Group members talk Ireland, other Celtic nations and, of course, food
By Lora Abernathy
A tourist walks into the dark Irish pub, not knowing what she’ll discover beyond its old door. She wonders about its age, its story, how the food will taste.
The bartender is friendly, his hello just loud enough to be heard above the floor creaking beneath his feet as he walks behind the bar.
She expects raucous drunks causing mayhem. Instead, moms, dads and children gather at the tables. Family time rules here.
From the waitress, she and her companions order dinner, a spread of meat and vegetables, and a Guinness.
After giving her time to enjoy her first sip of the brew, folks at a neighboring table ask her where she’s from, though her accent has already given her away.
“The United States,” Jill MacDonald says.
The patrons welcome them with smiles and stories about the pub, themselves, the region and its history. She soaks up every word they have to say. They delight in telling her.
A 7 nation celebration
Jill McDonald, the immediate past president of the 7 Nations Celtic Club in Portsmouth, said she enjoys history, in particular “really, really old history.”
In 2012, she traveled to Ireland with a few other members of the club.
Though not everyone in the club has been to a Celtic nation, they all do their best to make the Celtic culture come alive each fourth Thursday of the month during their meeting at the Port City Pub in Portsmouth.
The club was founded in 2006 by John Hogan who, at that time, also owned the pub with his wife, MacDonald said. The club is made up of people who may or may not have a Celtic heritage, but who appreciate the culture.
Members invite guest speakers, learn about the nations’ histories, plan their annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and their Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day event. Four times a year they have a carry-in, with the pub supplying the bangers and mash, and members bringing in other traditional foods such as soda bread or Irish potatoes.
They spend a lot of time talking about the food.
More than bangers and mash
Though traditional foods such as pork, potatoes and cabbage are still staples in Ireland, Mark Cardosi, the club’s current president, said in an email, “it is a major mistake or misconception to think those staples are all there is to Irish food and dining in Ireland.”
He said the menus of restaurants such as The Bank Bar and Restaurant in Dublin, Kirwin’s Lane in Galway and Dolce Sicily in Dublin “reveal just a small part of the diversity of Irish food and dining.”
“The Burren Smokehouse in Lisdoonvarna sells some of the best smoked salmon in the world,” he wrote. The seafood chowder served in Dingle, Dublin, Galway and along the Irish coast “is always as wonderful and varied as is the local ‘catch of the day’ in any ocean town.”
MacDonald said Ireland was “very rural, but not completely rural” and that, because it is an island, residents grow a lot of their own food. She was impressed by how fresh and healthy the food was everywhere she went.
While staying at one bed and breakfast, the lady there served them a full Irish breakfast which included eggs, white sausage, blood sausage, bacon, baked beans and broiled tomatoes.
Not everything, though, is sourced on the island or from its coastal waters. During a visit to a wine store, MacDonald asked the folks there if they had any Irish wines.
“They laughed,” she said. “’We only get 60 days of sunshine. We can’t even grow grapes here.’”
Pull up a chair, stay a while
“(Ireland) is just the kind of place you want to go back to,” MacDonald said, and she hopes any newcomers feel the same way about their club.
“This is a place where you can come and feel welcome and comfortable,” MacDonald said. “I think we’re just all friends. We share a common interest, and like to get together and socialize.”
Back in Ireland, the waitress brings the food to MacDonald and her companions. Though potatoes were included with their order, a roasted potato is also served on the side.
That’s peculiar, they say to one another.
Before they could call the “problem” to their server’s attention, one of their new friends stops them.
“No matter what food you order, even if it’s a potato,” she says with a smile, leaning in closer, “you will still be served a roasted potato.”
Tradition. Another unique Irish tradition. MacDonald absolutely loves it.
7 NATIONS CELTIC CLUB
Where: Port City Pub, 424 Chillicothe St., Portsmouth
When: 6 p.m. the fourth Thursday of the month
ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE
• Though the parade is usually held the closest Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, it is Saturday, March 18 this year, its 11th edition.
• It was started by John Hogan as a simple celebration of spring and a day for the community to come together, Jill MacDonald said.
