St. Patrick’s Day celebrates the patron saint of the Emerald Isle with—in America, at least—boisterous revelry. But the kind of festive partying that occurs here has only recently been adopted in the homeland, mostly in big cities like Dublin. Before, it was a religious holiday, with everyone attending Mass—and pubs were closed.
Today, in small towns and villages, the holiday is still a quiet affair. Imen McDonnell, an American who immigrated to the Irish countryside after marrying an Irishman, said that excessive drinking on the holiday would be considered disrespectful. “People take the holiday seriously,” she said. “Irish America is very different from Ireland.”
Since moving to the isle, McDonnell has become a food writer, chronicling her experiences learning traditional Irish cooking. Her newly published cookbook, “The Farmette Cookbook,” is the culmination of her adventures.
Alongside family recipes from her mother-in-law, McDonnell includes unique Irish dishes from her travels around the country, and from digging into centuries-old Irish cookbooks. A visit to one of Dublin’s seafood festivals, for example, inspired her recipe for Classic Dublin Lawyer, a rich dish of lobster and cream, flambéed with whiskey.
On St. Patrick’s, McDonnell’s family usually celebrates with traditional cured pork loin (not corned beef!) and boiled cabbage. But one year, McDonnell decided to put her own twist on it, and turned the meat and cabbage into a filling for potstickers.
Her quirkier creations usually take inspiration from her own cravings for different cuisines commonly available in America, like Chinese food, that are unobtainable in rural Ireland. “It’s from missing the cultural mosaic of food choices,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t moved here.”
Going out to the fields to pick shamrocks with her husband and son is also an obligatory ritual. If it’s a nice day, McDonnell will set out a picnic by a fairy fort (an ancient earthen mound) with her own take on a classic spread—dishes like roast duck, smoked salmon, and her potstickers.