You know, every year I think I'm going to write this amazing post about St. Patrick's Day. It would involve me finding delicious corned beef somewhere within the city limits of Amsterdam. To a Dutchman, corned beef looks like this:
I've taken slight issue with the holiday ever since I wrote my first history paper in college on the biography of St. Patrick. Up until that point I had no idea that the real St. Patrick went by the name Patricius and considered himself a Roman on the fringes of the Empire. All that driving the snakes out of Ireland lore had to wait for the hagiographers High Middle Ages. That suddenly sounds like a cool job to me, a hagiographer. I'm just imagining some monk closeted away in a monastery trying to figure out how he could make the lives of the saints more interesting. Creative writing is a challenge no matter what century you live in. Anyway, I'm really fine with the evolution of a saint's day becoming the day people wear green, get three sheets to the wind and regret their hangovers the next day.
However, looking into this corned beef and cabbage tradition has added a new element to the whole American interpretation of St. Patty's Day. Maybe it's also the reason I can't find corned beef here. It is apparently not considered an Irish dish at all. Maybe Continental Europeans have no use for the stuff, either. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't know what the "corned" in the beef actually meant until I looked it up for this post. Can we all breathe a sigh of relief that I own a copy of McGee on Food & Cooking? Whew, now I know that the "corn" refers to the large grains of salt used during the preservation process. I also had no idea that corned beef was an important export product from Ireland during the early-modern period (shame on me, the Early-Modernist for not knowing that), although it was the English colonists in Ireland calling the shots at the time. Raising beef for export meant less space to grow crops for the colonized inhabitants. I think we can all agree it's the Irish did not feel like they were getting a fair shake from the ruling English. So, yeah, corned beef not as Irish as this American girl seemed to think that it was.
St. Patrick's Day was not acknowledged anywhere I could see. It was just another Saturday in Amsterdam, although I was horribly disappointed to miss a sour beer festival on Saturday night. That would have been awesome, but you know, babies tend to be cared for. Time enough next year for the sour beer festival. And, no, I didn't find any corned beef. Sad, I know. I took a Slate article's advice and made potato leek soup instead. Potatoes we have in abundance. Thanks, New World, for giving Ireland the potato and in a really roundabout way making me feel like I celebrated the life of a Roman missionary.