• It is supported by local sponsors.
• There are not many bands, because it’s prime competition season in March, MacDonald said, but there are people with dogs and bicycles and a couple dance troupes. The club also has a float. Though more Scottish than Irish, the Cyril Scott Pipe Band from Columbus is annually featured in the parade, in full regalia.
• MacDonald said a green line is painted along the route Friday night by volunteers. “There’s quite a bit of Guinness drinking, because the line’s a little curvy, so that’s why we say the leprechauns do it,” she said with a wink.
THE 7 CELTIC NATIONS
Isle of Mann
COLCANNON (IRISH POTATOES)
Every Irish family or descendant has its own version of this classic dish. My recipe is a part of our St. Patrick’s Day menu, along with lamb chops, carrots and soda bread.
— Rose Ann Rosier
2 pounds cabbage, shredded
2 cups water
4 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 cups milk
Pepper, coursely ground
1 cup green onions, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
1/4 cup butter, melted
Bacon, cooked and crumbled
Fresh parsley, minced
In a large saucepan, bring cabbage and water to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until tender. Drain, reserving cooking liquid. Keep cabbage warm.
Place cooking liquid and potatoes in a large saucepan, add enough additional water to cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook for 15-17 minutes or until tender. Drain and keep warm.
In a small saucepan, bring milk to a boil, remove from heat.
In a large bowl, mash potatoes or keep in chucks. Gently add milk mixture, beat until blended. Stir in the cabbage, salt, pepper, green onions and garlic. Drizzle with melted butter, bacon and parsley.
CHOCOLATE GUINNESS CAKE
I make this cake all the time and everyone loves it, and you make the icing to look like the froth of the beer. You can make cupcakes, too. You can also skip the icing and just put confectioners sugar on it. The cake itself is just so good.
— Jill MacDonald
1 cup Guinness
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup cocoa
2 cups superfine or granulated sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
8 ounces cream cheese
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and line with parchment paper a 9-inch springform pan.
Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan and add the sliced butter. Heat until the butter is melted and remove from heat. Whisk in the cocoa and sugar.
In a separate bowl, beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla. Add the sour cream mixture to the Guinness mixture in the saucepan. Finally, beat in the flour and baking soda.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for approximately 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
Beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar together until well combined and creamy. Add the cream and beat again until it’s a spreadable consistency. Slowly adding the cream and beating the icing very well gives excellent results. At first there seems like a lot of frosting for just the top of a 9-inch cake, but don’t skimp. The idea is to frost the top of the cake until it resembles the frothey head of a pint of Guinness.
BEEF AND BARLEY STEW
This is a wonderful winter stew. Serve with brown bread and butter or a baguette.
— Jill MacDonald
2 tablespoons oil (I use olive oil but any vegetable oil is good)
1 1/2 pounds stew beef or chuck, cut into pieces
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced (I cut into thick chunks)
1 large carrot, diced (I cut into thick chunks)
1 cup barley
6 cups beef stock
One 12-ounce bottle Guinness, extra stout (use the bottled Guinness, not the canned)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves, if desired
In a dutch oven or large heavy pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Season the beef with salt and pepper and sear, in batches if necessary, until nicely browned. Remove beef to a dish and set aside.
In the oil and juices remaining in the pan, cook the onions until browned. Add all the remaining ingredients, plus the beef, and stir.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the meat, vegetables and barley are very tender. Stir it a few times while it simmers, and if it seems dry, add another cup or 2 of water. At the end of cooking, season with salt and pepper. It may be necessary to add more salt to taste because the barley will absorb a lot of the salt while cooking.
MOIST BROWN BREAD
— Jill MacDonald
Servings: One 8-by-4 loaf
2 1/2 cups stone ground whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup wheat bran
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter an 8-by-4 loaf pan.
In a large bowl, stir together flours, germ, bran, salt and soda. Using your fingers, rub in the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs.
Beat the egg into the buttermilk. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk mixture. Stir to combine, then turn the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the surface is crusty and cracked, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool completely in pan before removing. Serve with lots of good butter. This bread can be made without butter or egg, if desired.