The First Day of Christmas and An Irish Christmas of Old

Just as the Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Americanization of an Italian tradition, many of the things we do during the holidays can be traced back to earlier Emigrants. Christmas Trees are from German. Long before the Irish Potato Famine, Irish settlers came to America, bringing with them traditions from home. Traces of those traditions can still be seen today.

Preparing for Christmas of old in Ireland began during the Advent Season. Men and women shared the rituals of “Christmas Cleaning” to prepare their homes to welcome the Christ Child. Women concentrated on the interior, while their husbands applied a fresh coat of white wash to the exterior of their little thatched cottages. Sprigs of Christmas Holly adorn the hearth, doorways and wherever the women of the house felt it should be displayed. The American tradition of hanging holly on the doors at Christmas can be traced back to early Irish settlers.

In rural Ireland, the work was finished by midday on Christmas Eve. After the evening meal, the family table was re-set for three guests. Often a large loaf of round bread and a pitcher of milk was placed on the table. A candle was lit for the Holy Family’s simple meal. The door latch was left open and if possible a grand fire was lit before retiring for the evening. Keeping Holy visitors warm and comfortable was a must.

A candle was placed in every window of the house to light the way as the Holy Family journeyed on to Bethlehem. It was considered an honor to light the candles, and this fell to the daughter in each house named Mary. Not to have a daughter named Mary was rare. In homes without Mary, the honor was bestowed to the youngest child able. The candles were tiny points of light scattered across the darkened countryside to light the way for Mary and Joseph. On the holiest night of the year, flickering flames beckoned from every window, lighting the way for the Christ Child. It was this custom of a candle in the window once seen in American homes before the bright lights of modern Christmas displays overshadowed this humble gesture.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to bring back just a few of these simple customs? After all, Christmas isn’t about the Hussle and Bustle and Big Box Stores, but about the love we have for faith and family.

Today is the First of Twelve Days of Christmas. It is represented by a Partridge in a Pear Tree. A partridge is considered to be royal. One symbolizes One God in Three Persons – the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. Merry Christmas Everyone!

Four Course Irish Christmas
– Soup –

Potato Leek Soup

– Salad –
Irish Green Salad with Onion Soda Bread

– Main Course –
Roast Pork Loin with Apple Stuffing
Savory Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Sautéed Green Beans

– Dessert with Coffee –
Whiskey Caramel Bread Pudding
Irish Coffee

*** Soup ***

Irish Potato Leek Soup
4 large Leeks
6 large Russet Potatoes
1/4 cup Butter
4 cups Chicken Stock
Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste
2 cup shredded Irish Cheddar Cheese
Chives for garnish

Trim root end of leeks. Remove and discard dark green sections, leaving only the white and pale green parts. Slice, break into small rings and set aside. Peel potatoes, cut into large chunks, set aside.

In a soup pot over low heat, melt butter. Add leeks, sauté until soft, about 5 minute. Increase heat to medium. Add potatoes to the pot. Pour chicken stock over the vegetables. Cover and cook for about 25 minutes, or until the potato chunks are soft enough to puree.

While the potatoes simmer, shred cheese using the large holes in the cheese grater. Cover and set aside. Snip chives for garnish, set aside.

Once the potatoes are soft, use a ladle to remove and reserved excess stock, leaving just enough to barely cover the vegetables. With a hand blender, puree potatoes. Slowly ladle in reserved stock until desired consistency of the soup is achieved.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle potato soup into warm bowls, top with Cheddar Cheese and garnish with chives.

*** Salad with Bread ***

Irish Pub Green Salad
Buttermilk Dressing
1/2 cup Buttermilk
2-1/2 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
2 tablespoons Sour Cream
Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste

In a bowl, whisk together buttermilk, cider and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place dressing in a small boat or dressing jar. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Pub Salad
12 Asparagus Tips
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
6 cups Mixed Leafy Greens
1 medium Granny Smith Apple, diced
Lemon Juice as needed
2 tablespoon fresh Mint
2 oz Irish Cheddar cheese, cubed small
1 small Parsnip, peeled and grated
2 large Green Bell Peppers
3 tablespoons Golden Raisins

Trim asparagus, set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add asparagus to the skillet and cook just until tender, about 10 minutes. Plunge asparagus in a bath of ice water to stop the cooking process. Let cool completely.

