(from Cooking at the Irish Settlement, Parish of St. Patrick's Church, Cumming IA)
4 cups love
2 cups loyalty
3 cups friendship
Take love and loyalty and mix thoroughly with faith; blend with tenderness, kindness and understanding. Add hope, sprinkle abundantly with laughter and bake with sunshine. Serve generous helpings daily to family, friends and all you meet.
It is St. Patrick's Day, but instead of wearing the green, I am feeling blue.
In a country where practically every barangay, village, town, city and province has a patron saint (or two!) and a festival to match, one would think there would be plenty of room for one of the most well-known in the world. Alas and alack, St. Patrick of Ireland and his feast day barely register in the Philippines. Hereabouts, the only green is on palm trees, Guinness can't hold a glass to San Miguel and corned beef comes in a can. So, on this day when everyone claiming membership among the Irishforaday is hoisting a pint, I sip from a mug of nostalgia as I reach back across the Pacific and into the heartland of America for a bit of Irish inspiration.
Ireland in Iowa
I shouldn't be so surprised to find that Paddy's Day is less than a big to-do in the 'Pinas. The great era of global Irish emigration in the mid-19th century saw those fine folk scattering to all corners of the globe, including Mexico, the Caribbean, South Africa and Australia, but sadly stopping short of the Philippines. The vast majority, escaping the hardship brought about by the Irish Potato Famine during the 1840s, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and settled throughout Canada and the United States. Most Irish newcomers flocked to America's urban centers, particularly in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco, but a significant and hardy portion chose to build new lives and communities in the open fertile plains of the Midwest. Among them were intrepid farming families who settled in the Madison and Warren counties of Iowa in the mid-1850s and formed what would come to be known simply as The Irish Settlement.
The Settlement was not a town per se, but rather a cultural, social and spiritual community comprised of residents from four towns in two counties:
"It will now be seen that the Irish Settlement is not a very small place.... Of course there are many people of different nationalities in their midst, Americans, Germans and others, all living in harmony and brotherly love together, as all men should do... Cheerful hospitality can be found among the Irish settlers and their descendants, and as freely given as on any part of the globe."
|St. Patrick's Church in Cumming, Iowa|
The heart of the community was Irish, however, and the soul of this Irish community is the Catholic Church. As the Settlement grew, a place of worship was needed to serve the families' faith and, in 1853, St. Patrick's Church was built. What was a simple structure of logs was rebuilt in 1868 and still stands to this day - a plain whitewashed building, unadorned save for the stained glass window set into its steeple and an iron across atop it. Inside, the sanctuary has served parishioners in countless baptisms, communions, weddings and funerals, while outside, in the wide expanse of the churchyard, well-tended gravestones mark the resting places of the Settlement's first residents and their descendants. Perhaps the parish's most shining moment came in 1979, when Pope John Paul II chose to visit what he called "a small, unpretentious church [at] the center of a group of family farms, a place and a symbol of prayer and fellowship, the heart of a real Christian community..." during his American pastoral visit (Cooking).
A Family Place
For over 140 years, St. Patrick's has been a cornerstone in the lives of its congregation, including Mr. Noodle's family. My mother-in-law was born and raised in this community, in a small farmhouse just beyond the church. Among a record of the Irish Settlement's earliest residents, there is a 'Jas. Davitt' - her mother's maiden family name - who arrived before 1860; though I have not confirmed it, perhaps he is the earliest Davitt in the area. Although it is inevitable that new generations move away in search of their place and fortune elsewhere, just as their pioneering ancestors did, many of the Irish Settlement's young return to keep the community as vibrant and strong as it has been. Mr. Noodle, his siblings and his cousins, though scattered throughout the United States, still find their way back to Iowa on special occasions both joyous and somber to reconnect with each other and their history.
