepper

1          (12 ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and patted dry

31⁄2     cups hot mashed potatoes

8          cherry tomatoes, stems removed

Preparing the Meat Loaf

Preheat oven to 375° F. In a large bowl, combine ground beef, eggs, bread crumbs, green onions, milk, parsley, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper just until blended.

Divide mixture between two 8-inch round lightly greased cake pans, patting to cover pans evenly and make level.

Bake meat loaves until juices run clear when meat is pierced with a fork, or meat loaves register 170° F on a meat thermometer, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove pans from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and let stand for 10 minutes.

Decorating the Meat Loaf

Pour off juices from pans. Invert one meat loaf onto a flat serving plate. Using a small sharp knife, trim red peppers so they lie flat. Spread 1 cup of mashed potatoes over top of meat loaf and top with a single layer of roasted red peppers.

Invert second meat loaf onto red pepper layer. Using a spatula, smoothly spread remaining mashed potatoes over top and sides of meat loaf like icing on a cake.

Place cherry tomatoes, stem-ends down, in a ring around top of meat loaf “cake” to resemble cherries. Serve immediately. Serves 6-8.

Mock Apple Pie (personal recipe)

Note: Best served warm accompanied with vanilla ice cream.


2          cups water

2⁄3       cup white sugar

2          teaspoons cream of tartar

30        buttery round crackers

1⁄2       teaspoon ground cinnamon

1          tablespoon lemon juice

1          recipe pastry for a 9-inch single crust pie

1          cup crushed buttery round crackers

1⁄2       cup packed brown sugar

1⁄2       teaspoon ground cinnamon

1⁄3       cup butter, melted


Preheat oven to 425° F. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine water, sugar, and cream of tartar. Bring to boil.

Drop in whole crackers and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour mixture into pie shell and sprinkle with cinnamon and lemon juice.

Mix together crushed crackers, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter. Sprinkle over filling.

Bake for 15 minutes and reduce heat to 375° F and continue to bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer until crumbs are lightly browned. Best served warm.

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Sláinte! Flipping Over Pancake Tuesday Mon, 29 Jan 2018 06:25:44 +0000 Read more..]]> Once the winter holiday feasting frenzy ends, hundreds of ads bombard us with ways to lose weight. There is certainly a time to count calories, but then there is Fat Tuesday. Dieters beware. The two will never go together any better than oil and water. As the final day before Lent, Fat Tuesday has for almost two-thousand years been cause to consume high-calorie, high-cholesterol rich food.

When Christianity was new, the faithful observed a “black fast” from Good Friday to Easter. No one ate anything at all. As time passed, people’s piety waned and church leaders sought a way to restore their devotion. Late in the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great extended the pre-Easter fast to 40 days, excluding Sundays. It was the year’s most solemn period. Believers were directed to repent their sins and purify themselves in mind and body to prepare for Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

The initial day of the long fast has always been a Wednesday. To evidence its significance, persons who had committed grievous sin or scandal were given public penance. They arrived at church barefoot, wearing sackcloth, and the bishop marked their foreheads with ashes, a visible display of contrition. For 40 days these penitents lived apart from their families, doing good works and praying for forgiveness. They were forbidden to wear shoes, bathe, converse with others or sleep in a bed. In the 11th century, this day of atonement was officially titled Ash Wednesday.

Pope Gregory also mandated the Lenten food restrictions: “We abstain from flesh meat and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, [and] eggs.” Fasting laws were so strict that the forbidden foods could not even be stored inside one’s house! For more than a thousand years, his ruling was rigidly followed throughout Christendom. On Ash Wednesday, the fasting and austerity would begin, but the evening preceding it was a time for feasting and making merry.

Irish pancakes are traditionally served rolled, with lemon and powdered sugar.
(Photo: Irish American Mom)

Piety aside, there was a practical aspect to the eating binge brought on by the Pope’s dictum. Foods that were banned during Lent had to be used up or they would spoil. The very last day before Ash Wednesday became known as Fat Tuesday and many nations developed traditions of serving exceptionally rich ritual foods then.