Dice apple. Sprinkle with lemon juice to stop the browning process, set aside.

Peel and grate parsnip, set aside. Snip mint, set aside. Cut cheese into small cubes, set aside.

Place salad greens in a chilled salad bowl. Add apples, asparagus, mint, cheese and parsnip. Toss and set aside.

Stem bell peppers, remove seeds. Cut bell peppers lengthwise, remove membranes. With a small shamrock cookie cutter, cut shamrocks from the peppers. Note: If necessary, press cookie cutter to leave an imprint, the cut with a sharp parring knife.

Divide salad onto chilled salad plates. Garnish with shamrock bell peppers. Add raisins. Serve with dressing on the side.

Onion Garlic Soda Bread
1 large Egg
1 medium White Onion
6 Garlic Cloves
1/4 cup cold Butter
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
4 cups Flour
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1-1/2 cups Buttermilk
Optional Irish Butter for serving

Heat oven to 425-degrees. Lightly oil a cast-iron skillet, set aside.

Place egg (still in the shell) in a bowl of warm water to take the chill off the egg. Set aside.

Peel and dice onion, set aside. Pell and finely mince garlic, set aside. Cube butter, set aside.

Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté until light golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add garlic; sauté another 30 seconds, just until fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, salt and baking soda. Cut in butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the cooled onion mixture. Create a well in the center of the flour mixture; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk egg with buttermilk; pour into well. Using a wooden spoon, mix dough until it is too stiff to stir. Lightly flour a flat work surface. Turn bread dough out onto the floured surface; knead gently 10 times. Shape into a round loaf. Place loaf in the prepared skillet. With a sharp knife, cut a shallow “X” on the top of loaf. Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes.

Remove from skillet. Serve warm or at room temperature with Irish Butter if desired.

Remove from pan to a wire rack; serve warm.

*** Main Course ***

Roast Pork Loin with Apple Stuffing
1-1/2 teaspoons fresh Rosemary
1/2 cup Celery
1 large Yellow Onion
1/2 cup Apples
1/4 cup Butter
1-3/4 cup Chicken Stock
1 box Stove-Top Chicken Stuffing Mix
2 lb boneless Pork Loin
2 tablespoons Maple-flavored Syrup
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
Rosemary Sprigs for garnish as desired

Heat oven to 350-degrees.

Butterfly pork loin, open out on a cutting board and set aside.

Strip rosemary needles from sprigs, chop and set aside. Chop celery, set aside. Peel an coarsely chop onion, set aside. Finely dice apple, set aside.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add apples and celery; sauté for about 3 minutes or until tender. Add chicken stock, bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add stuffing mix, stir just until moistened.

Press apple stuffing mixture onto cut-side of the roast to within 1/2-inch of the edge. Roll up, jelly-roll fashions, starting at one short end of the stuffed pork loin. Secure with kitchen twine in 2-inch intervals. Set aside.

Spray a roasting pan with cooking spray. Spread onions out on the bottom pan. Place roast on the onion bed, set aside.

In a small bowl mix syrup, mustard and chopped rosemary; spoon over meat.

Place in the heated oven to roast. Cook for 1 hour; check internal temperature. Continue to roast another 10 minutes or so, until roast reaches a temperature of 145-degrees.

Remove from oven. Tent and let stand 15 minutes before slicing to serve.

Arrange sliced pork on a serving platter. Garnish as desired with fresh Rosemary sprigs. Serve and enjoy.

