St Patrick’s Day is wildly popular here in the U.S. But if you ask someone on the street to explain the history behind this day, most folks can’t quite put into words why they’re drinking Guinness and eating boiled cabbage. Let’s dive into the history of the holiday, and then look at a few recipes for St Patrick’s Day. Saint Patrick was a real guy – he was born in Britain (when it was ruled by Rome) and was brought to Ireland as a slave when he was 16 years old. He became the patron saint of Ireland after expanding Christianity throughout the country. He explained the Holy Trinity (father, son and Holy Spirit) with the three separate yet connected clovers of the Irish shamrock. Saint Patrick died on March 17th in the 5th century, which became a Christian religious holiday known as St Patrick’s Day.
There is a folk tale that Saint Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. But many believe this is just a metaphor, and the snakes represented pagans living in Ireland at the time. Some pagans to this day consider St Patrick’s Day the celebration of colonial-driven destruction of indigenous religions in Ireland.
My Grandpa is Irish and grew up Christian, but I’ve never known him to make a huge deal about St Patrick’s Day. Ireland’s history has many dark periods, but the Irish people as a whole are some of the most resilient and boisterous people I’ve ever met. This holiday is not about getting drunk (which can perpetuate negative stereotypes) nor is it about pinching people who don’t wear green. It’s a chance to learn about the history and culture of Ireland, and sometimes that’s most accessible through food. Here are a few recipes I’ve made that I think provide a tiny peek into Irish history and culture.
Irish Soda Bread
I originally made this cheese and herb Irish soda bread last year to honor my great-grandma who was Irish. Soda bread uses baking soda instead of yeast to rise, which is very telling of a time in Irish history. Back when wallets and kitchen cupboards were sparse, simple soda bread gave folks energy and fullness in their bellies. If yeast wasn’t accessible, they could still bake bread, a dietary main staple. Traditional Irish soda bread is made from just flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk.
Bangers and Mash
I used to think that bangers and mash was only found in England, but you can also find it in a number of pubs in Ireland. While there’s a history of political turmoil between the British and the Irish, bangers and mash is a beloved dish of both nations. And this dish is the ultimate comfort food.
A thick stew full of root vegetables is another comforting dish on St Patrick’s Day. In many regions of the world mid-March is still quite cold, making it perfect stew weather. This vegan chickpea stew is full of flavor and nutrition. A more traditional Irish stew might include lamb or beef and cabbage. When I was visiting Ireland with my family a number of years ago, it was chilly and windy. And a bowl of warm hearty stew was a great way to end a cold day in Ireland.
One-Pot Turkey Stuffing
Turkey is the most popular main dish on Christmas in Ireland. In honor of that tradition, you could make this delicious and simple one-pot turkey stuffing. This stuffing is full of bread, root vegetables and turkey, making it the perfect side or even main dish. This is also the most filling dish in this small collection of recipes for St Patrick’s Day.
No Bake Mint Chocolate Chip Pie
Shamrocks are young three-leafed clovers, just like the ones that Saint Patrick used to explain the three aspects of the Holy Trinity. Somehow over the years, anything “shamrock-flavored” has been made green and minty.
I didn’t make this pie to be green for St. Patrick’s Day, nor to be minty “shamrock” flavored. But since it fits the criteria, you could make this green, minty, healthy no bake pie for the holiday!
A Note on Green-Colored Food
It’s important to note that according to National Public Radio, the tradition of eating green-colored foods on St Patrick’s Day was to reenact the atrocious desperation of famine. Folks in Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s resorted to eating grass, turning their mouths green. This famine resulted in the death of at least 1 million people. So while green-colored frosting and milkshakes might seem like festive recipes for St Patrick’s Day, it’s important to acknowledge the history of Ireland and how resilient the people of this nation are.