Saint Patrick’s Day, next Tuesday, March 17, is the feast day of of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. He was born in Roman Britain in the late 4th century, was kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave. He escaped from slavery, but returned some time around the year 432 to convert the Irish to Christianity.
Upon his death on March 17, 461, he had established monasteries, churches, and schools, and over the centuries, has had many legends grow around him, like that he drove the snakes out of Ireland, and he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. Ireland began celebrating his day with religious services and feasts.
Emigrants to the United States brought the tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day to the level it is, a day to celebrate everything Irish with big parades and lots of green everywhere, including green beer and green dyed rivers. Records of the first elaborate St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations in Boston, Chicago and New York date back to the 1700s.
Irish or not, it’s not uncommon for people to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, even though the original color associated with St. Patrick was blue.
While corned beef and cabbage are foods commonly associated with the holiday, Shepherd’s Pie and Irish Soda Bread are also acceptable St. Patrick’s Day celebratory fare. Corned beef and cabbage actually aren’t even a traditional Irish meal, but an Irish-American take on the Irish dish of bacon and cabbage. Some of these practices eventually were adopted by the Irish in Ireland themselves, but they did it for the benefit of tourists.
It’s funny how the heritage you’ve always identified with can change with a little research. Growing up, my paternal grandmother always told me that her side of the family was Irish. With the last name of McIntosh, who was I to question? With the red and green plaid framed and hanging on the living room wall, I knew so little about Ireland that I just went with it.
In my recent genealogy studies, I’ve yet to find the direct Irish connections. Instead, I’ve found Scottish roots that go back to the 1400s with castles in Scotland. It’s mind boggling to read that my 19th great-grandparents were a Lord and Lady with a big ol’ castle near Inverness, Scotland, with their offspring serving in the same or similar capacity as time went on. There’s even a “Sir Knight” fella in the family tree.
Some of my Scots were shipped off to the newly formed colonies as punishment for participation in different battles during the 1600s and 1700s, while other family members came on their own to help settle this new land.
So, all these years, I’ve been mis-celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, mis-claiming Irish heritage that wasn’t mine… but my newfound knowledge isn’t going to change things next Tuesday. I’ve got my green sweater ready and the day’s menu plan swirling around my head.
On St. Patrick’s Day in our home, we will be celebrating with a Shepherd’s Pie. I discovered this recipe a handful of years ago and have made it made times, usually doubling it to have more because it’s so delicious. It’s basically a thick beef stew topped with mashed potatoes and baked. It’s filling and nourishing and you’ll want to make this more than just once a year in March. Traditional Shepherd’s Pie uses ground lamb, but I prefer ground beef. It’s an excellent way to use leftover mashed potatoes, too.
For the beef and vegetable “stew” layer:
1 lb. ground beef
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3/4 cups chopped carrots
1/2 cup green peas (frozen or fresh, not canned)
1/2 cup corn (frozen or fresh, not canned)
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 T. fresh thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 clove minced garlic
1 cup beef broth
Salt and pepper
For the mashed potato topping, if you’re not using leftover mashed potatoes:
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup milk
3 T. butter, softened or melted
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Brown beef until fully cooked, about 5 minutes. Drain fat, then add onion and carrot. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes, until soft.
Add peas and corn, and cook for 2 minutes. Add butter to the pan and toss around until fully melted, then stir in flour, thyme leaves, and garlic. Stir for 1 minute, until flour disappears. Add beef stock, then bring liquid to a boil over high heat. Cook for a minute or two until broth thickens into a light sauce. Remove pan from heat and transfer beef and veggie mixture to an 8×8 baking dish.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
To make mashed potatoes, place cubed potatoes in a pot filled with cold water. Place on the stove set over high heat and bring to a boil. Cook for about 5 minutes, until potato cubes are fork-tender. Drain potatoes, then spread them out on a sheet pan in a single layer and let sit for a couple minutes so the steam can escape. Use a fork or potato masher to mash the potatoes, then stir in cream, milk, butter, and cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Spread mashed potatoes on top of the beef and veggies in the 8×8 baking dish.
Bake for 20–25 minutes, until mashed potatoes are golden brown and crispy on top.