top of page
  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

March 17 St. Patrick's Feast Day

In Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day is both a holy day and a national holiday. If it wasn't for Pope Celestine's decision to rename the Welsh-born priest, Maewyn Succat, "Patricius" when the pontiff commissioned him to evangelize Ireland, M. Patricius was subsequently consecrated a bishop at forty-five and began preaching the gospel to the Celts, a mission that lasted sixty three years until his death at age 103. Living to 103 on Irish cooking was probably adequate justification for sainthood itself.

St. Patrick has two symbols - the shamrock and the leek. According to legend, Patrick used a shamrock which was sacred to the Druids to explain the trinity. The leek symbolism is based on an obscure legend about Patrick when he was praying for a dying women. The woman had a vision about a "rush-like" vegetable floating in the air. In the vision, the women learned that unless she ate the hallucinatory vegetable, she would die. When she told Patricius about the vision, he prayed over some rushes which were miraculously transformed into leaks. The women then ate them and was cured. The Irish have since considered the leek an indigenous food with miraculous properties, a culinary symbol that they share with the Welsh .

The source of the traditional celebration of St. Patrick's day with corned beef and cabbage is obscure. While the process of preserving meat with salt is ancient, food historians tell us that preserving beef with "corns" or large grains of salt originated in Medieval Europe. The term "corned beef" dates to 1621. From the late 17th century until 1825, the beef-corning industry was the biggest and most important asset to Cork, Ireland. In this period Cork exported vast quantities of cured beef to Britain, Europe, America, Newfoundland, and the West Indies. However, some authorities claim that eating corned beef on St. Patrick's Day is purely an American tradition. Myrtle Allen, author of Myrtle Allen's Cooking at Ballymaloe House (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1990), contends that corned beef is "no more Irish than roast chicken." Homemade corned beef is superior to commercial corned beef primarily because one has the advantage of modifying the spices in the brine to one's individual taste. Homemade corned beef recipes generally call for saltpeter (potassium nitrate) which is also used a fertilizer, in model rocket propellant, and in several fireworks such as smoke bombs

Here is the ultimate Irish celebratory menu for St. Patrick's Day. For the most appropriate music for this dinner, we suggest "The Pooka and the Fiddler & Happy as Larry -- Two Stories by Colcannon" recorded by the Irish musical group Colcannon. For the perfect après-dinner film, we suggest St. Patrick: The Irish Legend (2000) with Patrick Bergin in the title role and details the legend of how Patrick drove all of the snakes from Ireland the moment he returned to the land where he was was held as a slave in his youth.

Irish Leek Soup Corned Beef Colcannon Irish Soda Bread Clover Honey  Ice Cream with Candied Shamrocks Irish Coffee

Irish Leek Soup


4 large leeks, cut lengthwise, separate, clean.

Use only the white and pale green parts, chop.

3 Tb butter

1 cup water

1 cup half and half

2 cups chicken broth

2 lbs potatoes, peeled, diced into 1/2 inch pieces

salt & freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup chives for garnish


  1. Cook leeks in butter with salt and pepper in a medium sized sauce pan. Cover pan, cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Check often. Do not let brown.

  2. Add water, cream, broth, and potatoes. Cook for 20 minutes. Scoop about half of the soup mixture into a blender, puree and return to pan. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

  3. Serve with bacon bits as a garnish.

Serves 4-6.

Corned Beef


3 quarts water

3 12-oz bottles Guinness stout

1 cup salt

1&1/2 tsp saltpeter or ascorbic acid (sour salt)

1 beef brisket, about 4 pounds

2 whole allspice

12 peppercorns

4 medium onions studded with 6 cloves each

4 bay leaves

12 peppercorns

1/4 tsp baking soda

6 garlic cloves

3 ribs celery, cut in 2-inch pieces

2 large onions, cut in wedges

2 cloves garlic, minced


  1. Salt beef on all sides and massage into beef. Tie up with string in compact shape.

  2. In a large pot, add water, beer, saltpeter (or sour salt) soda, 6 peppercorns, and allspice. Boil for 15 minutes. Skim and strain into a bowl. Refrigerate brine until cold.