In Germany, fried Fastnacht doughnuts were filled with jam and dusted with sugar. Norwegians ate frosted Fastelavnsboller muffins stuffed with whipped cream. Greeks ate cheese phyllo pies called tyropita and in Italy, it was so important to eat pork that people ripped down their doors and sold them just to obtain it! Russia’s Fat Tuesday was the most decadent: everyone ate copious amounts of small blini – pancakes drenched in melted butter and topped with sour cream and caviar!

In Ireland, the last day before Lent is known as Shrove Tuesday for the custom of confessing one’s sins so as to approach Lent with proper contriteness. In days past, once the church bells began ringing everyone stopped what they were doing and ran off to be shriven. Then, washed clean of sin, the penitents returned home for the traditional Irish Fat Tuesday indulgence – pancakes!

Mind you, Irish Shrove Tuesday pancakes are nothing like the doughy circles swimming in maple syrup one would find at IHOP or McDonald’s. The Normans, who conquered Britain in 1066. and subsequently settled in Ireland as well, introduced the islanders to French foodways, including thin pancake-like crepes. Made from a simple milk-eggs-flour-butter batter, fried quickly in a hot buttered pan, and drizzled with butter, honey and lemon, these Norman treats were much tastier than the heavier local version, and people gobbled them up in such vast quantities that Shrove Tuesday became known simply as Pancake Tuesday.

Cooking the pancake was a tricky business. After the bottom had turned golden brown, the pancake was flipped to cook on the other side. This may sound simple, but proper flipping required tossing the pancake into the air and catching it in the pan before it hit the ground! The flipper’s skill was, of course, measured by how high the pancake flew.

Irish women participate in a Shrove Tuesday pancake race, c. 1955. (Photo:

As with other religious celebrations, over the years Pancake Tuesday acquired its own assortment of traditions. “Shroving” was a custom in which children performed favorite songs or recited poetry in exchange for food or money. A less innocent custom was “Lent crocking” in which children traveled house to house asking for pancakes. If none were forthcoming, they threw broken crockery at the door!

The day spawned a few superstitions as well. One reverent belief claimed that the first three cooked pancakes were sacred and represented the Holy Trinity. Each one was marked with a cross, sprinkled with salt to ward off evil spirits, and then set aside to bless the home. Even the pancake recipe had liturgical significance and represented the four pillars of Christian faith: eggs for creation, flour as the mainstay of the human diet, salt for wholesomeness, and milk for purity.

Another more worldly concept was of particular interest to a family’s unmarried daughters. Since marriages were not allowed to be performed during Lent, matchmakers tried mightily to get the young ladies who sought their service engaged to suitable young men before Ash Wednesday. Girls who lucked out tried to increase the possibility of getting married within the year by flipping their household’s first pancake. If their flips were perfect, their chances were good; if their pancakes landed on the ground instead of in the pan it was unlikely that the girls would find husbands any time soon.

While women usually prepared all the family meals, flipping pancakes was not an exclusively female performance. It was, and still is, a fun challenge for everyone attending to participate in, and a prize is sometimes awarded to the person who can flip the pancake the highest into the air and neatly catch it in the frying pan to finish cooking, In these modern times, the old customs and superstitions may have faded, but the appetite for Pancake Tuesday’s tasty treats is as strong as ever. On the day before Ash Wednesday, millions of pancakes will be sprinkled with sugar, rolled up, drizzled with lemon, and eaten with gusto, not only in Ireland, but in homes all around the globe wherever the descendants of Irish emigrants are found. And I’m betting your home will be one of them! Sláinte! ♦


Pancake Tuesday Pancakes

(personal recipe)

1          cup self-rising flour

1          pinch of salt

2          large eggs, lightly beaten

1⁄2       cup whole milk

1⁄3       cup water

4          tablespoons butter, melted

Sift the flour and salt into a medium size mixing bowl and make a well in the center.

Add the eggs, milk, and melted butter and whisk until well combined. Slowly add the water and continue to whisk until the batter is thin and free of lumps.

Melt some butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. When it bubbles, add a half-cup of batter to the pan. Lift the pan and tilt it until the batter has spread to the edges. Return the pan to the heat and let the pancake cook undisturbed. When the bottom is lightly toasted, flip the pancake (use a spatula or, if you’re feeling daring, flip the pancake in the air old-school style) and cook until the second side turns a golden color.

