You would think that with a name like Novak that I don’t have an ounce of Irish blood. Believe it or not I am one-quarter Irish. Like many Canadians, I am a bit of a Heinz 57 — half Czech, quarter Hungarian and the finally a shot of Irish — quite the combo! I like to think that the shot of Irish and Hungarian blood full of life and laughter helps to counter balance my more dour Slavic side.
My maternal grandmother was Mary Sheahen from Limerick. Her journey to Hungary where she lived for many years with my grandfather and begat her happy brood of nine children is a story for another day. With the war raging , my widowed Granny returned with her family to her Ireland. My mother Betty with her lovely “Budapest” brogue was brought up through the Irish school system — tortured to learn Gaelic AND English when she emigrated to Dublin at the age of 12! The benefit of this family exodus is having uncles, aunts and cousins strewn throughout the Emerald Isle so my Irish roots are real.
Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day! Our winemaker Dre proclaims this as her favourite day of the year! I must say I like the celebration as well. In true Irish fashion it involves laughter, camaraderie and of course a good pint (or two) of well poured Guinness.
Some of my happiest times growing up were spent visiting with my Granny in Dublin or Blackrock to be specific. Visits would always include an icy day at the beach at Brittas Bay, Dragon sailing with my crazy uncle John in Dun Laoghaire, lunch at Bewleys in Dublin and trips around some of the most beautiful countryside in the world – Wexford, Kerry, Cork.
With an interest in all things delicious, I have food memories of Ireland that pre-date the glory days of the Celtic Tiger and entry into the EU. In the early days, Irish cooking was based on the best that the island farmers, fisherman and food purveyors could muster. Think of Irish cuisine and many would immediately think of corned beef and cabbage. My food memories in those early days are quite different.
Now let’s talk butter. There is no other butter in the world that can compare with Irish butter. Get your hands on a pat of “Kerrygold” butter and you will immediately see what I mean. Irish dairy products are simply richer and more delicious than average. I suspect that the animal husbandry has a lot to do with it. One look at the verdant green pastures and you can guess the difference. I even think that Irish “fruit and nut” chocolate bars taste creamier!
Irish smoked salmon is another stand out for me. I am not a huge fan of smoked salmon most times but give me a side of Irish smoked salmon and that is another thing entirely! Caught in icy streams and carefully smoked, sliced thinly and served on Irish soda bread with butter, capers and onions …MMM, MMM, MMM!
Dublin Bay prawns are another super star in the culinary legacy of Ireland! Quickly cooked up with butter and garlic, these little langoustines are simple sublime.
And the good old Irish potato still stands out for me as something oh, so delicious. Grown in verdant fields and with a lick of sea salt in the air, nothing can hold a candle to a heaping dish of steaming Irish potatoes and…butter!
Ah, and…a slice of freshly baked Irish Soda Bread with a healthy dose of Irish butter is one of the simplest yet most delicious memories of all. Gourmet Magazine once had a very authentic recipe for this bread. It is relatively easy to make if I recall. Please don’t make anything with raisin or currants in it. That’s simply not authentic in my humble opinion.
So tomorrow as you go about channeling the Irish in you (everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!) head off to the cheese shop and get a piece of Irish cheese, bake up some Irish soda bread if you can, get some of the best smoked salmon you can find (Irish if you have the luck of the Irish!) and prepare a feast. And remember…to get the best butter you can find.
Now for the beverages…a pint of Guinness (best only if in a pub and when drawn by a professional!), a shot of Irish Whiskey — Jameson’s (my personal favourite after a particularly stressful day) or Paddy’s or a nice Irish coffee (make certain not to top it with a heap of whipped cream) with a thick layer of 35% cream skillfully poured over a spoon so that it floats on top like a little piece of heaven.
Whatever your background, take advantage of the feast day of St. Paddy and …celebrate! Sláinte!