Savory Mashed Sweet Potatoes
4 lbs Sweet Potatoes
2 teaspoons Salt, divided
1/3 cup Green Onion
1/3 cup Parsley
2 Garlic Clove
1/4 cup Sour Cream
3 tablespoons Butter, cubed
Fresh Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Olive Oil

Peel sweet potatoes. Cut potatoes into 1-inch cubes. Place sweet potatoes in a large pot; cover with about an inch of cold water. Add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a steady simmer, cook for about 10 minutes, until potatoes are fork-tender.

While the sweet potatoes cook, finely snip green onions and set aside. Finely snip parsley, set aside. Peel an mince garlic, set aside.

Once potatoes are tender, drain well, then return to the pot. Mash the sweet potatoes to desired consistency.

Promptly add most of the green onion and parsley, reserving a small amount of each for garnish. Add the garlic, and stir to combine. Stir in all but a tablespoon of the sour cream; all of the butter, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Season with fresh black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Transfer the mashed potatoes to a serving bowl. Swirl remaining tablespoon of sour cream on top. Scatter reserved green onions and parsley over the sweet potatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and a pinch more black pepper.

Serve and enjoy.

Sautéed Green Beans
16 oz package frozen Green Beans
1/4 White Onion
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Butter
1 teaspoon minced Garlic from a jar
Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste

Place green beans in a colander. Rinse under cold water just until thawed while still cold. Let drain.

Peel and finely dice onion, set aside.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter with olive oil. Once butter melts and the skillet is warm enough to sizzle, add the green beans. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes. Scatter minced garlic and onions over the beans. Heat through, letting the onions begin to crisp and caramelize a little. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve and enjoy.

*** Dessert with Coffee ***

Whiskey Caramel Bread Pudding
Whiskey Caramel Sauce
1/4 cup salted Butter
2 oz Cream Cheese
1-1/2 cups Sugar
2/3 cup Water
1/4 cup Irish Whiskey
1/4 cup Milk

Cube butter and cream cheese, set aside.

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar completely dissolves. Stop stirring; allow to simmer undisturbed until mixture is golden; about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat. Carefully add butter and cream cheese, alternating cubes while whisking constantly until all clumps are dissolved. Mixture will be very hot and may bubble up during this process. Stir in whiskey and milk. Mixture will definitely bubble a bit at this step and is to be expected. Set sauce aside.

Bread pudding
10 cups French Bread
2 Eggs
3/4 cup Heavy Cream
1 cup Sugar
3/4 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
11 oz can Evaporated Milk
3/4 cup Irish Whiskey Caramel Sauce (above)
1/2 cup Golden Raisins

Cube bread into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside. In a small bowl, lightly whisk eggs, set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine heavy cream, sugar, vanilla extract, evaporated milk, eggs, and 34 cup caramel whiskey sauce. Stir well to blend Add bread cubes, using a spatula to push down and make sure each piece of bread is coated. Gently fold in raisins. Cover and allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to soak up all the flavorful goodness.

Cinnamon-Sugar Topping
1 tablespoon Cinnamon
2 tablespoons Sugar

Heat oven to 350-degrees. Spray a 13-inch by 9-inch casserole dish with cooking spray Pour bread mixture into prepared casserole dish.

In a small bowl, mix cinnamon and sugar together. Sprinkle the top of the bread pudding with cinnamon mixture. Bake in the heated oven for 35 minutes or until set. Serve warm with remaining Whiskey Sauce.

Authentic Irish Coffee
24 oz Freshly Brewed Coffee
6 oz Heavy Cream
6 Sugar Cubes
6 oz Irish Whiskey

Brew coffee in a French Press or pot as desired.

While the coffee brews, lightly whip heavy cream just until frothy.

Place a sugar cube in the bottom of 6 coffee cups. Pour about 4 ounces of coffee over each cube. Add an ounce to each cup. Stir until sugar is dissolved.

With one cup at a time; place a teaspoon, upside down over the cup. Pour cream over the inverted spoon to create a creamy cap.

Serve and enjoy.

Author: Rosemarie's Kitchen

I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and avid home cook.I believe in eating healthy whenever possible, while still managing to indulge in life's pleasures.

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