An Irish Heritage Meal: Traditions for St. Patrick's Day
We love every opportunity for small gatherings and great food. My family has always held an "Irish" meal on March 17th to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. The meal that my family typically makes each year has ties to Ireland but is more of an immigrant tradition, blending how Irish-Americans celebrated stateside. In the mid-nineteenth century, half of the immigrants coming to America were Irish. As with many who dared to leave their homelands in search of an American dream, the transition was difficult, and keeping traditions of the old country alive (and perhaps thriving even more than they did in their homeland) became an essential part of surviving in a new country.
We wanted to share that same tradition, in hopes that you find something that works for you and your family. Now most Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day with more intensity than even the Irish do. As St. Patrick's Day is becoming over-commercialized, we want to offer up a tradition that is true to the Irish-American heritage but in a warm and simple way: food.
Now the most essential parts of an Irish meal include potatoes, cabbage, and meat, each prepared with love and a bit of heat. Our family likes to cook a corned beef with a honey-mustard sauce, red potatoes and carrots, dilly bread, and either a cabbage salad or roasted cabbage.
First, you need to begin preparing the corned beef. Corned beef is a salt cured beef, which was a way to preserve meats before the era of refrigeration. Irish-Americans particularly used this type of meat as a replacement for the bacon (which is so much better) from their homeland. You can find corned beef in most supermarket meat sections, it is stored in a sort of salt and seasoned brine. Unwrap the meat, drain the brine, and dump the meat and seasoning packet so it is submerged in pot of water. Bring it to a boil, and then turn it down and let it simmer for 2-3 hours.
Then my favorite part, is preparing the Dilly Bread, which a sort of flavorful version of Irish soda bread. This is a more involved recipe, and its not particularly Irish, so we are giving it a post of its own! Find the recipe and the process here. This really brings the meal together, so don't skip it, it's pretty easy for a bread recipe! If you want something really Irish, then I suggest an Irish Soda Bread.
Next begin preparing the potatoes and carrots. In my family, we like to use red small potatoes. In honor of St. Patrick and his Catholic roots, we always carve a cross into our potato skins. It makes the potatoes festive in their own way! Add carrots if you like them, we typically do long carrot sticks. St. Patrick was famed for always carrying a walking staff. He used the staff to banish the snakes from Ireland, at one point his staff grew into a tree!
After the corned beef has been cooking for several hours you should pull it out of the boiling water, trim any excess fat, and put it in a baking dish. Put the semi-peeled potatoes and carrot sticks, into the same boiling water that you cooked the corned beef in. Boil until tender and ready to serve. Serve with a sourcream. I like to dress up my sourcream by mixing in a bit of fresh dill, garlic or celery salt, and then of course using this brass leaf spoon to serve.
Heat your oven to 350F. Next, mix a honey-mustard sauce to coat the corned beef with. Usually a half cup mixture will be enough but use your discretion. Start with 1/2 cup of honey and 1/4 cup mustard (a 1:2 ratio of however much you make). If you like more of a mustard taste, add more. With your corned beef in a baking dish, liberally coat it with your honey mustard sauce. Place into the heated oven for 30-40 minutes more of cooking until the honey-mustard sauce has caramelized.
Next make your coleslaw. There are so many recipes out there so choose your favorite. Typically we slice thinly slice a head of cabbage, add in some almonds, sliced apples, dried cherries or cranberries, and make a quick dressing of lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt, pepper or we occasionally use a store bought poppyseed dressing. Both are good in their own way.
While everything finishes cooking, set the table to make it feel special. This year we brought in this stunning Clover Tablecloth with corresponding napkins. We love the simple clover pattern and we want to use it for all the holidays this spring. These moss tapers and ceramic candleholders are also a great way to make the meal feel like a holiday event. We also love to add a touch of gold to the table with these brass mini spoons and our brass pepper mill. We also typically place a "lucky" coin under each plate for the children to discover. For us it is a symbol that God keeps us all in the palm of his hand. And then of course, our cabbage dishware is perfect for setting spring tables. Each of these items are treasures you will love for years to come, and hopefully pass down to your children, creating memories for generations to come.
Sit down and enjoy the meal together. Learn about St. Patrick and what he did for Ireland. Talk about ancestors and how hard it was to leave their homelands in search of a dream. Talk about Ireland or share an Irish folk tale. This book is a great resource for kid friendly ways to learn about Ireland. Or teach your children to play some Irish Folk music on our Celtic Lap Harp.
After dinner we like to send the kids on a leprechaun scavenger hunt. We attach clues to colors of the rainbow and send them running all over the house and yard. Here is a sample set of clues I wrote for our hunt a couple of years ago, but you get creative and write ones that work for your house!
Leprechaun Scavenger Hunt Clues
Follow the rainbow and read the clues, perhaps you will find a leprechaun loose.
Go to the place where the birds are fed, there you will look for the color Red. (bird feeder)
Orange like the flames that come from here, gather round as there is nothing to fear. (fire pit or stove)
Look for something yellow in the place where vegetables grow, yet in the middle of winter nothing shows. (garden)
You’ll find green at the house with the oozing bricks, find the clue and do it quick!
Under the boughs of the great blue spruce, there you will find a blue clue on the loose. (blue spruce tree)
Purple is the color right before your eyes, find the white dog you are in for a surprise! (tied to the dogs collar, this kept the kids busy for a solid 10 minutes trying to catch the dog!)
You found the dog now the end is nigh, find the treasure near the woman with a twinkle in her eye. (Grandma)
Usually at the end we have those silly chocolate gold coins or these brass ring boxes with a treat or treasure inside like these mini model castles to build. We also love these magic butterflies and good luck charm.
After food and fun we settle in for an Irish movie or story. The poet William Butler Yeats, collected many tales from the Emerald Isles, most of which are short and sweet. Read it in an Irish accent! If you want something leading up to the day, I suggest reading The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry or watching the film it is based on called "The Secret of Roan Inish". Its a fantastic film to show some of the beauty of Irish landscapes, since it was primarily filmed in Donegal, Ireland. The costumes are amazing. I recently rewatched it and fell in love all over again.
Heritage is something very important to us, and we want to honor our ancestors and the lands they come from. Sometimes it's silly, but ultimately we love to make food and enjoy time together. Our next journal we will even share with you our recipe for dilly bread.
Shop our St. Patrick's collection for more magical things.