Happy March 17, readers. If you recognize St. Patrick’s Day in any way, shape, or form, then you have my sympathies—Tuesday is not the best day to celebrate much of anything. But there are plenty of ways to make merry that won’t leave you feeling groggy tomorrow: a splash of Green River soda, a bowl of Dublin coddle, the tiniest and most sensible finger of poitin to spike some cold brew coffee. I myself hail from that most vocal subset of Irish folk, the South Side Irish of Chicago, and while we enjoy a rich culinary tradition year-round, St. Patrick’s Day seems like the perfect occasion to bust out our most prized resource of all: church cookbooks.
My ancestors loved soda bread, corned beef, and stew, sure, but there’s no better way to honor the South Side Irish than with the recipes they once produced and ate year-round, and loved so well they submitted them to the parish cookbook for all to enjoy. And since these recipes are so often created with the express purpose of using items already in the pantry, it won’t be hard to cobble an entire meal together from the gems found within these butterfly-bound tomes—in this case, those of S.S. Peter & Paul Parish and Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church.
Let’s start off with a nice salad, shall we?
4 lg. cukes (optional remove seeds)
layer cukes and salt 1/2 way
2 lg. cloves garlic crushed
layer cukes and salt
vinegar and oil
Cover and shake. Next morning turn over and let set. Next day drain and add 2 pts. sour cream or sour half & half of 1 plain yogurt.
Hm, this recipe is a bit inscrutable to me, though I suppose I could cut down on what sounds like a hefty amount of salt and just toss cukes with garlic, vinegar, and oil immediately before serving instead? With some deciphering and adjustment, I’d gladly make this! And how perfect to put something green on the table. Now, on to the entrees.
BEEFBURGER ON BUN
2 c. ground beef mix
4 hamburger buns
Heat ground beef mix in a sauce pan. Spoon mixture onto bottom half of each bun. Cover with top.
I can appreciate any recipe that understands when it’s dealing with amateurs, but this one clearly has a whole additional backstory we’re not seeing. “Cover with top” is either a remarkable bit of shade, demonstrating the parishioner’s impatience at being asked to submit to a church cookbook, or a lovingly patient reminder to beginning chefs, the greatest kindness I can imagine. Sixty-three years after its original publication, we might never know the truth. But that’s okay, because Beefburger on Bun is a foolproof dinner staple, and as such, I shall cook it in tribute to the practical fleet of women who once kept the South Side Irish fed.
And finally, we must make dessert. Which recipe in my pile of church cookbooks, I wonder, might best embody the two warring halves of any midcentury South Side Irish home cook’s brain: the desire to get creative and artistic and devise a recipe that’s the envy of all your friends, but also the drive to invent a dish so simple and quick that those envious friends will all be amazed that they didn’t think of it first.
I think I’ve got it.
CIRCUS PEANUT SALAD
1 pkg. orange jello
1 1/2 c. crushed pineapple and juice
15 circus peanuts
1 large Cool Whip
Cut circus peanuts into pieces. Add orange jello, dissolve with 1 c. boiling water. Add pineapple. Refrigerate until thick; fold in Cool Whip and chill until firm.
And with that, I’ve got a three-course meal that pays homage to a very particular sort of Irish culinary tradition. It takes all the practicality and common sense that informs Irish cooking and brings it to bear on recipes most likely to appease a household that might include a half-Polish husband and a house full of rambunctious Catholic schoolchildren. To any of you out there who are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day tonight, raise a glass to the stick-to-itiveness that brought us a 483-page cookbook with 37 competing cheese balls.