(St. Patrick’s Day and the Lenten Fast)
St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 has long been considered a significant date on the calendar of Irish Newfoundlanders, in fact on St. Patrick’s Day, all Newfoundlanders lay claim to some smidgeon of Irishness. The Irish in Newfoundland have for hundreds of years celebrated their patron saint with parades, dancing, drinking, and feasting.
St. Patrick’s Day, falling as it does during the fasting season of Lent has proven to be inconvenient, it has also proven to be a source of theological confusion.
Those who follow the Christian calendar and fast or abstain during the Lenten Season (Wednesday, February 14 and ends on Thursday March 29) can relax, bishops throughout the world, especially in dioceses with large Irish populations have customarily granted a special dispensation from the law of abstinence and fasting on St. Patrick’s Day. In the United States, in the resent past, at least 60 of the nearly 200 dioceses (most with large Irish populations) provide such dispensations.
So ingrained in Newfoundland food culture was the idea of the “Lenten Diet” that there was a time during the Lenten Season when grocery stores in their advertising in the local newspapers boldly bragged in their advertisements that they carried “Lenten Diet” products.
In the local St. John’s newspaper, Evening Telegram, on March 18, 1914 , Bishop Sons and Company Limited, Grocery Department stated in their advertising that their “‘Lenten Diet’ products included Salmon, Lobster, Cod Tongues, White Bait, Royans, and a large selection of other fish products.”
E.P. Eagan a competitor of Bishops and Sons at his Duckworth Street and Queens Road stores in St. John’s boasted in his advertising in The Telegram, March 16, 1914 that he carried “Foods that are popular during the Lenten Season.”
It was in this cultural milieu that it would have been difficult to consider a good meal of Irish bacon and cabbage, the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal without an approving nod from the local bishop.
Irish bacon and cabbage, consists of unsliced back bacon boiled with cabbage and potatoes. Sometimes other vegetables such as turnips, onions and carrots are also added. Historically, this dish was common fare in Irish homes as the ingredients were readily available as many families grew their own vegetables and reared their own pigs. (As it was in Newfoundland.) In the mid-to-late 19th century, Irish immigrants to the United States began substituting corned beef for bacon when making the dish, hence creating corned beef and cabbage.
It is not likely that you will find a restaurant menu that will feature a “Lenten Diet’ and even more unlikely that our local newspaper will offer a ‘Lenten Diet’ column, best stick to the fish.
On St. Patrick’s Day, break the ‘Lenten Fast’ it is all about the parades, dancing, drinking, and feasting!
Museum Exhibit: At the Rooms take some time to see: Talamh an Éisc – The Fishing Ground, an exhibit at The Rooms, which introduces the Irish peoples who have been in Newfoundland and Labrador since the late 1600s, the exhibit explores the communities they built and celebrates the contributions they made to life here in Newfoundland and Labrador.