Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Creating Mischief on St. Patrick's Day

My American family loves to celebrate our Irish roots. That means many things, including a nightly cocktail hour passed down for many generations (my grandfather made bathtub gin during Prohibition to tide them over during that difficult period).
Vintage shot glasses from aVelvetLeaf
We have corned beef and cabbage regularly for dinner, not just on St. Patrick's Day. Easy, cheap and delicious! (Although I have to admit, it does taste better than it looks, even with a food stylist....)

Corned Beef and Cabbage photo by fetchmyrecipe.com
However, on St. Patrick's Day and on Halloween night, we like to serve mashed potatoes or colcannon with our corned beef instead of whole boiled potatoes so we can hide little fortune-telling charms in the mash.  

As I've blogged about before, it’s an old Irish Halloween tradition to bake a Halloween cake called a barmbrack that has charms hidden in it to tell guests’ fortunes. As Episcopalians we also put charms in a King's cake on Epiphany and often had these charms in birthday cakes when I was little. Our tradition could have stemmed from any of those things.

The charms are a baby, a ring, a coin and a thimble.

The traditional meaning of the charms was this:

Thimble:  This person will remain single.
Ring:       This person will get married.
Baby:      This person will have a child.
Coin:       This person will become wealthy. 

As some of these old meanings may venture into political incorrectness, you may want to "update" the charm meanings these ways:

Thimble:  This person will keep a good house.
       This person will be a hard worker.
               This person will have a happy home.
Ring:       This person will be happy in love.
               This person will find romance soon.
       This person will have a good love life.
Baby:       This person will have a happy family.
               This person will have a big family.
               This person will love children.
Coin:        This person will make lots of money.
               This person will be a generous person.
               This person will have a good job. 

Be careful not to break a tooth!

[See instructions to put together your own fortune telling charm set at the bottom of this blog.]

Another fun thing our family did is to have the naughty leprechaun of the house make a visit on St. Patrick's eve. Every year my kids set little traps to catch our leprechaun or would write him notes asking him questions or making requests. I kept a few of them.
Vintage leprechaun figurine from aVelvetLeaf
One year, they wrote this:

Dear Mr. Leprachuan- 
     If you could leave us a clover or your hat or something, that would be great, but don't mess up our house you green leprachuan. Also, are you the same leprachuan? What is your name? Love, K & W
Our Leprechaun left them this:

 Dear O'K and O'W-
      You two always want something from me! I don't give out my stuff- I steal things from you! Have you been missing anything? 
      I do have to admit that this year you have been doing a great job keeping your rooms really messy for me. If your darn parents would quit interfering, they would be wonderful places to grow mold and other nasty green things. Keep it up! 
    You should know that my name is Sean O'Malley O'Sullivan McGillacutty Shannon O'Flynn. I am your leprechaun. I was your parents leprechaun, I was your grandparent's leprechaun and their parents' leprechaun.  You will NEVER get rid of me, and you'd better learn my name!
    For your goody, look in the biggest green plant in your house. I left something unhealthy with lots of sugar in it there for you. Keep up the good work with all the horrible messes you make. It just makes me laugh! I messed up your house to set a good example for you.
                             Love, Sean, your leprechaun

When the kids would get up in the morning, our chairs and tables would have been overturned, the traps would be smashed, and there would be a box of little powdered sugar donuts left in the green plant. Oh, the magic of childhood!

To make your own fortune telling charm set, plan a trip to the craft store (don't forget your coupons!)

  • In the baby shower section, buy a package of little plastic baby charms.
  • In the wedding shower section, buy a package of metal or plastic ring favors. 
  • In the sewing notion section, buy a set (if possible) of inexpensive thimbles.
  • From your coin purse, choose a new-looking quarter.
Put the quarter into a little pan of boiling water, and leave it in there for 10 minutes or so. Remove the coin and let it cool on a paper towel. 

You can use the charms over and over, or if you have sets, you can allow guests to keep their charm. If you use the charms more than once, be sure to follow the boiling instructions to sanitize them. Plastic charms can be placed in the boiled water with the burner off. Be sure your hands are clean when handling sterilized charms.

When serving food with charms hidden in it, always warn guests to chew carefully or search their food with their fork or spoon before eating to avoid biting into a charm. We don't want a lawsuit on your hands...

To put into a cake:
   For a homemade cake, wrap charms in small packets made of aluminum foil or just use as is. After the cake is cooled and before frosting it, use a butter knife to carefully cut a slit in the side of the cake and slip each foil charm packet in in various places, then frost the cake. For a purchased bakery cake, do the same as above right through the frosting, then repair the frosting with a wet butter knife. 

To put in mashed potatoes:
    On Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day, make mashed potatoes with or without cooked cabbage. Right before serving, stir sterilized charms (without foil packets) into potatoes.
Erin go Bragh, and slainte!


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