One of my first assignments for The East Hampton Star was to collect recipes from Montauk locals for a St. Patrick’s Day supplement. I, being the very eager little cub reporter, approached every Irish person I knew for recipes and turned in about 20 of them. The Star used one.
It was for colcannon, basically a mash-up of potatoes and cabbage, given to me by Peggy Joyce, the longtime kindergarten teacher at the Montauk School, who taught me more about nature on my children’s field trips than I learned from all my years of schooling in the Bronx.
It’s been just recently that I started liking potatoes and bread, and I have the extra weight to prove it. Growing up, we were often forced to eat lima beans, and sometimes when my father was in a mood, which meant he had partaken in a wee too much Irish merrymaking, we weren’t allowed to leave the table until we did. I often gagged on the slimy beans and tried to slip them to the dog, but even she, a big fat Labrador that ate anything, wouldn’t eat them. My children have probably never even tried lima beans, as they weren’t served in my house.
My husband has always loved potatoes. He’s a Montauk native who grew up in a house where the chickens that were served for dinner were also the pets that romped around the large lakefront yard. One of his chores was to hold the chicken’s head while it was killed, and he never could bring himself to eat it, so he filled up on potatoes. I love chicken and serve it often, but I try not to meet it first. It’s been just recently that he started to enjoy it, which I attribute to the loads of garlic, parsley, and sea salt that I sprinkle on it before I pop it in the oven.
There were also rabbits and pigeons served at his dinner table, and instead of eating the small animals, he filled up on the sliced white bread that was a side dish. As a child, one of his favorite meals was a mayonnaise sandwich, and to this day he even puts mayonnaise on his hot dogs. I can’t imagine anything tasting worse, except a garnish of lima beans.
In my home, my father was king and certain foods were set aside just for him. There were icy cold cans of Coke in the fridge and pistachio nuts in the cupboard that we could only look at with longing. As I write this, my fridge is full of Coca-Cola and two bags of pistachios sit on my nightstand. Why is it you always want what you can’t have? While my teenage friends were hoarding cigarettes, I was hoarding cans of Coke and tiny packages of nuts that I had bought with my lunch money. Maybe if my mother had refused us lima beans I would be salivating for a taste of them, but I doubt it.
This weekend the Friends of Erin will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Montauk. There will be plenty of green — green beer, green condiments, green potatoes, green faces, and loads of corned beef and colcannon. It’s a fallacy, though, that the Irish brought corned beef and cabbage to America.
When the Irish migrated here, most without much money, they found they could buy the cheapest cut of meat, brine, it and boil it to death. After they threw in a handful of spices, cheap potatoes, and a chunk of cabbage, they learned it didn’t taste too bad. This, of course, was way before the invention of ramen noodles. It makes me wonder what they could do with lima beans that would get me to gobble them up.
On Monday, as I was visiting my mother in St. Francis Hospital, an Irish nurse with a brogue told the group of us that there were two types of nationalities — Irish and people who wish they were Irish. I have a wee bit of Irish blood running through my veins, but this weekend I really wish I were a full-blooded Irishwoman.