Sprinkle the pancake with granulated sugar, then roll it up like a cigar. Place the rolled pancake on a plate and put it in a warm oven (200º F).

Continue making more pancakes the same way until all the batter has been used. Serve immediately.

Provide your pancake eaters with lemon wedges to drizzle on their pancakes to their preferred tartness. Serves 4.

Self-rising Flour

(personal recipe)

Not all pantries stock self-rising flour, but it’s easy to make and keep on hand to use as needed.

2          cups all-purpose flour

1          teaspoon salt

11⁄2     teaspoons baking powder (do NOT use baking soda)

Whisk everything together. Store in a sealed plastic container until ready to use. Keeps 4-6 months.


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Sláinte! The Gentleman Who Pays the Rent Sun, 01 Oct 2017 05:22:39 +0000 Read more..]]> Edythe Preet’s first of a two-part series on the Irish pig.

Whenever I travel to a place I have visited before, the first thing I do is make a beeline for a foodie treat found only there. In Hawaii, it’s Spam musubi, a sushi-like morsel of seaweed, rice and WWII’s famous canned meat. In Italy, it’s a slice of pepperoni pizza. In China, it’s a fluffy barbecued pork dumpling. In Ireland, as soon as I clear customs, I head for a snack vendor selling freshly baked sausage rolls.

Clearly, pork is a primary ingredient in my favorite international treats. Not surprising, as pork dishes top the list of popular foods in many nations. And Ireland is no exception Pork has been a mainstay of the Irish diet for more than 7,000 years.

At the world’s oldest farming community, Ceide Fields (County Mayo) and enigmatic Newgrange (County Meath), excavations revealing copious animal bones have confirmed that cattle and pigs were principal foods for the Neolithic Irish, with pig bones far outnumbering cattle.

Ireland’s first pigs were actually wild boars that crossed to the island via a land bridge from Europe just as early humans did. These fierce tusked animals were afraid of nothing. In the Fenian tale “The Pursuit of Diarmaid and Grainne,” a wild boar caused the death of the hero Diarmaid atop craggy Ben Bulben (County Sligo).

In the old days a wild boar hunt proved a man’s valor and social rank as well. At the post-hunt feast, a leg was served to the king, a haunch to the queen, and the most valiant warrior received the succulent carath mhir, the “champion’s share.” Sometimes hunt fever extended into the meal. In the 9th century tale “Mac Datho’s Pig,” Cet mac Matach won supremacy over all Ireland by challenging the gathered men to “endure battle with me, or leave the pig for me to divide!”

Once Ireland’s ancient people learned to farm, they domesticated cattle, sheep and pigs. Cattle provided meat, but were even more valuable for a continuous supply of dairy products. Sheep were prized for their meat and also their wool that was spun and woven into blankets and clothing. Both cattle and sheep were grazing animals and the herds were moved between pastures by cowherds and shepherds. Pigs, on the other hand, were raised primarily for meat, required little care and could eat almost anything. They foraged the vast Irish woodlands and from Lughnasa (August) to Samhain (November) feasted on beechnuts, acorns, hazelnuts, and chestnuts – tree foods that were plentiful in early autumn.

Even though pigs were allowed to roam somewhat freely, left completely unguarded their “rooting” behavior could easily destroy farmland. The seventh century Brehon Laws frequently mention pigs. The damage they could cause was the worst of all farm animals and “for the trespass of a large pig in a growing field, the fine was one sack of wheat.” If pigs tore up grazing land, the laws required they must be penned “until two horses could graze without getting mud on their teeth”. The Brehon Laws didn’t just stipulate fines that would be imposed if swine went walk-about and misbehaved; they also required pigs to be “kept in fenced pens at night.”

Like cattle, the number of pigs a chieftain owned represented a significant part of the royal assets. By preventing the pigs in his charge from straying too far afield and rounding them up at slaughter time, the swineherd guarded his lord’s wealth and regional borders. Thus the position of swineherd was a very important job, requiring not only herding, hunting and trapping skills, but also bravery and cleverness, as semi-wild swine turned savage when cornered.

