Posts Tagged ‘Irish Christmas Traditions’

In our Irish home we believe there’s something magical about receiving a gift at Christmas that has been lovingly made by someone you know. Which is why we make edible handmade treats every year to give close friends, neighbours and teachers.


These “Naughty & Nice” sweet treats are sure to make our friends smile this year (clearly the Irish Cream Liqueur is for adults only!). The granola recipe, originally posted here at In an Irish Home, was modified slightly: we added several handfuls of dried red cranberries to give it a real Christmassy-look. The Irish Cream Liqueur recipe, passed down by my father-in-law, Dan McGuire, is amazingly good and may be found at the end of this post.

And who doesn’t love an authentic Irish Shortbread Biscuit? With the addition of some gorgeous crystalised ginger, they’re perfect this time of year with a freshly brewed cup of tea. The recipe may be found here.


Once tasted, I dare anyone to say they don’t love these Irish Mars Bars treats! Not only are they incredibly “moreish”, they are super easy to make. Even better, there’s no baking required. The recipe, posted at In an Irish Home, may be found here.


Guinness Gingerbread is something we can’t get enough of in our Irish home. The ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg really smell like Christmas. Wrapped simply in some parchment paper and tied with a festive red bow, this is the perfect Irish edible gift.


And finally, these Rocky Road Biscuits, which I first shared with you two years ago, are totally delicious and give off a real Christmas vibe if you grate in a bit of orange zest and top with a drizzle of melted white chocolate. They are an Irish childhood favourite and sure to be enjoyed by whomever you make them for.

Now, with less than a week to go before Christmas day, we wish you and your loved ones some very happy times in the kitchen ~ slan abhaile!

Dan McGuire’s Irish Cream Liqueur


14oz condensed milk

14oz evaporated milk

1 1/2 teaspoon coffee essence (or 1 teaspoon instant espresso)

1 teaspoon glycerine

6oz/3/4 cup Irish whiskey


1. Mix all the above ingredients in a large measuring cup and stir with a small whisk until well blended.

2. Put into clean, sterilised, glass jars, close and store in the fridge.

Related Articles:

Darina Allen’s delicious homemade edible gift ideas here.

Donal Skehan’s blog post on edible Christmas gives may be read here.

This Irish Times article on edible gifts from 2011 is still very useful.

An Edible Ireland blogpost on Chocolate Bark with Almonds & Candied Bacon was reviewed at I Can Has Cook? These are two great Irish food blogs!

Ireland’s Catherine Fulvio, of Ballyknocken House, offers this Almond Liqueur recipe and delicious brownie recipe to her readers this year.

Check out those free, downloadable, gifts tags here and here and here to use with your homemade edible gifts.



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Mincemeat pies. If there’s anything that says Christmas in our Irish home it is these buttery-rich, sweet, MEAT-less wonders. Yes…it is somewhat confusing…meat is right there in the name…but these lovely treats are absolutely, positively, meat free. I know this because I’ve eaten my fair share! How could I not? Bite-sized deliciousness served on a plate with a dollop of boozy cream…who could resist?

A quick Google search on the history of mincemeat pies shows that they were once, a long time ago, an entirely different dish. Around since the 11th century, mince pies first became popular in British kitchens in the 1700s. Back then there was chopped beef or mutton in them, along with dried fruit and warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Rich and savoury, they were a main course dish and not an after dinner pudding or tea time treat.

It wasn’t until the 18th century, when “cheap sugar arrived from slave plantations in the West Indies”, that the mince pie we know and love today was created. Sweet trumped meat and now the only animal protein you’ll find in a modern mince pie is beef suet, a raw fat found around the kidneys and joints of a cow or mutton ~ though increasingly even it is being left out by bakers who are sensitive to animal products in their diet.

Irish Mincemeat


In Ireland, mince pies make their appearance in shops, bakeries, and holiday markets in early November. Truth be told, my favourite store-bought pies come from Avoca HandweaversButler’s Pantry and Cavistons in Glasthule, though Lidl, Aldi and Dunnes make nice ones too. Very few of my Irish friends go to the trouble of making them. Even my lovely sister-in-law, Rosie, spends her pre-Christmas time in the kitchen making her family-famous Christmas pudding, rather than making mincemeat pies.

But for those die-hard Christmas types like myself, it’s really a straight-forward, and dare I say “fun”, process. The only two things you really must do to ensure the end result is worth the effort is: 1) make your own candied peel (easy-peasy); and 2) make the mincemeat far enough in advance (two to six weeks is about right) to allow the alcohol, fruit, and sugar mixture to fully mature.

Mincemeat pies are best served out-of-the-oven-warm, with a generous spoon of freshly whipped, and dare I say “whiskey-laced”, cream, but they are also very good at room temperature a day or two later too. On its own, mincemeat is wonderful mixed into vanilla ice cream, may be added to home-baked apple or pear tarts, served over yoghurt, or tossed into a fresh fruit salad. And, finally…if you’re looking to give homemade Irish Christmas gifts this year…a beribboned jar of handmade mincemeat (or candied peel for that matter) would be positively lovely.

Happy Christmas!


(makes 10 cups)


8oz/300gm/2 cups sultanas

8oz/300gm/2 cups currants

4oz/150gm/1 cups raisins

6oz/200gm/1 1/2 cup candied peel

600gm/3 cups muscavado or dark brown sugar

2 cooking apples (or green apples), peeled, cored and coarsely grated

zest and juice of 2 organic lemons

6oz/3/4 cup of Irish whiskey

1lb/450gm beef (or vegetable) suet*

1 teaspoon of pre-mixed cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves (also known as mixed spice)

a pinch of salt


1. Combine all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.

2. Put the ingredients into sterilised jars, cover and leave two to six weeks to mature, stirring once a week.

3. Use what you need and keep the rest in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

* If you’re making mincemeat to give as gifts to be used on muesli or ice cream, leave out the beef suet.

