Today we celebrate the great state of Massachusetts. When you think of Massachusetts, what comes to mind? For me, it would be Boston and Irish Catholics. In part, that’s because of the Kennedy Family. You can’t get much more Boston Irish Catholic than Joseph Kennedy and his powerful clan.
However; there’s more to it then just the Kennedys. Did you know people of Irish descent form the largest single ethnic group in Boston? Once a Puritan stronghold, Boston changed dramatically in the 19th century with the arrival of European Catholic immigrants. The Irish dominated the first wave of newcomers, especially following the Great Irish Famine. Their arrival transformed Boston from an Anglo-Saxton, Protestant City to one dominated by Catholics from throughout Europe. Nearly 63% of the people of Boston identify themselves as people of faith, and nearly half of those say they are practicing Catholics. Not all are Irish, but you can’t have everything. (That’s a joke, lighten up).
Most of the Irish who fled during the Potato Famine and settled in port cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and New York were Irish Catholics. While Irish Protestants also fled, the Protestants tended to be financially better off, able to move from the port cities to the heartland or push further west.
Catholics were among the poorest of Ireland, often arriving as indentured servants. Great Britain once controlled all of Ireland, and imposed laws to intended to insure Catholics could not rise to prominent positions. These laws included prohibiting land ownership by non Protestants. There were also restrictions regarding businesses, apprenticeships and education. Such restrictions not only kept Catholics on the lower rungs of society, in some cases it stripped them of any voice. The Irish Catholics who arrived in America were for the most part were uneducated, unskilled and poor. They were seen by many as in invasion of foreign people with strange religious practices while draining the country’s economy.
The driving force behind the anti-Irish, anti-Catholic sentiment in America, aside from the KKK of the South, were the Know Nothings. In the beginning, the movement was a secret society. When questioned by outsides as to the purpose or activates of the group, members were instructed to reply “I know nothing”, and this response provided the group with its common name. The Know Nothing movement believed that Catholics were actually Romanist who planned to subvert the civil and religious (Protestant) liberties in America. They feared that Catholic Priest and Bishops carried weight among a growing block of Catholic voters, and eventually would hand the country over to Vatican control. After the collapse of the Whig Party with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854, the Know Nothing Movement briefly emerged from the shadows as a major political party. The Native American Party sought to offer voters an alternative to the Democrats. No, despite the name this party had no Indigenous people. Their members were American Born Protestants. In the South, the party did not emphasize the same anti-Catholic rhetoric as it did in the North, and was silent on the issue of slavery. Eventually the Know Nothing movement joined forces with the Republicans. This might explain why historically Catholics tend to be Democrats while Republicans tend to be Protestants.
America has an ugly past. Of that there is no doubt. That past cuts through more than just the color of one’s skin. Oppression takes many forms. But we shall overcome – and we shall do that together. A house divided cannot stand. A people united can accomplish anything. From once humble beginnings, the Irish of Massachusetts helped to form the beauty of Massachusetts today.
It’s nice to embrace all the flavors that are Irish beyond Saint Patrick’s Day traditions.
A Simple Irish Supper
Shitake Mushroom Stout Pot Roast
Bread and Butter
Peas with Shallots and Garlic
Chocolate Guinness Cake
Shitake Mushroom Stout Pot Roast
2 Yellow Onions
2 Garlic Cloves
10 small Red Potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium Carrots, sliced
3 tablespoons Olive Oil, divided
2-1/2 lb boneless Beef Chuck Roast
1 bottle (12 ounces) Stout Beer
1/2 oz (about 1/2 cup) dried Shiitake Mushrooms
1 tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried Savory
1/2 cup Beef Stock
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Pepper
2 tablespoons Flour
Sliced Bread for serving
Butter if desired for serving
Peel and slice onion, set aside. Peel garlic cloves, mince and set aside. Scrub red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks, place in a bowl covered with cold water; set aside. Peel and slice carrots, set aside.
In a Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Brown roast on all sides; remove from pan.
In same pan, heat remaining oil. Add onions and garlic; cook and stir until tender. Add beer, stirring to loosen browned bits from pan. Stir in mushrooms, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and savory. Return roast to pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, for 90 minutes..
Drain potatoes, add to the Dutch oven. Stir in carrots and beef stock. Season with salt and pepper. Return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 15-25 minutes longer or until meat and vegetables are tender. Place roast on a large serving platter. Surround roast with vegetables, tent to keep warm
Skim fat from the cooking juices in the Dutch oven. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the liquid into a 2 cup measuring cup. Add 2 tablespoons flour, whisk to blend. Pour into the cooking juices, bring to a boil. Lower heat, simmer until thick for gravy. Taste, season with more salt and pepper if desired. Transfer gravy to bowl with a ladle or gravy boat for serving.
Place slices of bread on a small plate. Serve with butter. The bread is great for soaking up the drippings as you eat.
Peas with Shallots and Garlic
2 Garlic Cloves
1 tablespoon Butter
1 can Young Peas, drained
In a small food processor or hand-held chopper, mince shallot and garlic together. Set aside until ready to use.
In a sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat until just beginning to brown. Dump shallot-garlic mixture into pan and stir with a wooden spoon until shallots are tender, about 2-3 minutes.
Add drained Le Sueur Peas and GENTLY stir to blend the peas, shallots, garlic and butter together. (Take care not to “mash” the tender peas).
Lower heat and continue to warm until heated through, about 5 minutes. Transfer peas to a warm serving bowl, serve table-side and enjoy.
Chocolate Guinness Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting
2 large Eggs, beaten, room temperature
1/2 cup Butter, cubed
1 cup Guinness (dark beer)
2 cups Sugar
3/4 cup Baking Cocoa
2/3 cup Sour Cream
3 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2 cups Flour
1-1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda
Heat oven to 350-degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan; line the bottom with parchment paper and set aside.
Place eggs in a bowl with hot water; let sit for 10 minutes to bring eggs to room temperature. Beat the warmed eggs, set aside.
Cut chilled butter into cubes. In a small saucepan, heat beer with butter until the butter is melted. Remove from heat; whisk in the sugar and cocoa until blended. Set aside.
To the beaten eggs, add sour cream and vanilla. Whisk to combine. Whisk egg mixture into the beer mixture, set aside.
In a bowl, combine flour with baking soda; whisk into beer mixture until smooth. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake in the heated oven for 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven, place on a wire rack. Cool cake completely while still in the pan.
While the cake cools, make the cream cheese frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz Cream Cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
1/2 cup Heavy Cream
Let cream cheese soften at room temperature. In a bowl, sift the powdered sugar, set aside until ready to use.
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and heavy cream; beat just until smooth without overbeating.
Remove cake from the pan and place on a platter or cake stand. Frost top of cake. Serve and enjoy.