It’s the one day each year when it’s easier being green, and eating cabbage actually sounds good for dinner.Well, cabbage with a hefty serving of corned beef.Whether you eat corned beef and cabbage with your sweet Irish “mam” on Monday or drive through McDonald’s golden arches for a celebratory Shamrock Shake, Americans (and “Irish”-I-were-Irish Americans) are reminded that our favorite St. Patrick’s Day foods are what keep traditions alive and memories on the table.So, with good food may your stomach fill, and may your culinary palate be expanded still — particularly with recipes handed down from the women of the Emerald Isle.More than 100 “tried-and-true family recipes” were compiled by Irish women of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA) for the just-released Irish Country Cooking (Sterling Epicure, $24.95).The ICA was founded in 1910; 700 local guilds later, the ICA now has more Irish mother and grandmother members than ever before, and the recipes compiled in the cookbook are the very best from their clans. Irish Country Cooking features classic Irish comfort foods, such as brown soda bread and braised Derrynaflan brisket, and newer recipes with a little international flair, such as chilled avocado soup and fragrant chicken curry. The book comes with a side order of history, too. Some of the recipes offer charming details on how the women, or the generations of women before them, prepared the dishes for their families. We chatted recently with ICA national president Liz Wall about which recipes she’s most excited to share with Americans. Why did you and your co-authors compile these recipes?A variety of local cookbooks have been been written by individual ICA guilds and their members over the course of our 104-year history. These early books were passed down from one generation to the next; I’m lucky enough to have my own copy of a very well-used and well-loved cookery book from 1960. My own mother died before I was old enough to ask her questions about cooking, so I used this book as a link to the mothers and sisters who have gone before me. Is there a recipe you feel particularly attached to?The apple tart recipe because it’s the one my mother used to make. My mother ran the local grocery shop in Bunclody before she got married, and returned to work after she was married, which was very unusual in Ireland at the time. She worked all the way up to my birth and went back to work after each of her three children were born. She was my inspiration, as she was a true feminist, and the shop she ran sold everything from “a needle to an anchor,” as we would say. What’s the oldest recipe?I believe that would be the Irish stew. The recipe in the book is from my fellow officer Mary Harrahill, who is our national treasurer. She mentions that Irish stew used to be based on mutton and cooked for hours to tenderize, but today’s stew usually is made with lamb and needs less time to cook. Are there any fool-proof recipes?Our recipe for brown soda bread is really easy to make. The recipe in our book is by our member Connie McEvoy, and she’s made it since the age of 12 from her grandmother’s recipe. Or how about recipes that would be easy to make with little lads and lassies?There are a couple of easy recipes in our cookbook, but the one that stands out in my mind, because some of my colleagues’ children have made it, is the “cake in a mug” recipe. We describe it as a “quick-fix treat” that’s a big hit with children and also a delicious dessert for somebody who lives alone but fancies a bit of chocolate heaven. Sounds divine. Also, I’m curious about corned beef and cabbage. It’s believed Irish Catholics in New York were the first to make it, but do you make it across the pond?Corned beef is cooked in Ireland. I have only tried to make it once, though. It wouldn’t be something cooked regularly as we would be more familiar with bacon and cabbage. That’s the traditional dish for an Irish St. Patrick’s Day meal, which I always serve with a nice parsley sauce. How will you celebrate this St. Patrick’s Day?In my house, the main focus of St. Patrick’s Day is spending time with my family and neighbors. When my girls were very young, they were usually in the parade in our local town with all their friends from school. After the parade, we and all our neighbors would meet in the local pub and spend quality time together. Now that the girls are in college, we still all still meet up with all our neighbors and old friends to spend the day together. And what’s for supper?Traditionally baked Irish ham with cabbage, all topped off with a lovely parsley sauce. Do you know anything about how Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?We know that Americans are very enthusiastic about our national holiday and that you can even turn whole rivers green. Oh, yes. That does happen here. And are you familiar with Texas-style cooking at all?What I know about Texan-style cooking is that pecan pie is a very well-loved delicacy in your state. … I am also familiar with Tex-Mex, but I don’t suppose that is really Texan-style cooking, more Mexican cooking. I know barbecues are very popular in Texas. We wish that we had weather here in Ireland to have as many barbecues as you do. Whenever I aim to have one, the rain comes down.Here are a few favorite traditional recipes from Irish Country Cooking. Note that the original measurement standards and descriptions from the cookbook were kept for authenticity. To convert these measurements to American standards, find a free conversion tool online, such as the ones on Cooks.com and Food.com.
Colcannon is a traditional Irish side that every region seems to do a little differently. Claire Ann McDonnell of Wicklow says she makes her cheesy version of colcannon regularly because it’s been popular with friends and it’s easy to make from leftovers in the fridge.
675 grams (1 1/2 pounds) potatoes, peeled and quartered
450 grams (1 pound) green cabbage, shredded
50 grams (2 ounces) butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese
6 streaky rashers (strips of bacon; optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees..
