On St. Patrick’s Day Dinner
Another holiday. Another opportunity for dinner in our fantasy life, here at rainy, windy, melting, flooding Sunny Corner.
Like nearly everyone I know around here, I can claim the Irish. My mother was a Carey. (My father was a motley mix of German, French, Irish and who knows what else, but that’s another story for another time.) My grandmother was a Lynch.
There are Connollys back there in the tangled family tree, and Conleys, and Corcorans, and any number of other good green names. On my grandmother’s side, there was flaming red hair, pale skin, and freckles. On my grandfather’s–well, that’s where the black Irish came in. She grew up on Munjoy Hill in Portland, surrounded by first and second generation immigrants; he grew up out on Peak’s Island, where the oddly isolated enclave kept their brogue intact. I grew up on stories.
Strangely, despite this, and despite all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve not gone to Ireland. My way cool sister Susan desperately wants to: her plan is that we should bike around the countryside, and I must say–that’s a really attractive option. We’ve put it on the to-do list. In the meantime, St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and it’s time to make the corned beef dinner. We have to have it, once again, the Sunday before, as the actual day, Thursday this year, happens to be a day on which I must stay at school until 8 p.m., totally wrecking any date-accurate fantasy meal we might plan.
Reading around, I’m finding that the boiled dinner with corned beef is more or less an immigrant tradition–it’s not what we’d get in Ireland itself for St. Patrick’s Day.
This means that everything my grandfather ever told me about corned beef and cabbage is a myth…and somehow I’m not exactly surprised. Corned beef, of course, is a relatively cheap cut of beef which is salt-cured, or pickled; this meant, according to my grandfather, that it kept well, and was the last bit of last year’s stores you broke out once the winter was over. Hey, it sounded like a feasible explanation. Potatoes stored well over the winter, too–but wait, Granddad: the Irish showed up here because of the potato blight, right? So there weren’t potatoes to be had? It’s a good thing my poor grandfather died well before I started questioning the logic of his stories.
Never mind. Our St. Patrick’s Day dinner is coming up, and I’ve got the corned beef simmering on the back of the stove. Two cuts of it, because the heathens like to have corned beef hash with the leftovers–I think they like the hash better than the original dinner itself, actually. The beef is simmering in two bottles of Guinness, and has been all afternoon. Before I go to bed, I’ll turn off the heat; tomorrow, when I actually cook the entire one-pot dinner, I’ll put in potatoes (famine be damned), carrots, onions, turnip…and just before it’s time to serve up, I’ll quarter the cabbage and plop that in, just long enough to heat it through, because Ben prefers it still slightly crunchy (Rosalie prefers Ben to eat it so she doesn’t have to).
Meanwhile, because one really can’t just buy two bottles of Guinness–
one really has to purchase the entire six-pack–I shall pour myself a pint. Because I know that Guinness isn’t just for the diaspora: real Irish from Ireland drink it, too.
Victor Carey did not drink Guinness. He preferred whiskey. Just so you know. But I have no good Irish whiskey here, only Scotch. And that just doesn’t fit the bill. Sorry.
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