Festivals of Spring
"Is it so small a thing to have enjoyed the sun, To have lived light in the spring, To have loved, to have thought, to have done; To have advanced true friends? . . ."
The Feast of Saint Patrick
"Cead mile failte!--One hundred thousand welcomes!"
--ancient Gaelic greeting
In the Irish countryside, March 17--the anniversary of the death of Saint Patrick--is a day of visiting relatives and friends, and a fitting occasion to sing, feast, and partake of concerts and plays honoring the patron saint of Ireland. Most towns and cities hold a large parade in honor of the day, during which everyone wears green, for "the wearin' of the green" is a celebration of the emerald green of Ireland herself, as well as a symbol of springtime.
When I was young, my mother would celebrate Saint Patrick's Day by speaking with an Irish brogue all day, although she is not at all Irish. After our traditional Saint Patrick's day dinner of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots, she and my father would sip Irish coffee from shamrock-encrusted Irish crystal glasses (purchased on a visit to Ireland) while enjoying Gaelic melodies playing on the stereo. I would lie on the floor at her feet and listen as she delighted us with amusing tales about her day posing as an Irishwoman (giggling with fun at the thought that so many people had believed her brogue to be authentic) and reminisced with my father about their sojourn to that ancient isle of green.
Traditional Saint Patrick's Day Corned Beef Dinner
"People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors."
Corned beef, a brine-cured savory meat, is the mainstay of many a Saint Patrick's Day boiled dinner. In old-time Irish households, a platter of this delicious meat was the centerpiece of the evening meal, served with boiled potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. After dinner sweet songs of Ireland were heard throughout the house, as well as the sound of feet that danced a jig, proclaiming Gaelic heritage.
(Note: In store-bought corned beef, a spice packet is often included, thus making these first three ingredients unnecessary)
1 teaspoon ground allspice 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground cloves 1 corned beef brisket (store-bought or home-cured) 2 medium onions, sliced 7 carrots, sliced in chunks 1 cabbage, quartered and cored 6 to 8 potatoes, peeled and quartered 1 turnip, peeled and sliced (optional) Enough warm water to cover
Use spice packet, or combine allspice, cinnamon, and cloves in a small bowl, and rub the mixture over the corned beef. Place the meat inside a large kettle and cover completely with water. Keep the pot covered while gently simmering the meat about three to four hours. When meat is nearly done cooking, add the vegetables. Cook until tender. Thinly slice the meat, against the grain; this is best done after the meat has been removed from the cooking heat for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Serve on a large platter with the cooked vegetables wreathed around it; this recipe serves 4 to 6 generously.
You may also cook corned beef in a slow-cooker, with lovely results. However, unless you enjoy the taste of the corned beef spices in your vegetables, cook the vegetables separately (directly before serving the meat) when using the Crock-Pot.
If you enjoy using corned beef in other recipes, you may wish to stock your freezer during the month of March, when corned beef is on sale. If you cure your own, perhaps make a double batch. Leftover corned beef can make delicious sandwiches (as follows).
An Ancient Curing Process
"With the ancient is wisdom."
Although corned beef is fairly inexpensive and easily available, I am including an ancient recipe for curing your own brisket of beef, for those who crave a new culinary experience. Unless you already have the pickling spices on hand, however, making corned beef at home may be more expensive than purchasing it already cured from the market.
If you wish to serve this home-cured corned beef on Saint Patrick's Day you must begin curing the meat on the first or second of March, as it will take fifteen days.
A 6- or 7-pound piece of fresh, lean, beef brisket, boneless rump, or topside roast 1 pound pickling salt (available at most grocery stores) 1 cup light brown sugar, packed well 3 bay leaves, crumbled well 1 tablespoon mustard seed 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns 2 rounded teaspoons saltpeter (available at most drug stores) 1 teaspoon whole allspice 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 1 teaspoon cracked coriander 1 teaspoon dried ginger, powdered or crushed
Blend together all of the dry ingredients until well mixed. Place your beef in a large glass or earthenware pan. With clean hands, rub the spice mixture thoroughly over the surface of the meat. The salt, saltpeter, and spices will destroy any bacteria, thus the rubbed meat will not spoil. Store the cured meat, tightly covered with aluminium foil or a sturdy lid, inside the refrigerator. Flip the meat over once a day for one week. For the remaining eight days, repeat the daily turning of the meat, and rub the spices from the bottom of the dish onto the meat when doing so. After fifteen days the meat should be red all the way through (and officially be corned beef) and ready for cooking. At that time, remove beef from the dish and rinse well with cool water. Pat dry. Store cured beef in the refrigerator until ready to cook. (The meat will keep well in the refrigerator for three to four days and, when well wrapped, will keep in the freezer for about three months without losing too much of its flavor.)
Remains of an Irish Feast
"Small cheer and great welcome make a merry feast."
When I was a young girl, my father would make sandwiches from leftover corned beef in one of two ways: steamed and served hot on a soft French roll (with lots of yellow mustard and a garlicky dill pickle on the side); or as a type of Reuben sandwich (on toasted rye bread, with lots of cheese, sauerkraut, and mustard). The secret to either of these delicious sandwiches was the proper draining and chilling of the corned beef itself. Papa would put the remaining hunk of cooked meat inside a colander (with a pie plate beneath it to catch any drippings) and refrigerate it for two or three days. This allowed the excess moisture to drain away from the meat, thus drying it out so that when he finally sliced the corned beef we were rewarded with tender, wonderfully thin, deli-style sandwich slices.
While my own children are not always enthusiastic about the traditional corned-beef-and-cabbage meal of St. Patrick's Day (I believe it has something to do with the cabbage) they are more enthusiastic when we serve these delectable corned beef sandwiches from the remains of our feast-day meal.
Excerpted from Frugal Luxuries by the Seasons by Tracey McBride. Copyright © 2000 by Tracey McBride. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.