My mother, Lucy Agatha Rogan Carlesimo, is very Irish. And my father, Peter Anthony Carlesimo, was very Italian. They met, fell in love, married, and had ten children. There are, in fact, many such love stories. The Irish and the Italians were both large devout Catholic immigrant groups. I have met many other Irish-Italians. Still, I must say, that many arguments my parents had over their long happy marriage came down to the same issue:
"Well, if you weren't Italian!" Or. "If you weren't Irish."
We lost my Dad twelve years ago but my feisty 92-year-old Mom is still with us, although very frail. As Saint Patrick's Day comes around, I am reminded of those Battles of the Titans. And also of the wonderful Saint Patrick's Day celebrations we all had. Our dad took them very much in stride. First of all, the leprechaun came to our house and left us a gift under each of our chairs. Our house was fully decorated, as if for a mini Christmas with music and festivities all day long. Mom would make green spaghetti for daddy but he actually loved corned beef and cabbage, especially the cabbage. All of our friends wanted to come to our house on Saint Patrick's Day, because for some inexplicable reason we never understood, the leprechaun didn't seem to make it to their homes, even if they were pure Irish with names like Quinn and Nealon, and families of twelve and eleven children respectively. I guess we were just lucky, being Irish-Italian.
Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy." ― W.B. Yeats
I also remember the old Irish songs my mother who had a beautiful voice, which our twin daughters have inherited, sang to us: like "Toora Loora Loora", the Irish lullaby. And of course I remember the food. People say that the Irish can't cook but my mother and her sisters were great cooks. One Celtic specialty that I always think of near Saint Patrick 's Day are my mother's Irish pancakes. They are traditional in northern counties such as Donegal where they're called Boxty pancakes.
Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty in the pan,
If you don't eat Boxty,
You'll never get a man
These pancakes are very tasty and easy to make. Who doesn't love a potato pancake? When you think about it, you can find potato pancakes in cultures from Poland to Sweden to Greece. It's a universal comfort food. I think part of the magic in this Irish version of my mother's is the grated raw potatoes that you have to wring out in a tea cloth and mix with mashed potatoes. There's something special about that mix of textures, cooked on a hot griddle, with hot butter or bacon grease.
"Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking." ― W.B. Yeats
So I was suddenly thinking of all of this and saddened to read of Saint Patrick's Day parades where everyone wasn't included. God knows that in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where I grew up, everyone was Irish on Saint Patrick's Day, as my mother said. And her Italian husband couldn't have agreed more!
Slainte 'gus Saol agat!
Health and long life to you! from Lucy and Pete
photo by John McCally
by Lucy Rogan Carlesimo
1 lb grated raw potatoes
1 cup of flour
2 cups of cooked mashed potatoes
4 oz of melted butter of bacon fat
Salt and white pepper
1 tsp of baking soda
1 tsp of sugar
Peel the raw potatoes and grate into a dish cloth. Wring them tightly over a bowl. Put the grated potatoes into another bowl, and mix them with the mashed potatoes. Mix the flour, salt, pepper, and baking soda. Whisk the eggs and milk and add with the dry ingredients to the potatoes to make a batter of dropping consistency. Grease a skillet or griddle lightly and drop spoonfuls of the batter over medium high heat, Cook on both sides until they are browned; about four minutes on each side. Serve with butter. They can also be sprinkled with sugar.
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