While Irish kings owned many pigs, having just one or two was key to survival for commoners. Pork was the usual protein served at those infrequent times when meat appeared on an impoverished laborer’s table. Plus, a sow’s offspring and a farm’s pork products could be sold at village markets and were acceptable payment for living on and cultivating a landholder’s property. For that reason, the pig came to be known as “the gentleman who pays the rent.”

Due to the importance a pig had in a tenant farmer’s revenue stream, keeping the “gentleman” safe was vital. It was common for the family pig to occupy a cozy straw-strewn corner by the hearth inside the house, much like the family dog. Another good reason for having one’s pig live indoors was the fact that landowners often levied extra tax on an outdoor pig sty claiming it was an additional structure.

Tending the family pig was women’s work. While a pig gorged in early autumn on foraged acorns and other nuts, throughout the year women fed their charges on meal preparation scraps plus buttermilk from the family cow. When the potato arrived in Ireland and every cottage planted a potato plot, women supplemented their pig’s food with leavings from cooking the daily spuds. Such a healthy diet guaranteed pigs would be fat and meaty by slaughtering time on November 11, St. Martin’s Day.

A County Kerry folktale explains how St. Martin “invented” the pig. Long ago, the saint asked a farmer what animal ate the chaff from his grain harvest. The man replied “none,” because he only had cattle and they wouldn’t touch the stuff. So, St. Martin gave a serving-girl some fat to put under a tub. Next day when the tub was lifted, to everyone’s amazement, there lay a sow and twelve piglets!

Slaughtering a pig was men’s work. Whether the local butcher or the man of the house performed the task, it was a strenuous bloody job. But in rural Ireland slaughtering a pig was an autumn ritual that would fill larders for a while, and the feast that followed the work was a joyous social occasion. For that night, at least, every belly would be full.

A 1935 Irish half penny depicting a sow with piglets.

The Boar and Sow in Irish Mythology

In ancient Celtic mythology, the boar represented fighting spirit, bravery, command, and control. A challenge to all hunters, this creature was powerful, vicious, hard to kill, and a fearless fighter that refused to give up even when facing a tougher opponent. As such, bronze Celtic battle horns were often fashioned in the shape of a boar, and their sound infused warriors with strength, energy and protection from harm.

In contrast, the sow, who always bore large litters of piglets, was revered as a mother-provider figure and represented fertility, sustenance, prosperity, and abundance. Saint Brigid, the Irish paragon of hospitality and generosity, is said to have kept a large breeding sow at her abbey. In medieval illustrated manuscripts, sows are often depicted with their piglets and beechnuts, which the druids considered sacred.

The boar was also an iconic Celtic archetype of overcoming death. In addition to their method of seeking food by digging into earth, the mythological entrance to the Underworld, wild pigs fed and fattened on the nuts of trees that, due to the way they shed their leaves in winter and grew new ones in spring, demonstrated the divine forces of rebirth. In this context, swineherds, who watched over the sacred pigs, were mystical links between the real world and the supernatural.

Prior to his escape from slavery in Ireland and introduction to Christian beliefs in Europe, Saint Patrick had served as a swineherd herding sheep and pigs. The 14th century Book of Rights contains a very old story called “Senchas Fagbala Caisil,” “The Founding of Cashel,” that tells how two swineherds had a vision that prophesied Patrick would return to Ireland and make Cashel the center of Irish Christianity: “While masting their swine… Durdru, swineherd of the king of Éle, and Cularán, swineherd of the king of  Múscraige… beheld a form as bright as the sun… and it said: ‘A good man shall rule over lofty and venerable Cashel in the name of the Father and of the Son of the Virgin with the grace of the Holy Ghost’.”

Sláinte! ♦

Photo: Patricia Harty


Roast Pork Loin 

1          4-pound pork loin

   Salt & pepper

1          cup apple juice or cider

Preheat oven to 350 F. Rub the loin with salt and pepper. Place fat side up on a rack in an uncovered roasting pan. Roast approximately 2 1/2 hours (35-45 min. per pound), until a meat thermometer registers 185 F when inserted into the thickest part. Remove the roast to a serving platter.

Pour off the fat in the roasting pan. Add apple juice or cider to the pan and bring to a boil. Thicken, if desired, with a little flour mixed with water. Pour into a gravy boat and serve with the meat. Serves six.

