Saturday, March 12, 2011

St. Patrick's Day, a Visit to the Cathedral, and a Green River

On St. Patty's day, we are all Irish as they say, so why not enjoy some of their famous foods this holiday.  I also thought you might enjoy a short video clip I made during a recent visit to Ireland's most famous cathedral.  You can see it below.  But before I start on the food, I thought I would tell you what I learned about St. Patrick while visiting the emerald isle.

St. Patrick was not a born Irish. But he has become an integral part of Irish heritage, mostly through his service to the Catholic church across Ireland in the 5th century. The exact date of his birth is not known (373-390 AD) and the location was thought to be either Scotland or Roman England. His real name was Maewyn Succat. However, he was later given the Roman name Patricius, which would later be known as Patrick.

So what caused his fame? Why he drove the snakes from Ireland, of course; or so the legend goes. This was easy for him since snakes have never lived in Ireland. However, the snakes are representative of the pagan Druid gods that he drove out of Ireland by converting the people to Christianity and in the process earning him a Catholic sainthood.

St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17, the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. In 1995 however, the Irish government began a secular national campaign to use St. Patrick's Day as an opportunity to drive tourism and showcase Ireland to the rest of the world.  Long before this however, the first St. Patrick's day parade took place, not in Ireland but in New York City (1762) where a large number of Irish immigrants lived. Today many cities across the world celebrate St. Patrick's Day and here in my home town of Chicago, we not only have a big parade, we dye the Chicago River green.

The tradition started in 1962, when Chicago pollution-control workers used dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges and realized that the green dye might provide a unique way to celebrate the holiday. That year, they released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the river—enough to keep it green for a week! Today, in order to minimize environmental damage, only 40 pounds of dye are used, making the river green for only several hours.  But it's still quite a spectacle to see.

Most years, I make a lamb stew which is tasty and not difficult to make. I don't use the traditional neck bones for the stew, but rather nicer cuts of good lamb, usually pieces from the leg.  But this year I thought we would have the always-popular corned beef and cabbage.

As you probably know, corned beef is a brine-cured beef. The term "corn" in corned beef refers to the "corns" or grains of coarse salts used to cure it. References to corned beef can be found in writings dating back to the 12th century. Despite originating in Ireland however, corned beef is not considered an Irish national dish, and the connection with Saint Patrick's Day specifically originates as part of Irish-American culture.  This is because for much of its existence Ireland has been a poor country and beef was only slaughtered when it could no longer provide milk or work in the fields.

Current Irish cuisine is based on fresh vegetables, fish (especially salmon and trout), oysters, mussels and other shellfish, as it is an island nation.  Other popular Irish foods include traditional soda bread, a wide range of hand-made cheeses, and of course, the potato.  Traditional dishes, such as Irish stew, coddle, the Irish breakfast, and potato bread have also enjoyed a resurgence in popularity.

So now I'm off to get the ingredients for my corned beef and cabbage dinner.  I hope you enjoy my short tour of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

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