The Sandpoint Eater: Ode to Arthur

By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist

It’s nearly time to don the green and celebrate the Irish (as we Americans seem to do best) by heading to the local pub for a pint. 

If you’re looking for corned beef and cabbage, you most likely won’t find it in County Cork, but you’ll find heaps of it simmering at the Pack River Store. They’re going all Irish, with other delicious offerings too, including shepherd’s pie and their own house made bangers and mash with onion gravy. If you aren’t headed to the annual (and infamous)  festivities in Butte, Mont., I’d say the Pack River General Store might be your best alternative for traditional St. Paddy’s fare.  Give them a call to make a reservation – 263-2409.

What you will still find in most of Ireland on St Patrick’s Day is reverence for a holy day and cultural holiday that includes mass and families gathering to pay homage to the great Apostle of Ireland. After mass and a trip to the pub, in most Irish homes the fare would include hearty lamb stews, platters of mussels, fresh Atlantic salmon, and perhaps a roasted chicken with vegetables on the table. Every meal includes soda bread or scones (or both).

For beverage there, you’ll likely find either an Irish whiskey or Guinness. Though the Irish Coffee found its original roots at Foynes airbase near Shannon, it became thoroughly Americanized.  In fact, it was requested by so many visiting Americans, that the Irish, knowing the Americans would expect one, reclaimed and perfected this popular beverage. Not so, the Irish Car Bomb (which mostly like gained popularity through American Beverage Association marketing). The drink is considered highly offensive to our friends on the Emerald Isle, so with due respect to the hundreds of Irish killed or maimed by the car bombs in the ‘70s, if you find yourself in Ireland on St Patrick’s Day (or any other day), don’t order this drink from an Irish bartender.

I’ve never been to Ireland on St Paddy’s Day. However, quite by accident, I once found myself in Dublin, at the stately Shelbourne Hotel, on the 250th anniversary of Guinness. My travel companion, stating that our bathroom was the most luxurious she’d ever seen (from the toiletries and heated towel racks to the oversized tub), promptly drew a bath and said to check back in two hours.

I took my wash and wear, culturally curious self to the hotel’s famed Horseshoe Bar and was not one bit disappointed. From the bartender, I learned of the huge citywide celebration in Arthur Guinness’ honor.  At a nearby window table, overlooking St. Stephens Green, was a group of smartly dressed men and fascinator-adorned women engaged in drink and laughter. The bartender was quick to share that these were members of the well-loved Guinness family, staying at the hotel to join in the celebration for their famous ancestor. I was in good company!

It’s hard to go anywhere in Dublin without feeling the spirit of generosity and seeing the legacy left behind by Arthur, which includes many old stone structures that housed his employees. His workers received medical benefits, three meals a day in the company dining room, beer script and even a special, small bottle of Guinness for wives of workers who’d recently given birth, fortified with a rich yeast sediment.

Guinness is no longer just a pub mainstay, it found its way to the kitchen, making a mark as a favored, flavorful addition to stews, shepherd’s pies, sautéed onions (my favorite) and even some boozy good desserts, like cakes and brownies.

I haven’t stayed at the Shelbourne Hotel on recent trips to Dublin—the decline in the economy during the years of the Celtic Tiger made it affordable on that trip nearly ten years ago, but not since.  The last time I checked, the rates had tripled out of my price range. One of my favorite memories of the Shelbourne was the decadent small sweets offered at check-in. Their Irish shortbread literally melted in my mouth.  Though there was no Guinness in the ingredients, I am quite sure that Arthur would have approved. I think you will too (the secret is cornstarch). And of course, you must use real Irish butter!

Whether your day is filled with corned beef and cabbage or Irish stew, and your night filled with green beer, Irish whiskey or stout, I wish you (and Arthur Guinness) a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Irish Shortbread Recipe

This recipe (converted from grams) has only four ingredients-it’s the Irish butter (Kerrygold readily available in local markets) from grass-fed cows that makes it so rich and the addition of cornstarch gives it the melt-in-your-mouth texture. Recipes in Ireland call for caster sugar, which is a very fine baking sugar that is quick to dissolve. I make my own by pulsing regular granulated sugar in my food processor until it’s very fine.

Ingedients

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup fine granulated sugar

8 ounces (1 cup), cut into 3/4-inch pieces, cold, salted Irish butter

Directions

Heat the oven to 300° F. Lightly butter the bottom of a 9-inch tart pan (or springform pan) with a removable bottom. Sift the flour and cornstarch into the large bowl of an electric mixer. Add the sugar and mix on low speed just to blend the ingredients.  With the mixer running add the butter pieces and continue mixing until crumbs form and there is no loose flour, about 2 minutes until well blended.

Transfer the dough to the tart pan. Use the palm of your hand to press the dough evenly into the pan. Use a thin metal spatula to smooth the top.

Use a small sharp knife to mark 12 even wedge-shaped cookies (marks will dissipate with baking).

Bake the cookies until the top is light golden, about 1 hour (don’t let them get too brown).  Immediately use a small sharp knife to cut completely through the marked wedges, dust with sugar and decoratively prick the wedges with a fork. Cool the shortbread thoroughly in the pan. Remove the sides of the pan and separate the cookies. Store in a tightly covered container for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to a month.

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