By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist
In great anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, a couple of Irish-Sandpoint pals and I are headed to Butte, Mont., (sometimes referred to as Ireland’s fifth province) to celebrate in true Irish fashion! In preparation for our voyage I’ve been making Blarney Stones (small, crushed-peanut rolled confections) by the dozen, to share with my Butte friends. We’ll line up, schooners of green beer in hand, cheering on the iconic parade, participants marching strong for more than 80 years. Massive stainless steel pots of corned beef and cabbage will simmer all night long, to be heaped upon plates and served to the masses. In the old days, the festivities lasted for an entire week, with plenty of celebrating Irish. At one-time Butte boasted more than 1500 Sullivan’s and 1300 Murphy’s (my clan).
Growing up in rival Helena, we made many trips over the hill to Butte and always made sure our cars (with the telling “5” on our license plate number), were tucked away in a quiet neighborhood and well off the beaten path. Those raucous Butte boys were not above leaving their mark on our (parent’s) cars.
Besides corned beef and cabbage, Butte was famous for pasties. Pasties are “hand pies”, filled with seasoned beef, potatoes, onions and carrots, wrapped, then baked, in pie dough. Packed in a graniteware pail, these were standard fare for every Irish miner. Cocktail pasties, a miniature version, were perfunctory at weddings, funerals and baptisms. The Butte Italians had their meatballs but the Irish owned the pastie and every housewife worth her weight in pastry had a secret ingredient or a special technique and she was deft at turning out several dozen with little more than a day’s notice (for my own daughter’s wedding I prepared more than 200).
While most of the mining immigrants subsisted on hearty stews of mutton or beef, back in the old country, on that small green island surrounded by water, fish and seafood was the diet mainstay. Today, seafood continues to dominate menus, in trusty old pubs and trendy restaurant that have popped up along every Irish coast. Bantry Bay is world famous for their mussels and the best crab rolls to be found hail from the Beara Peninsula of West Cork. Likewise, no trip to Ireland is complete without a heaping bowl of Dublin Shrimp, simmered in a savory beer stock, served up with a side of caper mayo and washed down with a stout. There are a lot of great stout beers in Ireland, and some regions have their own version, like Murphy’s which hails from County Cork, or Dublin’s Guinness – Ireland’s most popular beverage, crafted for more than 250 years.
A relative newcomer to the Irish beverage scene is the celebrated Irish Coffee. Many are surprised to learn that this beverage hasn’t been around all that long, and came about purely by accident. In 1942, a group of American passengers returned to Foynes airbase in the west of Ireland, cold and wet from an aborted flight, and were in desperate need of hot food and warm drink. The young chef, Joe Sheridan, heated some cold cups, brewed some strong coffee, added a bit of brown sugar, poured in a good dose of potent whiskey and topped it with thick cream. As Irish luck would have it, one of the stranded travelers was Stanton Delaplane, an American travel writer from San Francisco. Upon returning stateside, with recipe in hand, he convinced the owners of the Buena Vista Café to serve this delicious hot toddy. Chef Joe eventually left Ireland, wound up running the Buena Vista Café and the Irish coffee’s fame and popularity spread throughout the U.S.
You don’t have to be Irish to love this spiked coffee, but purist agree that there’s an art to the perfect Irish coffee. Once floated at the top of the drink, don’t stir or disturb the cream, and the coffee should be sipped through the thick cream.
Where ever you gather on Saint Patrick’s Day, I hope your bowl is heaped with Dublin Shrimp and your mug is filled with spirit, because: Is deacair amhran a radh gan gloine (It is hard to sing with an empty glass).
•2 cans or bottles of a good light beer
•¼ cup minced onions
•2 crushed garlic cloves
•2 bay leaves
•2 ribs of celery with leaves
•head of dill (fresh or dried)
•a pinch of salt
• 2lbs jumbo shrimp, cleaned and
deveined (leave the tail on)
•1 lemon, sliced thinly
•In two cans of good light beer, simmer all ingredients except shrimp and lemon, for ten minutes. Add lemon slices and top with shrimp. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until shrimp and pink and firm. Drain well (but do not rinse) and chill 2 hours to overnight. Serve with dipping sauce.
•1 cup mayonnaise
•1tbs fresh lemon juice
•1 tbs finelychopped cucumber
•1 tbs chopped capers
•1 tsp anchovy paste
•1 tsp chopped parsley