Green Bagels: St. Patrick’s Day in a Jewish Household

St. Patrick’s Day was always a special day in our home. Raised in a Jewish household, food was always the centerpiece of an occasion and my mom, who loved to cook and nourish her family, made sure to satisfy our needs with appropriate and delightful celebratory fare.

On this occasion, for example, I clearly remember her returning from Dougie’s Bagel Store on a Sunday morning with a bag filled with green bagels and cream cheese. When she emptied the bag, we looked at her and remarked that she must have made a giant mistake and brought home moldy bagels—a huge disappointment for those of us waiting to smear chive cream cheese and lox on the garlic, salt or egg bagels we’d anticipated.

“Nope! You guys don’t get it!” she exclaimed. These were special green bagels for St. Patrick’s Day and were perfectly safe and healthy. “Wow! Really? Do they taste like lime or spearmint?” we asked. At that, we all grabbed for the green bagels and, once covered in cream cheese and lox, they tasted surprisingly delicious. The “moldy bagels” morphed into delicious green gastronomic pleasures for young Jewish children—a special treat on a special day.

But that was not the end of our dear mother’s culinary experiments for her St. Patrick’s Day feast. No, she was determined to master cooking corned beef. Maybe not the cabbage, but our mom, who loved red meat (of course, back then, it was a great source of iron and protein, not sandbagged like it is these days), had a new recipe that she was going to try on her family—hostages and guinea pigs—trapped to eat whatever culinary “treat” she conjured up.

Her annual St. Patrick’s Day experiment included a ginger ale and mustard marinade for a giant corned beef that cooked all day and filled the house with a most delicious aroma. We only feared that it would either be too rubbery or just not taste good, and that we would still be obligated to eat it.

Needless to say, years later, we survive, and each year the memory of our mom’s cooking adventures on St. Patrick’s Day remind us of the great Irish holiday and give us a personal connection to this rich culture.

We strived to create some new traditions this year on St. Patrick’s Day (how many green bagels and ginger ale and mustard-soaked corned beef can one eat?). To start the day off, we indulged in a breakfast made with “St. Patrick’s Day green” Granny Smith apples baked into a delicious French toast. Afterward, we wanted to attend a concert highlighting Irish music. Luckily for us, the Celtic Tenors were headlining at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC)and we were able to obtain two tickets in the left mezzanine.

After an enjoyable show, as we exited the venue, the favor of a green and white cookie (closely related to Seinfeld‘s famous black and white) reminded us, yet again, of the wonderful gastronomic pleasures of this holiday.

So, we didn’t make it to Manhattan or Montauk for their revered St. Patrick’s Day parades, but we acknowledged and celebrated the Irish culture in our own way. Whether we were eating green bagels, marinated corned beef, Granny Smith apples or being serenaded by three handsome Celtic Tenors at Westhampton Beach PAC, we became part of a beautiful coexistence of different cultures here on the East End.

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