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    A "Traditional"
    St. Patrick's Day
   By John Havel

  Ask someone, especially a North American, who hasn’t lived or visited Ireland about what Irish food is like, and nine times out of ten, as they grope for answers, they’ll mention corned beef and cabbage. However, investigation shows that, while corned beef and cabbage is sometimes eaten there, it’s probably eaten a lot less than most people imagine: and it's definitely not the Irish national dish.

  To be sure, cattle were kept there from very early times, but they were kept mostly for their milk. From the earliest historical times, for routine eating, pork was always the favorite. Those who did eat beef, tended to eat it fresh: corned beef surfaces in writings of the late 1600's as a specialty, a costly delicacy (expensive because of the salt) made to be eaten at Easter, and sometimes at Hallowe'en.

  Many Irish people got their first taste of beef when they emigrated to America or Canada - where both salt and meat were cheaper. There, when they got beef, the emigrants tended to treat it the same way they would have treated a "bacon joint" at home in Ireland. They soaked the salt beef to draw off the excess salt, then braised or boiled it with cabbage, and served it in its own juices with only minimal spicing (a bay leaf or so, perhaps, and some pepper).

  Irish stew is an extremely old Irish traditional meal that is still very common to this day in Ireland and is usually made on a Saturday or a damp cold day to help heat up the body. My grandmother made it any time of the year (90 degree days in August), so when everyone else is sweltering in the "dog days of summer", we would jokingly call it "lamb stew weather".

  Soda bread dates back to approximately 1840, when bicarbonate of soda was introduced to Ireland. It is a type of quick bread in which baking soda has been substituted for yeast. The ingredients of traditional soda bread are flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. Other ingredients can be added such as raisins or various forms of nuts. Soda bread eventually became a staple of the Irish diet.

  As an Irish national holiday for many years, St. Patrick’s Day is now celebrated throughout the world. Celebrations usually include obligatory green beer, green hair, and - outside of Ireland - plenty of corned beef and cabbage. If you have a desire to break from an American tradition, try an Irish tradition.

Irish Lamb Stew
   1/2 cup flour
   2 teaspoons salt
   1/4 teaspoon pepper
   3 pounds lamb for stew, cut in serving pieces
   3 tablespoons fat
   1/2 cup sliced onions
   Boiling water to cover, about 2 1/2 cups
   6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
   2 carrots, scraped and diced
   2 or 3 white turnips, quartered

  Blend the flour, salt and pepper and dredge the meat in the flour mixture. Brown in the hot fat in a skillet. Transfer to a heavy pot. Cook onion in fat until lightly colored, then add to the meat. Add boiling water to cover meat, cover pot tightly, simmer at low heat 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Blanch potatoes by covering them with boiling water; drain. Add potatoes, carrots and turnips to stew during the last 20 minutes. Cook until vegetables are tender. To thicken sauce, blend part of the flour mixture used for dredging the meat with sauce from the pot to make a thin paste, add this to the sauce in the pot, simmer until thickened.

Irish Soda Bread
   Nonstick vegetable oil spray
   2 cups all purpose flour
   5 tablespoons sugar, divided
   1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
   1 teaspoon salt
   3/4 teaspoon baking soda
   3 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into cubes
   1 cup buttermilk
   2/3 cup raisins

  Preheat oven to 375F. Spray 8-inch-diameter cake pan with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Add butter. Using fingertips, rub in until coarse meal forms. Make well in center of flour mixture. Add buttermilk. Gradually stir dry ingredients into milk to blend. Mix in raisins.

  Using floured hands, shape dough into ball. Transfer to prepared pan and flatten slightly (dough will not come to edges of pan). Sprinkle dough with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

  Bake bread until brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool bread in pan 10 minutes. Transfer to rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Music By John Havel

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