The biggest surprise about the legendary luck of the Irish is that the term is decidedly American. It derived from the sheer number of successful gold and silver miners in the American west of the 19th C of Irish ancestry. Those fellows might have originated in the Emerald Isle, they might have dreamed of shamrocks, green thumbs might have run in their families, but given their chosen paths a couple of gold or silver thumbs would have come in very handy indeed. And clearly did.
Speaking of fortunate thumbs, Irish legend has it that a certain Finn MacCool, giant warrior and hunter extraordinaire, decided to obtain a superior education by eating the famed Salmon of Knowledge. While MacCool was cooking this remarkable fish, he burned his thumb. He immediately brought the thumb to his mouth to stuck it and found that by doing so, he could take in a burst of the fish’s limitless knowledge. He was able then to use this ready to hand means for assistance whenever needed. MacCool was as clever a trickster as the Irish ever produced. They still love him and his wily, cunning ways.
As luck would have it, we’re approaching St. Patrick’s Day, honoring the national patron saint of the island. Some of us like to think of this formalized “wearing of the green” as a reminder that the promise of spring is around the equinoxal corner. It is interesting to note that while in Ireland the holiday is cause for a five-day celebration of food, events and parades, the biggest parades are in the U.S.. In fact, the first such parade in Ireland didn’t start until 1907 and was not a practice in Dublin until 1931. Don’t you think that Dublin should also adopted the Chicagoan practice and now turn the River Liffey green?
Everyone thinks of potatoes when the topic of Irish food is on the table. But potatoes are, of course, from the Americas and became a staple of Ireland in a dire time. Today’s Ireland has a wide and delicious pantry of foods to offer. Previously published here and available on the website are recipes for Colcannon and festive Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes. Today we’re offering a more traditional savory dish, Irish Lamb Stew. The Irish use bacon in their lamb stew which gives a lovely smoky tinge to a deeply satisfying dish. Along with a portion of their luck, “may your pockets be heavy and your heart light”.
The foods of winter in the northeast are frequently rich and dense in flavor. Numbering prominently among these foods are the winter squashes and root vegetables. Those squashes categorized as “winter” squash include acorn, banana, buttercup, butternut, delicata, hubbard, kabocha, pumpkin, spaghetti, sweet dumpling and turban. That said, many would argue that acorn squash is really more closely related to its shirttail cousin, the zucchini and consequently qualifies as a summer squash. Others claim that the acorn squash is the result of a mixed marriage between a melon and a cucumber. Technically, squashes in general are fruits, which leads us back to two questions: Who gets to do the categorizing? What are the exact definitions of fruit and vegetable? Definitive answers seem to be in short supply. Let’s just forget the pigeon-holing and enjoy the fruits of our farmers’ labor.
Squash is one of those many fruits most of us treat as vegetables. It is indigenous to the Americas and has been a dietary staple in Mexico and Guatemala for approximately 7,000 years. Along with corn and beans, squash is thought, to have been one of the first foods cultivated in the western hemisphere. Since its western origins squash has travelled far, wide and well. It is now a staple food source in such diverse places as Argentina, China, Egypt, Italy, Japan, Romania and Turkey.
These globe-, sphere-, cone-, cylinder-, pear-, heart-, and serpentine-shaped squashes are worth squirreling away. Depending on the variety, they have an extended shelf life of 3 weeks to a couple of months under optimum conditions. The recommended environment for most squash is that they should rest on a non-concrete surface (cardboard, wooden planks or shelving) not touching each other, to maximize airflow, at a temperature of about 55°F. Many basements qualify. Wine cellars too.
Isn’t it nice that most of these squashes come with their own serving bowl? A bowl that frequently begs to be stuffed with everything from soup to nuts to grains to meats and other vegetables. On the website you will find the recipes for Lamb Stuffed Acorn Squash, Buttermilk Squash and Cider Soup, Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto, and Pan-Braised Winter Squash with Cinnamon Scented Couscous along with many, many others. Today we are offering Roasted Acorn Squash with Maple Syrup and Sage Cream.
Hard to image that this glowingly radiant root is born underground. It ought to be part of some ancient myth about lighting the underworld. Maybe it could have cheered Persephone up if her mother had slipped one into her tunic pocket during the winter months when she was required to remain in the underworld with her abducting husband, Hades.
As a food source, the turnip is actually older than agriculture itself, eaten by prehistoric man as a staple. It is so old that no one is convinced of its origins. It was popular during both the Greek and Roman empires. Then, some Roman forum orators and politicians became so outrageous that the populace began to use turnips to throw at those who were particularly egregious. Turnips are a lot harder than tomatoes, if less messy.
Shortly after that the turnip inexplicably lost its sway on the dinner table. Perhaps some of those pelted politicians banned them from their households and it became a trend. So the nutritious, delicious turnip was turned out. It fell into use as fodder for livestock, some of whom were let loose to harvest their own meals without the aid of human machinery. As someone once famously said, to everything there is a season. Apparently some hungry human had decided to try the turnip himself. And so the cycle begins again.
In recent times, and largely due to the taste, foresight and perseverance of Alice Waters, the turnip is now back in gourmet kitchens, adding a mild bit of spice. When harvested as baby veggies, they can make a plate brilliantly colorful as well as upping the flavor ante. For reasons that escape me, many recipes for turnips blend them with potatoes; unnecessarily dampening down an independently lovely taste. This week’s recipe is for a simple and wonderful Mashed Turnips, a side dish that goes very well with pork, lamb and duck. In a previous column we offered a delicious Creamy Turnip Soup from our Market Master, Kay Carroll that has turned out to be a perennial market tasting favorite. For that and other previously published turnip recipes, check out the market web site at http://www.litchfieldfarmersmarket.org/