Note: In ancient times, a haunch of pork would be roasted over an open fire. Ovens and meat thermometers guarantee a perfect meal.

(Personal recipe)

Chunky Applesauce 

6          large sweet apples (Gala are best) peeled, cored and cut into chunks

1          cup water

Place apple chunks and water in a stainless steel or enamel soup pot. Cover pot with a lid. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until apples are soft. Mash, but leave chunky. If there is too much liquid, remove lid and cook until some of the liquid has evaporated. Serve with roast pork. Serves six.

(Personal recipe)

This article was originally published in the October / November 2017 issue of Irish America.

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Sláinte! All Hail the Humble Spud Tue, 01 Aug 2017 06:18:37 +0000 Read more..]]> Edythe Preet writes about Ireland’s relationship with its signature crop.


Back in first grade, my “see Spot run” primer told how Dick and Jane grew potatoes in their backyard and roasted them in an autumn leaf bonfire. If those kids can do that, I thought, so can I. Mom supplied a few spuds that had begun to sprout “eyes,” and we buried them in a skimpy strip of dirt edging our row-house driveway. Impatiently, as summer dragged on, I watched my precious potato vine overflow onto the cement.

When the leaves on our neighborhood trees began turning autumn colors and the lumpy dirt suggested there might actually be some potatoes hiding under the soil, a little digging yielded a modest mound of petite spuds. The joy of harvesting was only minimally diminished when Mom drew the line at roasting my crop under a pile of leaves in the city street, and baked them in the oven along with a celebratory roast. At dinner that night, Dad swore they were the best taters he had ever tasted, and I went to bed dreaming of the piles of spuds I would harvest the following year, which of course never happened.

In the intervening decades, I have eaten potatoes boiled, broiled, baked, roasted, fried, mashed, and hashed. Hot and cold, crisp and fluffy, plain and embellished, jackets on and jackets off. I make potato salad infrequently, because after one bite I have to employ strict self-discipline not to eat the whole bowlful. The same is true for potatoes au gratin, potatoes roasted with garlic and rosemary, or even plain old mashed potatoes and gravy. Mildly put, I am a potato addict.

Some of the blame can be ascribed to my Irish heritage. Ask anyone where potatoes were first grown and odds are you’ll be told, “Ireland.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Potatoes were unknown to the European palate until the discovery of the New World. As the Conquistadors marched through South America pillaging ancient civilizations for treasure, the foods they discovered proved far more valuable than the gold they sought. From the holds of Spanish galleons, potatoes found their way to farms and gardens all over Europe.

There are Irish folk tales of potatoes washing ashore from wrecks of the Spanish armada that stalked the British seas during the reign of Elizabeth I. Local myth tells that Sir Francis Drake brought the South American tubers back from an expedition in 1586 and gave some seedlings to his friend, Sir Walter Raleigh, who planted them at his estate in Youghall, County Cork.

The new vegetable quickly became a staple crop of Ireland’s agricultural economy. Potatoes were a godsend. They were easy to grow, requiring only an initial planting with minimal tending. They were easy to cook, needing only a pot and a fire. And they were abundant. Supplemented with plenty of fresh whole milk, greens, and a bit of meat, fish or eggs, a good potato harvest meant that the average farm family had ready access to a nutritious diet.

For nearly 200 years, the ancient South American plant nourished Ireland’s poor. Then disaster struck. In the warm wet summer of 1845, a fungus attacked the potato crop, and as winds carried the invisible spores from county to county, green fields turned black in days and the tubers rotted. Blights had troubled local areas before, notably Mayo in 1831 and Donegal in 1836, but this time the infestation was national. Again, in 1846 tragedy descended. More than two-thirds of the harvest rotted, and in some western areas the crop was lost completely. Blight struck again in 1849 and 1851.

With the main food source for people and livestock destroyed five times in seven years, Ireland was devastated. One and a half million people died of starvation, cholera, and famine fever. Another million emigrated. In the following decades, the tide of emigration swelled to a flood as millions more fled the specter of starvation. More than one million Irish immigrants came to the United States, bringing with them their love for spuds.

