St. Patrick's Day
By John Havel
Ask someone, especially a North American, who hasnt lived or
visited Ireland about what Irish food is like, and nine times out
of ten, as they grope for answers, theyll mention corned beef and
cabbage. However, investigation shows that, while corned beef and
cabbage is sometimes eaten there, its probably eaten a lot less than
most people imagine: and it's definitely not the Irish national dish.
To be sure, cattle were kept there from very early times, but they
were kept mostly for their milk. From the earliest historical times,
for routine eating, pork was always the favorite. Those who did eat
beef, tended to eat it fresh: corned beef surfaces in writings of
the late 1600's as a specialty, a costly delicacy (expensive because
of the salt) made to be eaten at Easter, and sometimes at Hallowe'en.
Many Irish people got their first taste of beef when they emigrated
to America or Canada - where both salt and meat were cheaper. There,
when they got beef, the emigrants tended to treat it the same way
they would have treated a "bacon joint" at home in Ireland. They
soaked the salt beef to draw off the excess salt, then braised or
boiled it with cabbage, and served it in its own juices with only
minimal spicing (a bay leaf or so, perhaps, and some pepper).
Irish stew is an extremely old Irish traditional meal that is still
very common to this day in Ireland and is usually made on a Saturday
or a damp cold day to help heat up the body. My grandmother made it
any time of the year (90 degree days in August), so when everyone
else is sweltering in the "dog days of summer", we would jokingly
call it "lamb stew weather".
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