sabato 17 marzo 2012
Wearing o' the Green
The past is another country: they do things differently there.
- L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between
Oh! The drums go bang,
And the cymbals clang,
And the horns they blaze away;
McCarthy pumps the old bassoon
While I the pipes do play;
And Hennessey Tennessee tootles the flute,
And the music is somethin' grand;
A credit to old Ireland is McNamara's band.
- lyrics from "McNamara’s Band"
Last March 17th, Italy celebrated 150 years of accepting its Constitution. It was a strange day, visually, in Florence, as we watched many Italians walking around in the center with little Italian flags affixed to lapels: it was the first time in all the years of acquaintance I've had with this country that I saw Italians celebrating their Italianness.
Italians tend to identify their "paese" (country) with their birth city. They are Florentine first, and Italian second. Ditto the Roman. Ditto the Milanese. (If you find this idea somewhat confusing or absurd, do please consider the Texan, the New Yorker – and I’m not talking Upstate, the Californian.)
(No one’s chest – as far as I can tell – swells when he or she says that he/she hails from Dubuque.)
(Not that there is anything wrong with Dubuque, mind you.)
For those of us from the United States, and other parts of the Anglophone world, parts of Great Britain probably excepted, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Green beer’s the norm, and lots of folks eat corned beef and cabbage.
My Cousin-in-Law Michael, who is really Irish, had some interesting thoughts about this day, and debunks some commonly-held myths about Irish cuisine and other things: “Yeah, seemingly corned beef and cabbage, as it is eaten here, is a Jewish tradition, picked up on the Lower East Side. They didn't bring it with them, that's for sure.
The Irish never wore kilts and never played bagpipes. Never ever. Try Scotland.
In spite of many efforts, St. Patrick's day in Ireland is the poor relation of the festivities here, in Aussie, etc.
Traditional Irish music is a niche market in Ireland, too. Bars and hotels host sessions, but they are mostly to snare the tourist. Americans think of Whiskey In The Jar, etc., when they are asked to name an Irish song. When your average 25 year old Irish is asked to name an Irish song, he'll say Sunday Bloody Sunday, Zombie, The Boys Are Back In Town, Gloria, et al.
According to the most recent UN study I saw, the Irish drink significantly less beer per capita than Americans.
Irish dancing is WAY more popular in America than it is in Ireland.”
And then a pet peeve : “Luke Kelly of The Dubliners group was asked did they have anything like the Munich Oktoberfest in Dublin. He said yes. O what do you call it, said the interested German. In Dublin, said Luke, we call it Friday night. In which case, I add, Musikfest is Friday night between eight and nine, before things really get started.
And, as you well know, Patty is a girl's name. I hate hearing St. Patty's Day. Paddy should be the contraction, if one is needed.”
Wanting to know more, I turned to the highly suspect, but always entertainingly informative Wiki:
“Saint Patrick's Day …is a cultural and religious holiday celebrated internationally on 17 March in Dublin, Ireland. The tradition came about at the instigation of the Irish Protestant organisation [WHO KNEW?] The Knights of St. Patrick. The inaugural parade took place on 17 March 1783. In what has been described as an act of cultural re-orientation the British established a new focus of ritual and spectacle in the figure of St. Patrick, a pre-reformation saint who appealed to both the Roman Catholic and Irish Protestant traditions in Ireland … The day is generally characterised by the attendance of church services,wearing of green attire and the lifting of Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol,which is often proscribed during the rest of the season."
Why we wear green:
"Originally, the colour associated with Saint Patrick was blue. Over the years the colour green and its association with Saint Patrick's day grew.Green ribbons and shamrocks were worn in celebration of St Patrick's Day as early as the 17th century. Saint Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, and the wearing and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs have become a ubiquitous feature of the day.In the 1798 rebellion, to make a political statement, Irish soldiers wore full green uniforms on 17 March in hopes of catching public attention. The phrase "the wearing of the green", meaning to wear a shamrock on one's clothing, derives from a song of the same name.”
My kind of parade:
“The shortest St Patrick's Day parade in the world takes place in Dripsey, Cork. The parade lasts just 100 yards and travels between the village's two pubs.”
Cabbage doesn’t much figure into the Italian diet, at least not in Tuscany (it's probably really big in the Alto Adige). Red cabbage is virtually impossible to find in our part of the world: what’s available is what's known in the States as Savoy cabbage (the curly, delicately-hued, shades of green vegetable) and verza or krauti (our “normal” cabbage”).
Sorting through some papers, I found this recipe jammed in an envelope, the postmark 10 March 1981. From my mother, it contained a recipe for "Old Fashioned Cabbage Soup."
No idea why it’s “old fashioned.” Nor if this recipe is hers, or perhaps her father’s (her mother couldn’t cook to save her life which is why, perhaps, my mother and her siblings became good cooks; my Uncle Bill was an experimenter, a culinary pusher-of-boundaries: he was eating snails, oysters Rockefeller, and telling us it was ok to like the remains of last night’s clambake for breakfast the following morning – this was a radical idea to us, in single digits at the time; while some people in the 60s were tuning in, turning on, and turning off – we were eating corn on the cob for breakfast).
The recipe is as my mother wrote it. So do please read through it before setting out – have all the ingredients ready to throw into the cauldron. To quote M.F.K. Fisher: “This is one of those breathless operations which demand, as does all Oriental cooking, that the ingredients be prepared before anything starts the final gallop between the skillet and the table.”
Old Fashioned Cabbage Soup
Saute 2 cups shredded green cabbage and ½ c. finely chopped onion in 3 tablespoons butter until tender. Stir in 3 tablespoons flour, ½ tsp. each caraway seed and salt, ¼ tsp. each pepper and paprika. Remove from heat; gradually stir in 2 cups milk.
Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute.
Remove from heat and add ½ pint light cream and ¾ cup (3 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese: stir until melted. Return to heat if necessary to melt cheese but do not boil. Top w/small crackers (oyster). Makes 4 cups.
M.F.K. Fisher, “Some Seeds of this Planet,” in With Bold Knife and Fork, Berkeley, 1968. This book was recently shredded by the Puppers, and is in pieces.
www.wikipedia.org, “St. Patrick’s Day” and “McNamara’s Band.” The song, written in 1946, was a hit for Bing Crosby. Various schools of thought exist re: the proper lyrics.
ERIN GO BRAGH! Or, to paraphrase my Cousin-in-Law, Happy Friday Night!