Initially, Americans were suspicious of potatoes as they belong to the botanical nightshade family that includes many poisonous plants. While it’s true that the potato plant’s leaves are toxic, the tubers are perfectly safe for consumption. Even so, most Americans chose to feed spuds to their pigs rather than serve them at the family dinner table. But the Irish knew a good thing when they bit into it, and when they began arriving by the boatload, the tide of American anti-potato-ism started to shift. Today, potatoes are planted in more than 1.3 million acres across 35 states, with an annual yield of nearly half a billion bushels. Considering that several dozen potatoes are contained in every bushel, the actual yearly U.S. spud count is in the trillions. While Ireland’s size naturally limits the total tonnage of its crop, the Irish are among the world’s heartiest potato-eaters with average annual consumption weighing in at a hefty 319 pounds per person.

Ireland and the United States are not the only countries where spuds have taken firm dietary root. In that potatoes are fat and cholesterol free, and one serving of a 5.3 ounce, medium potato provides 45 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, 21 percent of the daily value for potassium, three grams of fiber, and only 100 calories, spuds pack an impressive nutritional punch. Add to that the success with which they are cultivated and it’s easy to see how the potato has become a vital food staple all over the world. In fact, the production of potatoes is growing faster than that of any food crop except for wheat.

Until the early 1990s, most potatoes were grown and consumed in Europe, North America, and countries of the former Soviet Union. Since then, there has been a dramatic increase in potato production and demand in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where output rose from less than 30 million tons in the early 1960s to more than 165 million tons in 2007. In 2005, for the first time, the developing world’s potato production exceeded that of the developed world. China is now the biggest potato producer.

Everywhere, people have discovered the wisdom of the time-honored Irish proverb: “Be eating one potato, peeling a second, have a third in your fist, and your eye on a fourth.” I’ve even planted a patch of spuds again. And when they’re harvested, I’ll be cooking them up in an international rainbow of styles, in addition, of course, to colcannon and champ. Sláinte! ♦


Potato Curry

4          large potatoes, peeled and cubed

2          spring onions, minced

2          cloves garlic

1⁄2       inch piece fresh ginger, peeled

1          green chili, seeded and minced

2          tablespoons butter

2          large tomatoes, chopped

1          small cinnamon stick, broken

1⁄2       teaspoon mustard seeds

1          tablespoon garam masala

1          cardamom pod, opened

1⁄3       cup plain yoghurt

Boil the potatoes in water until just tender, then drain. Grind the spring onions, garlic, ginger, and chili to a paste and cook in the butter for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, cinnamon, mustard seeds, garam masala, and cardamom and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add the yoghurt and cook to a thick sauce. Add the potatoes and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

(Personal recipe)

Hawaiian Potato Salad

4          large red potatoes, unpeeled and cubed

2          large carrots, peeled and cubed

1⁄2       medium red onion, minced

1          cup frozen peas, defrosted

1⁄2       pound lobster meat, shredded

1⁄4       cup mayonnaise

1          tablespoon lemon juice

salt & pepper

Boil the potatoes and carrots in water until just tender, then drain and combine with onion, peas, and lobster meat. Add mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Chill until ready to eat. Makes 4-6 servings.

NOTE: Any of the ingredients can be increased to taste.

(Personal recipe)

Left-Over Baked Potato Pan Fry

2          left-over chilled baked potatoes

1          green bell pepper, seeded and cut in chunks

1          red bell pepper, seeded and cut in chunks

1          onion, sliced medium thick

2          tablespoons butter

salt & pepper

Cut baked potatoes into bite-size chunks – do not remove skins. Melt butter in a heavy frying pan and sauté peppers and onion until slightly wilted. Add potato chunks and continue frying, stirring frequently and scraping any browned bits into the mix, until potatoes are browned and vegetables are fully cooked. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with fried or scrambled eggs. Makes 4 servings.

(Personal recipe)

Mom’s Potatoes Au Gratin

2          large baking potatoes, peeled



salt & pepper

­milk (approximately 2 cups)

Slice potatoes very thin. Layer potato slices in a small casserole, dusting each layer with flour, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and small bits of butter. When casserole is full, pour in milk to cover. Bake in a 350ºF oven for approximately 45 minutes or until top is nicely browned and a knife inserted into the potatoes indicates they are cooked tender. Makes 4 servings.

(Personal recipe)

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