|The family farm house|
Church and Kitchen
In the meantime, there are other ways to keep those bonds intact. Several years ago, my mother-in-law gave me a copy of Cooking at the Irish Settlement, published by the parishioners of St. Patrick's Church and containing favorite recipes from their families. Among the stalwart recipes for Sweet Potato Casserole, Potatoes and Pepper Steak, and Rhubarb Pudding, there's a lovely anecdote about St. Patrick's famous Chicken Dinners that captures the essence of this tight-knit community:
"Each family would provide 6 chickens, fried, no larger than 4lbs each, 5 pies, double crust only, and 1 gallon of cooked and peeled potatoes... The children of those years remember lots of fun [and] Father Jim Kiernan remembers this dinner as the best food he ever had!" (Cooking, 177)Though there was plenty to choose from, I turned to the very first chapter, entitled "Irish Favorites", for a Paddy's Day dish and found the intriguingly named Oaten Honeycomb, a steamed pudding made with oatmeal, flavored with raisins and orange peel, and sweetened with honey. With all the ingredients readily available, I knew that it was the perfect recipe to make for this day celebrating all things Irish. So, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I'd like to honor St. Patrick's Church and the Irish Settlement in Iowa with this Oaten Honeycomb.
In addition to being a tribute, this steamed pudding proudly marches in the 2nd (hopefully) Annual Paddy's Day Parade 2011, hosted by the Über Tuber herself, Aiofe of The Daily Spud! There's plenty of room along the parade route, so please head over to see what Guinness-fueled inspiration can create. And if that's not enough to sate your appetite for Irish goodies, be sure to check out the inaugural parade of 2010.
Erin go Bragh!
Cooking at the Irish Settlement. (compiled by the parishioners of St. Patrick's Church). Deep River, IA: Brennan Printing. 1999.
History of Des Moines Diocese. Diocese of Des Moines (Iowa) website. www.dmdiocese.org
History of the Irish Settlement. IAGenWeb Project website. www.iagenweb.org
(from Cooking at the Irish Settlement, Parish of St. Patrick's Church, Cumming IA)
There was little information to be found online about this honeyed dish, other than it is of Northern Ireland provenance and is served either for breakfast or as a dessert. However, I did find a website with a recipe very similar to the one given in Cooking at the Irish Settlement; it credited the dish to one Roberta Colbert (b. 1884) of County Offaly, Ireland, as found in the classic cookbook of traditional Irish fare, A Taste of Ireland in Food and Pictures, by Theodora Fitzgibbons. The exact same recipe also turned up in yet another website, this time attributing its origins to an unnamed monastery and dating back to 362 AD! Unfortunately, as I do not have access to Ms. Fitzgibbons book, I can't confirm the accuracy of either attribution and have found little else on the web. If you are familiar with this dish or have access to a copy of A Taste of Ireland, please feel free to shed some light on this honeycomb.
As mentioned, this is a steamed pudding made of oatmeal, raisins, citrus zest and honey. Unlike many traditional puddings, such as the spectacular Auntie Ev's Plum Pudding made by Jenni of Online Pastry Chef, which require hours and hours of steaming, this recipe calls only for about an hour and a half. I do not have a proper 'pudding basin' (essentially a high heat-resistant bowl that serves as a mold for puddings), so instead I used small glass bowls in which to steam the mixture, using online instructions to convert them for that use. The result was a delicately flavored and satisfyingly moist dessert with a bit of oat-y chewiness. Best of all, it is only as sweet as you'd like - simply drizzle honey over it to your taste.
Unfortunately, I do not have permission to reprint the complete recipe from Cooking at the Irish Settlement. Instead, please check out the very similar recipes in the links above or try this one.
Egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks
Bring the milk to a boil and add the oatmeal, stirring for about 5 minutes. Let cool, then add the remaining ingredients except egg whites; mix very well. Gently fold in egg whites, then pour mixture into a buttered pudding basin (or other high heat-proof bowls). Place in a large pot and add water until it reaches halfway up the bowl; cover and steam for 1 and 1/2 hours. When done, remove from the water bath and turn out onto a plate. Serve hot, topped with cream and a generous drizzle of honey.