The Wearin’ o’ the Green

There’s little advice I can give in regard to the American Celebrations surrounding St. Patrick’s Day, aside from the following:

Adding green food coloring to Budweiser is a waste of good food coloring.

Beyond that, nothing I can say will really change the way we Americans approach the celebration of all things Irish. Nor should it. However, most of what goes on, at least food-wise, bespeaks volumes on how much we really don’t know about Ireland. But St. Patrick’s Day, at least here in America, isn’t about Ireland as much as it is about Irish-Americans.

But it is interesting just what foods are tottered out for March 17th. Some of the foods get close to traditional Irish foods. Others, not so much.

Corned beef and cabbage is as good as place to start as any, because most Irish folk, historically speaking, never saw beef on a regular basis, corned or otherwise. And if they were lucky enough to have it, corned beef was served, not in honor of St. Patrick, but as an Easter dish, as sort of an excuse to get rid of the last cured meat in the pantry before acquiring newer, fresher meats. As Bridget Haggerty wrote on the website Irish Culture and Customs:

So, what meat did the Irish eat? History tells us that pork was always the favorite. In ancient times, cattle were prized as a common medium for barter. The size of one’s herd was an indication of status, wealth and power — hence all the stories of tribal chieftains and petty kings endlessly rustling one another’s cattle.

Long after the cattle raids were a distant memory, the majority of Irish people still didn’t eat very much beef because it was much too expensive and those who could afford it, consumed it fresh.

But there at least some attempt at eating something Irish when Corned beef is on the menu. American attempts at Irish desserts often miss the mark completely. The recipes usually contain items that are heavy on chocolate, mint, or both, and then frosted green. But one should not dismiss these recipes, as they do contain chocolate, mint or even both. (I’ll pass on the green frosting, thank you).

Drinking is the best known activity on March 17th here in the States, with beer being the primary liquid refreshment consumed. Out of all of the misinterpretations we make in regard to the Irish, this is the one pastime that should be rectified. Lagers should be avoided at all costs, and mass marketed lagers even more so. Guinness and Murphy’s Irish Stout are both great choices, as are any Irish ciders that you may come across.

Out of all of the bad choices one could make on St. Patrick’s, the most blasphemous would be in ordering a Black and Tan. Anyone promoting this drink clearly demonstrates their lack of knowledge of Irish history. Use of Guinness in a Black and Tan is really misunderstanding Irish history.

These are, for the most part, my own opinions. We Americans have a history of viewing other cultures through our own biased lenses, and it’s not my intent to look down upon anyone who doesn’t get it quite right. It certainly isn’t the first time that we’ve misunderstood a different culture’s food. However, if we are to celebrate the Irish in addition to Irish-Americans, we should expand our vision beyond the scope of our own borders, and try to get their heritage at least a little bit right. Raising a pint of Guinness should do nicely, I think.