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and simmer the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. In another pot of boiling water, simmer the shredded cabbage for 10 minutes and drain well.
3. Drain the potatoes once cooked, and mash well with butter. Add the cabbage and onion and season to taste.
4. Divide among six oven-proof ramekin dishes. Lightly score the top of each so it crisps up nicely and sprinkle with grated cheese. Transfer to preheated oven and cook for 20 minutes until it is golden.
5. Meanwhile preheat a grill to hot and cook the streaky rashers until crispy. Cut each in half and serve the individual ramekins garnished with two half-slices each.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 193 calories, 9 grams fat, 26 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 23 milligrams cholesterol, 114 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 39 percent of calories from fat.
— Irish Country Cooking
Braised Derrynaflan brisket
Lily Barrett of Tipperary claims her local butcher has the best brisket around and that’s given her enough reason to continue making her mother’s brisket recipe for more than 40 years now.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon margarine
700 grams (1 1/2 pounds) brisket of beef, boned and rolled
1 onion, chopped finely
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
4 medium leeks, trimmed and sliced
250 milliliters (1/2 pint) chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of thyme
1/2 glass white wine
1 tablespoon corn flour
1-2 tablespoons sour cream (optional)
2 handfuls grated cheddar cheese (optional)
2 handfuls cress (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a flameproof casserole, heat the oil and margarine and brown the brisket well all over. Add the onion, cover and cook on a gentle heat for 10 minutes before transferring to preheated oven. After 45 minutes, add the carrots, leeks, stock and herbs, and continue cooking for another hour.
3. Transfer the brisket to warmed serving dish and remove the string. Remove the vegetables from the casserole with slotted spoon and arrange around the brisket.
4. Strain the cooking liquid into a small saucepan, add the wine and boil fast for five minutes. Blend the corn flour to a smooth paste in a couple of tablespoons of water, stirring out any for lumps, and add this gradually to the sauce to thicken to desired consistency. You may not need to add all the corn flour paste. Cook for another few minutes and finish with sour cream, to taste. Pour over the meat or into a sauce boat to serve separately.
5. Serve the brisket, vegetables, and sauce with baked potatoes stuffed with grated cheddar cheese and topped with cress.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 486 calories, 24 grams fat, 24 grams carbohydrates, 40 grams protein, 119 milligrams cholesterol, 737 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 45 percent of calories from fat.
— Irish Country Cooking
Brown soda bread
Makes 1 loaf
This bread comes from the oldest daughter in a family of 10 children, Connie McEvoy of Louth, who still still measures the flour out in four large fistfuls of “wholemeal” flour and two smaller fistfuls of plain flour every Saturday.
175 grams (6 ounces) plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 heaped teaspoons baking soda
450 grams (1 pound) wholemeal flour, plus a little extra for dusting
400 milliliters (3/4 pint) buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Dust selected tin generously with flour. (McEvoy uses a Swiss roll tin, but an 8-inch round pan works well.)
2. Sieve the plain flour, salt and soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the wholemeal flour and mix well, lifting the dry ingredients just above the bowl’s rim in order to circulate air and produce a lighter bread.
3. Beat the egg in a small bowl and beat in the buttermilk. Make a well in the dry ingredients, add the liquid and mix to a soft dough with a wooden spoon or by hand.
4. Bring dough together with flour-dusted fingers and turn out on a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly into the smooth desired shape. If the dough is sticky, dust over a little more flour and knead it in to make it more manageable. Transfer to prepared tin, dust with wholemeal and cut a cross on top with a sharp knife to allow to rise evenly.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes. Remove from tin and tap the base of the bread. If it sounds hollow it is cooked, if not return to the oven for a few more minutes. Cool on wire rack before serving with country butter and homemade jam for the full experience.
Tip: Cooling on a wire rack will produce a good crust. If a soft crust is preferred, cool the bread wrapped in a clean tea cloth.
Nutritional analysis per slice: 200 calories, 2 grams fat, 40 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 19 milligrams cholesterol, 379 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 7 percent of calories from fat.
— Irish Country Cooking
Cake in a mug
Makes 1 serving
Muriel Kerr of Leitrim is a “fun-loving granny” who gets her chocolate fix with this three-minute cake, but she has found it to be an even bigger hit with her grandchildren.
4 heaping tablespoons flour
4 heaping tablespoons sugar
2 heaping tablespoons cocoa
1 small egg, beaten
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons light oil
2-3 drops vanilla extract
1 handful chocolate chips
1. Combine flour, sugar, and cocoa in a mug. Stir in the egg, milk, and oil, then add vanilla drops and chocolate chips.
2. Cook uncovered in the microwave on high for 3 minutes.
3. Allow to cool and tip out on to a plate and tuck in.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 1,064 calories, 65 grams fat, 118 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams protein, 215 milligrams cholesterol, 102 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber, 52 percent of calories from fat.
— Irish Country Cooking