There always seems to be a lot of activity around St. Patrick’s Day: the leprechauns, pots o’ gold and rainbows, the Irish beer, and of course, the shamrocks and the obsession with green. But I can’t help feeling that there’s more to St. Patty’s than pinching and drinking. On my trip to Dublin a couple of months ago, I found out that St. Patrick, the man everyone finds responsible for blacking out and hangovers, actually has a very interesting story – and one quite unrelated to all of the merriment and good cheer so celebrated on March 17. So, why exactly do we celebrate St. Patrick’s and is anything we do on this holiday relevant to its history?
Well the real St. Patrick, surprisingly enough, was actually a Brit, not an Irishman. He was uninterested in Christianity and lived in a household owning slaves and quite a bit of property. His life was good (for A.D. 390). But in a sudden turn of events, when Patrick was 16 he was kidnapped and enslaved, forced to tend sheep overseas in Ireland for about seven years. During his imprisonment, Patrick underwent a religious conversion. Hearing the voice of God, he was encouraged to escape. He found (relatively) safe passage on a pirate ship and was reunited with his long lost family. The voice that had come to him in his time of trouble returned, and led him back to Ireland, where he and attempted to convert the Irish to Christianity. He was embarrassed, beaten, and dismissed. Irish royalty took offense to his religious efforts and took to harassing him. And the thugs that roamed the Irish streets exhausted and beat him until he gave in. But he had tenacity and determination and successfully roamed the country preaching Christianity and building churches. When he died, Patrick was mostly forgotten, until centuries into the future when he was deemed the Patron Saint of Ireland.
Today, we hold several myths about this adventurous man. According to some, it is thanks to St. Patrick that Ireland no longer has serpents on the island. This, needless to say, is inaccurate. The Irish landscape, like much of the north, is quite cold – too cold, in fact, to be of adequate temperature for serpents. So, the truth is that Ireland never actually had snakes. Ever.
Then there’s the shamrock. According to Irish folklore, St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Irish people don this symbol out of tradition and respect for their patron saint. But it turns out that this special plant, the three-leaf clover, is only rare because of transforming farming techniques and harsh winters. Plus, it grows in most of Europe and isn’t uniquely Irish…
In addition to St. Patty’s magical ability to cure the island of serpents and spread luck with a “rare” three-leaf clover, it seems as though the abundance of green also wasn’t his doing. According to historians, green was actually unlucky in Irish custom. It was the color of the “Good People” (or faeries) – and these creatures were anything but “good”. They would be known to kidnap children who wore too much green. Maybe this is why we pinch each other when someone forgets?
Despite the fallacies behind the holiday, St. Patrick’s Day is a wonderful way for people to come together and remember their history. If it includes a bit of drinking, mythology, and taunting of faeries, then that’s just as well – why not enjoy a Guinness and don some green? In the spirit of St. Patty, I decided to join in on the fun! Here’s an idea for a very green (and tasty) treat.
Candice Allouch is a junior at American University but abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland during the spring semester where she loves to try out new and intriguing tastes, from gastropubs to traditional restaurants (where Haggis is a must).
Sweet Pea Cupcake with Sour Cream Frosting and Candied Mint
Adapted from PtitChef
2 cups of peas
A handful of mint leaves
2 pinches of salt, divided
2 ½ cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 ½ tablespoons of fresh-squeezed lemon juice
For Sour Cream Frosting:
¼ cup of butter, warmed
1/3 cup of sour cream
¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
2 ½ cups of icing sugar
For Candied Mint Leaves:
3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
Fresh mint leaves, washed and dried
Egg white, slightly beaten with 2 tablespoons of water
First, you will need to make pureed peas. Boil about 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Add the peas, a pinch of salt, and a handful of mint leaves. Turn down to a simmer and allow the peas to cook until tender. Once cooked, drain the peas and puree with a food processor or hand blender to create a smooth paste.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Combine and whisk together the flour, pinch of salt, and baking powder. Set aside this mixture.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until well incorporated. Add the vanilla, olive oil, lemon juice, and pea puree. Combine well. Add the flour mixture and (with a wooden spoon) stir together lightly until just combined. The dough will be sticky.
Scoop into cupcake tins (make sure to butter the tin so there’s no sticking) and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until your cake-tester comes out clean.
Meanwhile, make the frosting. Add the butter, sour cream, vanilla, and salt and mix in a large bowl. Combine well. Add the icing sugar little by little, until you feel you have the right consistency (frosting-like, with soft peaks). Spread the frosting over the top of the cooled cupcakes.
For the mint garnishing, chop a bit of mint into small pieces and sprinkle over the iced cupcakes.
Pour your granulated sugar onto a flat surface (I used a shallow plate). Dip each mint leaf, one at a time, into your egg white/water mixture. Be sure to wipe off any excess egg white from the leaf. Cover both sides with sugar. Lay the leaves out on wax paper (or a clean area) to dry. Usually they should sit for at least 3 hours, but they can be eaten after about half an hour. Top your cupcakes with the candied mint. These can be eaten alone rather than as a garnishing as well. They are also good to make ahead to allow for enough time to sit.