St. Patrick's Day, the day when everybody pretends to be Irish, wears a bit of green and drinks a spot of Irish tea or coffee flavored with a wee drop of Irish whiskey, is on the blue horizon.
It's a shame those blue skies can't be colored green as is done with rivers in certain cities.
Here is an Irish wish to make March 17 even brighter:
ERIN GO BRAUGH — St. Patrick’s Day recipes can use a drop of Irish whiskey, some flaky crust with a meat filling, a cabbage dish or brown bread. Whatever brings up a memory of the Irish holiday is fine. It is a day when everybody is Irish. Erin Go Braugh!
-- Esther McCoy
"May you always have a sunbeam to warm you, good luck to charm you, a sheltering angel so nothing can harm you, faithful friends near you, and whenever you pray, heaven to hear you."
From the "Irish Baking Book" by Ruth Isabel Ross, it is explained that a rough Irish bread was made in Irish homes for hundreds of years. The brown bread was usually made in a cast iron skillet or pot oven over an open hearth, swinging over a turf fire on a homemade crane. Burning embers were shoveled on top of the lid to make the bread cook from above as well as below.
The scent of bread baking was an aroma even better than any expensive room spray and brought family in from outdoors just to beg a slice with home-churned butter.
Cakes were sometimes baked in a pot oven as well. Most were not frosted but were often enriched by good Irish spirits or stout and served on special occasions. Each housewife had her own specially guarded recipes to be passed on only to daughters, granddaughters and intimate friends.
Savory pies slowly became popular in Ireland, probably as a way of keeping meat warm and moist. A pie also made the budget and dinner go farther, making pies economical.
Steak and kidney pie, chicken pies, and Donegal and Dingle pies became local dishes over the years.
Here is a recipe for a pie made from pork and bacon that popular to take to picnics. The pastry calls for lard, but shortening or even butter would do as well. Few people use lard in baking or cooking anymore.
1 pound pork, diced in cubes
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped fine
1 1/4 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled fine
4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk and water combined, half of each
1 cup lard
Milk for glaze
Mix the pork, bacon and herbs in a small bowl. Sprinkle with pepper. Put flour and salt in a warm mixing bowl. Heat the milk-water mixture with the lard until it is boiling. Pour into a well in the center of the flour mixture. Stir this with a wooden spoon then make it into a dough ball with your hands. Cut off about one-fourth of the dough and reserve.
Keep it warm, covered with a clean towel, while you make a dough parcel for the filling. Pat the dough into a thick, round piece. Place on a baking sheet. Put a round jam jar in the middle and start working the dough up the sides of the jar.
Pull out the jar carefully when the dough is cool. The dough will relax a bit and leave a hollow. Place meat mixture around the dough parcel and cover with the rolled out top made with the remaining dough. Make a hole in the middle of the top and brush the surface with milk. Bake at 300 degrees for between 1 1/2 and 2 hours, covering with aluminum foil if the top is becoming too brown.
This is not from the Irish cookbook. Some time back, I inherited a book of collected recipes compiled by Julia Kertoy, a wonderful cook and a member of the Smithfield Homemakers. Her sister-in-law, Mary Kertoy, had passed it on to me. This is a savory pie using chicken, ham and hard-cooked eggs in a crust. It is called Hoender Pastei. I don't think it is Irish, but it is the same kind of meat pie.
Two 3-pound ready-to- cook stewing chickens, quartered
6 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon peppercorns
4 bay leaves
6 carrots, halved lengthwise
4 celery stalks, cut in eighths
4 medium onions, cut in eighths
10 sprigs of parsley
1/4-pound thin sliced boiled ham, quartered then folded over
4 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup sherry
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 egg yolks
1 package pie crust mix
Simmer chicken, salt, allspice, peppercorns and bay leaves in water for 15 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, onions and parsley sprigs. Simmer half an hour or until vegetables are tender crisp. Remove vegetables and chicken and strain broth. Slice vegetables diagonally. Cut chicken from bones and into medium chunks. In a 12-by-8-inch baking dish, alternate layers of chicken, vegetables, ham and hard cooked sliced eggs. In saucepan, melt butter and gradually add flour, chicken broth, sherry, lemon juice, sugar and pepper.
Cook until thickened, and mixture is a smooth sauce. Beat egg yolks well. Slowly stir in sauce. Heat in saucepan slowly while stirring until thickened. Do not boil. Pour over chicken. Prepare pie crust as mix directs. Roll into a 14-by- 10-inch rectangle. Fold in half, crosswise, unfold over chicken. Turn under the hanging dough; press firmly to the dish, then flute. In crust, with knife, cut a 2 1/2-inch line from center toward each corner of dish then fold each pastry triangle back from center, making a square. Refrigerate about one hour. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Brush pie with beaten egg. Bake 25 minutes. Makes eight servings.
This can be a nice dessert for those not wanting to eat rich cakes and pies. It is simply baked apples filled with whiskey-soaked raisins and covered with a whiskey sauce.
Whole Apples with Irish Whiskey
4 large cooking apples
5 tablespoons raisins
3 tablespoons Irish whiskey
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
A little water
Steep the raisins in the whiskey for two hours before cooking. Put 2 or 3 tablespoons water in a shallow casserole. Core apples, cutting around the middle only, and arranging in the dish. Drain raisins and pack into the apple centers, setting the whiskey aside. Fill up the canters with the sugar and cinnamon that has been combined. Spoon over the whiskey, and place slivers of butter on the apples. Bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes or until the apples are completely soft.
They can be tested with a carving knife to see if they are soft and nicely baked. Baste occasionally while baking. Serve at once. The Irish would serve them with clotted cream sprinkled with brown sugar.
Scones are another popular treat of the Irish. This one is a bacon and blue cheese variety from the Old Farmers Almanac Cookbook and looks quite good. I will try it for St. Paddy's Day myself.
Bacon-Blue Cheese Scones
4 strips bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten for the glaze
Preheat oven 425 degrees. Lightly butter a baking sheet. Set aside. Fry bacon pieces in a nonstick skillet until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Break into small, but not tiny pieces when it cools. Set aside. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a food processor. Pulse several times to mix.
Remove the lid and scatter the butter over the flour mixture and pulse three or four more times, cutting the butter into small pieces. Remove the lid again and add bacon and blue cheese. Pulse, no more than three times to mix. Remove the lid once more and pour the cream evenly over the mixture. Pulse two or three times, just until the mixture forms large, damp crumbs. It should not ball up. Dump the crumbs on a lightly floured surface. With lightly floured hands, gently pack the crumbs together, then pat and roll the dough into an 8-inch diameter circle. If the edge cracks, just pinch it together and smooth it out.
Cut the dough into eight equal wedges and place them evenly spaced on the baking sheet. Brush each wedge lightly with the egg. Bake on the center oven rack for 18 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack. Makes eight scones.
Note: These can be served for brunch with an omelet or a breakfast meat such as ham or sausage.
Cabbage is a popular vegetable for St. Patrick's Day. This is a scalloped dish, rich with a cheese sauce, covered with a buttered crumb mix and baked until crisp and bubbly.
1 head cabbage, sliced or shredded
2 tablespoons melted flour
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 cup shredded Swiss or colby cheese
Buttered cracker or bread crumbs, 1 cup
Steam cabbage until tender. Place in greased 2-quart casserole. Melt butter and add flour. Blend well. Add milk and cook, stirring until thick. Stir in cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over cabbage and top with crumbs. Bake 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
(McCoy can be contacted at email@example.com.)