  3. Spread half of remaining salt on the bottom of an earthenware crock (never use a metal bowl). Sprinkle remaining salt over top of meat and place in crock. Cover with brine and refrigerate for 4-6 weeks.

  4. Turn beef every two days. (You can also weight down with heavy object so the meat is completely submerged in brine in which case you can turn beef one a week). Never allow refrigerator temperature to go above 36ºF. To cook, remove from brine. and wash surface under cold water.

  5. Place in a large (8-quart or larger) pot. Cover with cold water and add the celery, onions, and 2 cloves minced garlic. Bring to a boil; skim off any scum which develops on the surface. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer for 3&1/2 hours.

Serves 8-10


Cocannon's name is from the Gaelic cal ceann fhionn -- white-headed cabbage. Although traditionally eaten in Ireland at Halloween, it is also a popular dish on St. Patrick's Day. Although currently more commonly made with cabbage, it used to be be made with kale (a member of the cabbage family). When you get a few Irishmen together in a pub talking about their mothers' cooking, one or more of them will generally burst out in the traditional colcannon song

Did you ever eat colcannon

When 'twas made with yellow cream

And the kale and praties blended

Like the picture in a dream?

Did you ever take a forkful

And dip it in the lake

Of heather-flavored butter

That your mother used to make?

Oh, you did, yes you did!

So did he and so did I,

And the more I think about it

Sure, the more I want to cry.

God be with the happy times

When trouble we had not,

And our mothers made colcannon

In the little three-legged pot.


3 cups finely shredded green cabbage or kale

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup Guinness stout

6 cooked large potatoes, mashed

1/4 cup half and half

1/4 cup butter or margarine

Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place cabbage (or kale), onion, water, and beet in a saucepan and quickly bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 8 minutes until tender. Do not overcook.

  2. Add mashed potatoes, cream, butter or margarine, salt and pepper.

Serves 4-6

Irish Soda Bread


2 cups white flour

2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

4 tbsp. butter, chilled

1 cup raisins

1&1/2 cups buttermilk


  1. Heat the oven to 350 ºF. In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients.

  2. Cut in the butter until it is pea-sized. Stir in the raisins and buttermilk. Turn the dough onto a floured surface, knead 1 minute, and shape into a disk.

  3. Cut an "X" in the top and bake on a greased baking sheet for 45 to 50 minutes.

  4. Makes one 8-inch-wide loaf.

Clover Honey Ice Cream with Candied Shamrocks

Special Equipment

  • Ice cream maker

Ice Cream Ingredients

1 cup sugar

5 egg yolks

1&1/8 cups whipping cream

1&1/8 cups milk

3 TB clover honey

Ice Cream Instructions

  1. Beat the sugar and egg yolks together until thick and pale yellow.

  2. Bring the milk to a simmer.

  3. Beat the milk into the eggs and sugar in a slow stream.

  4. Pour the mixture back into pan and place over low heat. Stir until the custard thickens slightly (170° F on an instant-read thermometer. Use a thermometer, since at 175° F the eggs will scramble). Stir in the honey. Refrigerate over night.

  5. Whip the cream. Gently fold the custard .into the whipped cream. Freeze using an ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions.

Candied Shamrocks Ingredients

4 dozen shamrocks with stems. (Some stores sell small pots of shamrocks for St. Patrick Day)

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Candied Shamrocks Instructions

  1. Mix sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir constantly until sugar is dissolved. Lower heat to a simmer. Add shamrocks and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove shamrocks with a slotted spoon.

  2. Boil sugar liquid until it registers 234º F on a candy thermometer. Dip shamrocks in syrup to coat them and remove with slotted spoon to a cake racks to cool. When dry, snap off stems.

Irish Coffee


1 can pressurized whipped cream

Irish whisky

sugar cubes (3 per drink)

Strong black coffee or espresso


  1. Heat a stemmed whiskey goblet.

  2. Pour in one shot of Irish whiskey. Add three sugar cubes. Fill with strong black coffee to within one inch of top. Stir gently. Top off to the brim with whipped cream

© 2017 Gordon Nary


bottom of page