Corned beef and cabbage, soda bread, lots of green beer - those are the foods we associate with St. Patrick's Day celebrations. We usually eat them clad from head to toe in green and speaking with badly imitated Irish brogues. It's a fun, lighthearted day.

However, in Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is an important religious holiday marking the conversion of the Irish to Christianity. Irishmen attend church services honoring St. Patrick and wear shamrocks, the three leaves with which he explained the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. This year's Holy Day of Obligation honoring St. Patrick will not be celebrated on March 17. After much deliberation officials at the Vatican gave Irish church authorities the green light to shift the official religious celebration two days back to Saturday, March 15.

Why, you ask? Under Catholic Church rules, the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, the saint's feast day does not rank as high as a day in Holy Week, and therefore must be moved. This happened previously in 1940, when St. Patrick's Day and Palm Sunday coincided. St. Patrick's feast day was celebrated April 3 that year.

This year March 17 is the Monday of Holy Week. Under the method used to set the date in 1940, the feast day should have been moved to April 1, but somehow April Fool's Day didn't seem to be a fit day to honor St. Patrick and church officials wanted to keep the liturgical celebration close to the secular celebration day, so the holiday was moved to March 15.

Usually St. Patrick's Day comes earlier in the Christian somber season of Lent and gives a day of reprieve from Lenten discipline. Adults may 'drown the shamrock,' as they say and enjoy a pint of ale and allow their children some sweets.

Prior to 1903, St. Patrick's Day was celebrated only as a religious holiday in Ireland. And it was only in the mid-1990s that the Irish government began a campaign to use St. Patrick's Day to showcase Ireland and its culture. Today the St. Patrick's Festival is a five-day national festival that is said to be one of the greatest celebrations in the world, with music and dance performances, food, crafts and fireworks.

Care to make your St. Patrick's Day celebration a truly Irish experience? Check out the Web sites for the Thirsty Lion ( and the All Ireland Cultural Society ( for events.

The recipe this week is for a delightfully fragrant shortbread cookie, from my friend and gifted caterer Eleanor Suman. It calls for culinary lavender, which Eleanor gets from Lavender at Stone Gate Farm in West Linn ( )

Bon Appetit! May the blessings of St. Patrick be with you!

Lavender Shortbread

Makes 5 to 6 dozen cookies

2 sticks butter

½ cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting warm cookies

2 cups flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon fresh lavender

Cream butter and sugar in food processor. Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Add flour and lavender to creamed butter in food processor and pulse to incorporate ingredients into soft dough. Roll dough on a floured work surface to a thickness of ½ inch and cut with cookie cutters.

Bake at 325º F for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Watch carefully, as they burn easily. While hot, remove from baking sheet and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Eleanor Suman

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 ext. 101, or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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