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DOWN HOME FOOD: A wee bit o’ Scotch-Irish history |

DOWN HOME FOOD: A wee bit o’ Scotch-Irish history

Hello, and welcome back to Down Home Food. Hope everyone had a great week.

For me, it was a great one. I got to attend an auction of a portion of my cousin’s estate. I got to meet three of my first cousins whom I had never met. That was a real treat. I had been communicating with them on the phone and Facebook. It’s wonderful to find you have a whole new set of relatives

I’ve always loved going to auctions, and have had a lot of fun doing this. At the same time, it’s sad to see items that have been precious to someone being sold. I’ve seen, and also bought items which were items with personal meaning to someone at one time.

My article last week was a very timely one. I came home from the auction with seven iron skillets, two round iron griddles, an iron muffin pan, and an iron cornstick pan. One skillet is identical to my grandmother’s.

Most of them will require a thorough cleaning. I’ll try to get started on that soon. I’ll have to share how to clean and re-season your cast iron pieces in the future. It’s a bit of a tedious and messy process, but it will get her done!!

Since St. Patrick’s Day is almost here, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

St. Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland. In America the first observance of St. Patrick’s Day was in Boston in 1737. St. Patrick’s Day became the day the new immigrants remembered their strong ties to the “auld sod” with parades and banquets.

If you are a native East Tennessean, there’s a very good chance that you have some Irish blood flowing in your veins. According to my brother’s DNA test he had done recently through Ancestry, we are Scotch-Irish, English, and a touch of German with smidgens of a few others. About one in five Tennesseans today can trace their roots back to the Scotch-Irish settlers of around three centuries ago.

Just exactly what does the term Scotch-Irish mean? The Scotch-Irish are a people who originated in lowland Scotland and moved to the north of Ireland during the 17th century mostly in the Ulster area. Then they emigrated to America in large numbers throughout the 18th century and into the 19th century. They were mostly Presbyterians seeking religious freedom, the promise of property, and more food for their families.

These people were really never accepted by the Irish. They were pretty much treated as outsiders. During the 1770’s and early 1780’s, an estimated quarter of a million Scotch-Irish settlers left Ulster for the new land across the Atlantic.

Somewhere around 1763, five of the great-grandsons of Lord Douglas Kilgore came to America. They were my relatives on my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. My Uncle Charlie said that Lord Douglas was a descendant of Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Victoria, and King Henry VIII, Whether or not that is true, I’m not sure, but he sure believed it.

These five men were the Kilgore brothers. All five fought in the battle of King’s Mountain in 1780. One brother, Hiram was killed. Two other brothers, Charles and Robert, were injured but survived. Charles is my five times great grandfather.

I don’t know which port they came through, but many who settled in this area came either through Pennsylvania or South Carolina. Others came through Boston, New York, and Delaware.

In doing some family research recently, I came across a statement which I found rather funny. It was said that when the English immigrants came to America, the first thing they did was build a church. When the Germans came, the first thing they did was to build a barn. When the Scotch-Irish came, the first thing they did was to build a still. They were known for their production of whiskey made from barley. When they came to America, they adapted corn in place of barley, thus corn whiskey.

These immigrants were crucial in the turning point of the Revolutionary War. George Washington spoke highly of these people. He said if he was defeated elsewhere, he would take his stand with the Scotch-Irish of his native Virginia.

Also during the Civil War, these men filled the ranks of both armies. General Robert E. Lee was asked which nationality he believed made the best soldiers. He answered, “The Scots who came to this country by way of Ireland, because they have all the dash of the Irish in taking up a position, and all the stubbornness of the Scots in holding it.”

They were a hardy, hard working people. Many received land grants in lieu of pay for serving in the Revolutionary War. That brought many to this area since land was cheaper in rural areas. That’s how many wound up in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina.

All three Presidents from Tennessee could trace their ancestry back to the Ulster region of Ireland. More than nine of the other Presidents could trace their roots back to Ireland. The most famous was probably John F. Kennedy.

When the Scotch-Irish came to this area, they brought with them their language, customs, food, and music. All of these are now part of many Tennesseans every day life.

As in Ireland and early America, they were given colorful nicknames like mountaineers and “hillbillies.” Unfortunately, they were pretty much treated as second-class citizens.

The music they brought with them was a mixture of ballads and lively dance tunes. The traditional folk songs can still be heard in Bluegrass and traditional country music. Dolly Parton released an album titled “Heartsong” that paid tribute to her Scotch-Irish heritage. You can go on You Tube and hear this album. I listened to the song “Barbara Allen.” It’s sung by Dolly and another singer in a combination of English and Irish. It’s a very beautiful song. You Tube has a variety of videos on the Scotch-Irish that are very interesting and well worth your time in watching.

I am personally very proud of my Scotch-Irish heritage. If anyone wants to call me a hillbilly, I’ll stand up and say, “Yes, I am, and I’m very proud of it.” I hope if you share my Scotch-Irish heritage, you will also be proud of it. Without them, America wouldn’t be what it is today!

Whatever your ethnicity, do some research, find out more about your ancestors. You might be surprised what you find. I even found out that a great uncle of mine was killed near Sneedville in a feud called he “Sutton-Bernard” feud. It is said to be almost as famous as the “Hatfield-McCoy” feud. It was written up in newspapers all over the country.

In honor of my connection to Ireland, I’m giving you two recipes. The first is for corned beef and cabbage which is actually an American-Irish invention. The second is for colcannon which is the national dish of Ireland. I hope you won’t be upset that I didn’t share a recipe for haggis, which is a pudding made from the heart, liver, and other organs of a sheep. It’s stuffed with some other ingredients into the sheep’s stomach and cooked. Doesn’t that sound yummy!

Hope you enjoy!!

Slow-Cooked Corned Beef Dinner

6 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch thick slices (about 3 cups)

4 medium potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups)

1 large onion, cut into thin wedges

1 corned beef brisket (2 to 2 ½ lbs.)

5 to 6 cups water

1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

6 whole cloves

1 dried bay leaf

In a 5 to 6 quart slow cooker, mix carrots, potatoes and onion.

If necessary, cut corned beef brisket to fit into slow cooker; place over vegetables. Add enough of the water to cover. If brisket is packaged with spice packet, add contents of spice packet and omit pepper, cloves, and bay leaf. If not, add pepper, cloves, and bay leaf.

Cover; cook on low setting 10 to 12 hours. Remove and discard bay leaf. Remove brisket from slow cooker; place on a serving platter. Let cool slightly before slicing. Place vegetables around brisket and serve.


1 pound new potatoes, peeled and cubed

4 leeks (or one bunch scallions), chopped

1 small head cabbage

Milk (just enough to moisten potatoes)

3 tablespoons heavy cream

2 ounces butter (½ stick), softened

1 teaspoon ground thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook potatoes until tender. Slowly sauté the chopped leeks and chopped cabbage separately until soft and limp (but not brown).

Drain potatoes and then mash with a hand masher, then add the leeks and milk and mash together until smooth. Next mash in the cabbage, adding the heavy cream, butter, and thyme; blend well until smooth and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper. Put this mixture into an ovenproof dish and place under the broiler to brown.

If the colcannon is prepared up to the point of browning ahead of time, reheat covered with foil in a 350” oven for a half hour. Uncover and brown under broiler.

Serves 6

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: Follow the way of your ancestors. ... Old Irish Proverb

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