Saturday, March 13, 2010

Honoring My Irish Beef Stew Roots

In the interest of furthering my community eating experience, I ate today at the St. Patrick's Day Beef Stew Luncheon at the Hanover Courthouse Volunteer Fire Company, just a short drive up scenic Route 301. As I exited my car, an older gentleman was getting into his so I asked him how the stew was.

"Good," and he paused to gauge me. "Only problem is they didn't peel the potatoes." He makes a peeling gesture with his hand. "Needs sharp knives. Irish can't be trusted." Then he winked at me, "Drunk...enjoy your lunch!" How could I not, after that?

Inside, the room had four rows of tables covered in green, white and shamrocked tablecloths and adorned only with bowls of whipped spread and packets of salt and pepper. But it immediately became a luncheon when after paying my $6, I was told to take a seat and I would be served.

"What kind of bread would you like: soda bread, cornbread muffin or roll?"
"Oh, I should get the soda bread."
"Well, yes, you should, but you don't have to."
"Yes, I do."
"I'll bring it out to you with your stew."

What I meant was that the O'Donnell half of me knows that my mother is busy this weekend making vats of potato soup and loaves of soda bread for her annual Woman's Day luncheon and having soda bread is as good a nod to my ancestry as any.

The steaming hot stew and bread arrived and while I waited for the stew to cool, I enjoyed one of the rye variations. Meanwhile, I heard my server tell the men behind me, "You done, guys? Now you have your bellies full, you can go home and take naps."

The stew was flavored exactly like the kind my mother made when we were kids. Nothing but chunks of carrots, potatoes, loads of onion and long-cooked beef in there. The stew liquid itself was not as thick as my mom's, but that's actually a good thing. Some of the meat was braised to the point of falling apart in my mouth and other bites were more toothsome and full of flavor; it's a great way to enjoy meat both ways.

As I was finishing my bowl, one of the volunteers came over to see how I liked it. I told him I had really enjoyed it and he told me I could have seconds. I told him I wanted to save room for dessert. He leaned down low and stage-whispered, "You don't have to get a whole bowl," and that was all the incentive I needed to throw back another half bowl.

The couple nearest me were older, maybe 70s, and just finishing their stew when I sat down. He ordered a quart to go. It didn't take her long to stand up and say to him, "Gotta have something chocolate," and head over to the dessert table, which boasted chocolate/chocolate cake, red velvet cake, strawberry cake, white cake, some kind of light green colored cake and brownies.

Eating her chocolate cake, the women turned to her husband and said, "We ought to get a piece of this cake to take to Mom on Monday. You know how much she likes chocolate." Mom? Wow, longevity, another good reason to keep eating chocolate. I got the same cake that her Mom was going to get.

And what's the appropriate music for a St. Patrick's day lunch? The first song I heard when I walked in was the Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams" followed later by Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." By the time they played MJ's "Rock with You," a group in the back was talking the joys of grandparent hood ("...still so precious, but not your responsibility..."), I was heading over to the firehouse, not to check out the yard sale inside, but to ask to look at the equipment.

"The cooking equipment?" the volunteer asked me. "We do a lot of cooking here!" No, actually I meant the fire equipment. But maybe I should go back for a tour of their other equipment some time; it's obviously turning out the kind of camaraderie and stew that make for a delightful Saturday mid-day meal.


  1. I know it was to look at the fireman's equipment, can't fool me!!!!

  2. Give me a little credit,will ya?