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A day to celebrate all things Irish - including a warming Irish stew

You don't have to be Irish to enjoy delicious Irish stew, and the coming St Patrick's Day seems a perfect excuse to make it.

In the United States,where an estimated 40 million people have Irish heritage, St Patrick's Day, on March 17, is taken very seriously. Many cities, especially Boston, hold parades and parties. People drink lots of beer and wear silly green hats bearing shamrocks. Many Bermudians also use it as a time to celebrate Irish heritage.

In Ireland, St Patrick's Day is a religious observance for Roman Catholics. The story behind St Patrick's Day is full of dizzying contradictions. Irish people say it marks the day that St Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. (For a scientific wet-blanket explanation of why there are no snakes in Ireland see txtwriter.com/onscience/articles/patsnakes.html ). Other sources, however, say St Patrick's Day started as a religious holiday to mark St Patrick's death. St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and was active as a missionary in the late fifth century. Some say he was actually Welsh, captured as a teenager and taken to Ireland as a slave. Who captured him as a slave, is debatable. Some accounts say he was captured by “the British” while others say “Irish raiders”. After six years, he escaped from his captors and left Ireland. He later returned to Ireland as a missionary, and helped to bring Christianity to Ireland.

If you have more Portuguese heritage than Irish, consider that the Irish and Portuguese historically, have something in common a fungus called phytophthora infestans. This is the fungus that caused the Irish potato blight from 1844 to 1849. The blight turned potatoes growing in the fields black and foul-smelling. Before the famine, potatoes were one of the main food staples in Ireland, and it is estimated that an eighth of the Irish population in the 1840s died of starvation due to the potato blight.

The resulting famine caused many families to leave Ireland and immigrate to the United States in search of better lives. It also caused the start of Portuguese immigration. In the late 1840s the fungus crossed over to Europe and attacked grape production among other things. Madeiran vineyards were badly affected and loss of livelihood was one of the reasons people began to leave Madeira in the 1840s. The first boatload came to Bermuda in 1849 on the

Golden Rule. The Irish immigrants brought many of their food traditions to the United States, one of them being Irish stew. When

The Royal Gazette asked around a bit about traditional Irish recipes, Irish stew was consistently named as a family favourite. In gaelic, the stew is known as “ballymaloe” or “stobhach gaelach”.

Traditionally, the meat in the stew is lamb or the tougher mutton. Don't use expensive cuts of meat if you want something authentic. An Irish stew includes potatoes, onions, and parsley. Lamb or mutton shanks or neckbones are often used to make the stock. Sometimes Irish cooks add carrots or barley for thickening.

The carrots are a source of controversy, as some regions of Ireland include carrots, while it is less common to put them in the stew in other regions. And apparently, most Irish people don't really consider it Irish stew if you add Guinness, whiskey or beef. See www.dochara.com/the-irish/food-recipes/irish-stew for more information on this subject.

Irish Stew

½ clove of garlic

2 ½ lbs boneless lamb chops, ½-inch thick o,r pre-chopped stew lamb

3 large carrots

2 tbs pearl barley

1 ½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

1 bunch of parsley

5 c water or stock

3 celery stalks

½ c frozen peas

2 lbs russet potatoes

Trim excess fat from chops, and cut into cubes. Peel and slice vegetables including garlic. Chop celery. Place layer of potatoes in stew pan. Season lightly with pepper and salt. Add a layer of meat and a sprinkling of vegetables and barley. Repeat layers, finishing with potatoes. Add water or stock almost to cover. Bring slowly to boil. Two hours into it add frozen peas. Then cook for another half an hour until meat is tender. Skim excess fat and serve sprinkled with parsley.

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Published March 11, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated March 11, 2011 at 8:53 am)

A day to celebrate all things Irish - including a warming Irish stew

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