I was in the U.S. only for about six months when I first encountered St.Patrick’s Day celebration. I was working in a restaurant that served green beer on March 17th and featured enormous shamrocks all over its walls. The customers shouted botched Gallic to one another and inhaled the bowls filled with corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes.
My husband picked me up and took me to an Irish pub, where we met his friends and family, all brandishing the bottles of Irish brew and shots of Jameson’s whiskey, sparkly shamrocks plastered on their cheeks. I married into an Irish family that still clung to its roots, which date all the way to the Mayflower. Were there any Irish on board the Mayflower? I’d say no.
My ex-husband’s ancestors have the lineage better than the Vanderbilts. Peregrine White was the first English baby born in the new land, while the ship was anchored at Cape Cod. There is a thick, leather-bound genealogy book that lists hundreds of names which came after him. I heard that at some point in history the White family was pretty affluent. My ex-husband’s great-ancestor must have been the ubiquitous black sheep part of the tribe, prone to gambling and drinking, destined to squander the inheritance. Which he did, leaving the legacy of laissez-faire hedonism to his posterity.
Did the great-grandpa meet a ginger-haired Irish lass who took him dancing, when he was supposed to pray? Did he surrender his prudish upbringing to the altar of unlimited joie de vivre? I don’t assume we will ever find out, but this wing of the family was defiantly Irish, slightly catholic (relative to the relative), and very much steeped in every aspect of hedonism.
There are some historians trying to connect ancient Celts with the ancient southern Slavs, especially the Serbs, claiming that originally they were all one big tribe. Something prompted one part of the group to separate and settle on the Emerald Isles.
I don’t know if I buy into this theory, but I have some very fond memories of this Irish-American family, their self-deprecating humor, gregariousness, refusal to grow up, and great attraction to sin. I chose to leave and therefore I am only connected to them through my oldest daughter, who is the keeper of the family tree; but each St. Patrick’s Day I remember them decked in bright green with silly hats on, loud and ebullient, raising foaming mugs of beer and toasting one another, “Sláinte!”
- 1 lb potatoes (I used baby potatoes from Melissa’s Produce)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp bacon grease or butter
- 1 bunch kale or Swiss chard, rinsed and cut into pieces (1/4 head of cabbage or Savoy cabbage) – I used baby kale sprouts from Melissa’s Produce
- 1 leek, white and pale green parts only, halved and cut into semi-circles
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
- Place the unpeeled potatoes in a heavy pot.
- Cover with cold water.
- Add salt.
- Heat until it starts to boil.
- Turn the heat down to medium and cook until fork-tender, about 15 minutes.
- Remove potatoes from the pot.
- Add butter or bacon grease to the pot and heat on medium temperature.
- Add the greens and saute until slightly softened, 3-4 minutes.
- Add the leeks and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the potatoes and smash them with a fork so that there are no big lumps.
- Add the milk and place the pot back on the stove.
- Stir for another minute or two until creamy and combined.
- Add salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Thank you, Melissa’s Produce for a magnificent box of goodies!
Some fun facts about St. Patrick’s Day:
1. St. Patrick was not Irish. He was born in Rome, kidnapped as a child by Irish pirates, and brought to Ireland where he herded sheep before managing to escape.
2. St. Patrick was depicted wearing blue, rather than green.
3. Symbol of Ireland is not the shamrock, but the harp.
4. There are more Irish living in the U.S. than in Ireland (especially if we include eveyone who boasts Irish ancestry).
5. Until 1970, St. Patrick’s Day was a religious holiday and all the pubs were closed. Beer started flowing freely only when it was converted into a national holiday.
6. Your chances of finding a four-leaf clover are 1 in 10,000.
If you’d like to learn to pronounce sláinte (which means “health” in Gaellic), click here.