When I originally wrote this, I thought I would be posting on St. Patrick’s Day. So, to get you in the mood for a week from now, plus give you time to make the recipe… here’s the story of how I fell in love with the Irish.
About a third of my bloodline on my mother’s side is Irish, but growing up I didn’t really pay much attention to that aspect of my heritage. I do recall my great-aunt joking about her “big Irish feet”. She also had among her curio collection a tiny cauldron made out of Irish bog oak and a box containing a chunk of Irish peak, both of which, as a child, I found fascinating. I also remember her showing me a picture of her mother’s family in County Armagh, Ireland. My great-great grandfather has a beard like Abraham Lincoln and the women are all wearing dresses with huge full skirts, although they were so petite that they reminded me of dolls. My great-grandmother later came to the U.S. and married a man who also claimed Irish descent, as his father was born in County Antrim.
But my real interest in the Irish started when I was 14 and I read an interview about Jim Morrison, my adolescent crush (or more like, obsession) which described him as a “black-white Irishman”. In this phase of my life I was delving deep into anything mentioned in interviews with my hero. That included reading Nietzsche, researching Greek mythology, and exploring the Irish fascination with poetry, drink and despair. Much later I learned that Jim was really of Scotch extraction.
Of course the Scotch and the Irish were totally mixed up genetically, so it’s really hard to tell which is which. Throughout the dark ages, the Irish were known as the Scotti. But they invaded the region we now know as Scotland so many times that this archaic name for the Irish got attached to Scotland. There are several possible sources of this name, including an Irish legend about Scota, a woman of the Milesians who according to myth hailed from Egypt and was one of the founders of the “modern” (after the Firbolgs and the Tuatha de Dannan, of course) Irish race.
When I met my husband, I thought he was the living, breathing cliché of an Irishman. He has red hair, comes from a family of eight kids and is named Patrick. A name he shares with with an uncle, great-uncle, great-grandfather and most likely, a few dozen other men of his line, going back generations.
He introduced me to the whole Protestant/Catholic issue, which previously I had only been aware of from reading news accounts of the “troubles” in modern Ireland. It turns out that some of my Irish ancestors came from Scotland, which meant that my husband had “married the enemy”, as the Scots were settled in northern Ireland to suppress and subjugate the native population. Of course, I later learned from my great aunt’s research that my male descendants who arrived from from Scotland (and of course, married Irishwomen) were Quakers. They went to Ireland to escape religious persecution, since during the Cromwell era, being Quaker was as dangerous as being Catholic.
The Irish have long memories. I suppose I’m an example in that I love the past and the vast majority of my books are set hundreds of years ago. Ireland was always a turbulent land. I have a copy of the Annals of the Four Masters, which is reputed to be the history of Ireland from ancient times, written down in the middle ages. It’s all about “who slew who”, a rather monotonous recitation of endless power struggles between people who were genetically and religiously identical. The Irish are feisty and passionate, and probably always have been. And that’s what I love about them.
But they are not, in general, great cooks. I have been to Ireland twice, and the best meals I had were decidely not Irish. But there are some lovely exceptions. I offer for you, a recipe for Dublin Carmel Apple Cake. It’s delicious enough that with the help of a little Irish whiskey (you have to buy some for the cake) you can forget the past for a time and simply celebrate. Something the Irish do better than anyone.
Dublin Carmel Apple Cake
1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 c. butter
8 oz. heavy whipped cream, divided
1/3 c. chopped pecans
1 pkg. apple cinnamon quick bread mix
1 c. peeled, chopped apple
3/4 c. water
3 Tbs. Irish whiskey
1/4 c. oil
remaining heavy whipping cream
2 Tbs. powdered sugar
2 Tbs. Irish whiskey
Heat oven to 350F. In small sauce pan over low heat, combine brown sugar, butter and 2 Tbs. whipping cream. Cook and stir until butter is just melted. Remove from heat. Stir in pecans. Pour mixture into bottom of ungreased 9 in. round cake pan or 9 in. square pan. Set aside. Combine all cake ingredients. Stir thoroughly. Carefully spoon batter over caramel mixture, making sure caramel is completely covered. Bake at 350F for 40-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 1 minute. Invert onto serving plate. Cool. Just before serving, beat remaining whipped cream until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar and whiskey. Beat until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream over cake. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Store in refrigerator. Serves 10.
Some notes: The quickbread mix used is one of the small packages (like the Jiffy brand of pizza dough or cornbread mix). If you use a larger package, cake mix size, you’ll have too much batter. Only about 2/3 will fit into pan. If you can’t find the quick bread mix, you can substitute a homemade apple spice cake recipe, using whiskey for part of the liquid.