A St. Patrick’s Day feast from Irish countrywomen

03/14/2014 2:43 PM

03/14/2014 2:44 PM

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.

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