Ballymaloe Mince Pies 

(Makes 20-24 Mince Pies)


225g (8oz) plain flour

175g (6oz) butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1 dessertspoon icing sugar, sieved

a pinch of salt

a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind

1lb mincemeat (to see Darina’s mincemeat recipe, please see link below)

egg wash

1. Sieve the flour into a bowl.

2. Toss the butter into the flour and rub it in with your fingertips.

3. Add the icing sugar and a pinch of salt.

4. Mix with a fork as you gradually add in the beaten egg (do this bit by bit because you may not need all of the egg), then use your hand to bring the pastry together into a ball. It should not be wet or sticky.

5. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.

6. Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4

7. Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about 3mm (1/8 inch) Stamp into rounds 7.5 (3 inch) in diameter and line shallow bun tins with the discs.

8. Put a good teaspoonful of mincemeat into each tin, dampen the edges with water and put another round on top.

9. Brush with egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves or stars.

10. Bake the pies in the preheated oven for 20 minutes approx.

11. Allow them to cool slightly, then dredge with icing or caster sugar. Serve with Irish whiskey cream (or brandy butter.)


Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

A fun article about six Northern Irish brothers who make 20,000 mincemeat pies a day at this time of year.

Here’s a brief history of mincemeat pies.

Looking for some other Irish Christmas fun facts? Check out this blog post.

Irish Central always views Ireland from a slightly more cynical/humorous lens, but I like it. Check out their Christmas post for 2014 here.

In 2004, Darina Allen posted recipes for a nostalgic Irish Christmas meal. You can find it here but, be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart. The list of dishes is incredibly long.

The beautiful photo at the start of this posting is from Getty Images. It was taken by David Cordner. I would have used my own photo, except I haven’t made my mince pies yet because the mince is still marinating and Mr. Cordner’s photograph is incredibly beautiful!

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{Note: Today’s post reads better if you click on the link below, get past the ad, and let the video run while you read the rest of the post.}

You know the song Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys?

Well, not to brag or anything but…I’m pretty sure she’s singing about me!

Yep, that’s right. I said it!…“She’s just a girl and she’s on firrre”.

I am listening to the video above right now while typing {the song has been in my head since last night}…“Hotter than a fantasy…”

Yes! She’s DEFINITELY singing about me!

“She’s living in a world, and it’s on firrre, filled with catastrophe”After feeling so lackluster leading up to Christmas day, I have finally shaken off my cloak of dullness and found that, underneath, I’m wearing a pencil skirt, mini top, and four-inch-high-smokin’-hot heels! Ha! Who knew?!…“She’s got both feet on the ground and she’s burning it down…”

“O-o-o-oh, o-o-o-oh”… Despite the weather, the bills, the messy house, the late-to-arrive Christmas cards that are still sitting on the dining room table unsigned and unsent,…“She’s got her head in the clouds”…I am finding time {and energy} for watching tv with the family, cuddling with the kids before they go to bed, whipping up something new in the kitchen, meeting with friends, relaxing, and writing…lots of writing. …” And, she’s not backing down…”

“This girl is on firrre. This girl is on firrre. She’s walking on firrre. This girl is on firrre..”

Ideas for In an Irish Home are popping into my head nonstop, like fireworks on New Year’s Eve night. For those of you following this blog, I hope you don’t mind all the posts in your email inbox.

“Looks like a girl but she’s a flame.” Sometimes the ideas come in the middle of the night. “So bright she can burn your eyes, better look the other way.” So, I get up from my comfy bed and write a post in those few quiet hours when nothing else is going on…“She’s on top of the world…” The house is silent. I relish the time to myself.

Lately, I’ve even taken to hitting the “publish” button before going back to bed. And you know, the funny thing is I don’t feel exhausted the next morning for having had less sleep. “Got our head in the clouds and we’re not coming down.” I feel good…almost great for having done so. Maybe it comes from loving what I’m doing?

I don’t know where this abundant energy is coming from. “This girl is on firrre.” I am just completely and utterly thankful for it.

And so, before giving you today’s recipe for Guinness Gingerbread, which to all you male-readers is a most delicious treat for the lady in your life on Little Christmas day {also known in Ireland as the Women’s Christmas, Little Women’s Christmas, and Nollaig na mBan and, also, the Epiphany), I’m wondering…what song is currently playing in your head?

DSC_0043Guinness Gingerbread

Makes 16 Generous Slices


10 tablespoons/5oz butter, softened

1 cup/250ml golden syrup {half dark and half light corn syrup)

1 cup packed/5oz brown sugar

1 cup/250ml Guinness

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg

2 cups/10oz plain flour {self raising/all purpose)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups/10oz/300ml sour cream

2 eggs


1. Preheat oven to 325°F/170°C. Line a 9×13×2-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Butter or spray both a nonstick baking spray.

2. Put the butter, syrup, brown sugar, Guinness, ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves and nutmeg in a saucepan over low heat and stir until the butter is completely melted.

3. While the butter is melting, mix in a large bowl the flour, baking soda and salt.

4. When the butter has completely melted and the ingredients in the saucepan are well mixed, pour it into the large bowl with flour, baking soda and salt. Whisky well to get rid of any lumps.

5. Whisk together the sour cream and eggs. Mix into the gingerbread mixture, whisking again until smooth.

6. Pour the mixture into the baking pan and bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

7. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Once fully cool, lift from pan and cut into slices. May be served with cream and icing sugar {powdered sugar} for an extra special dessert.


Guinness Gingerbread recipe is adapted from Nigell’a Lawson’s recipe for same.

More about Nollaig na mBan at A Silver Voice from Ireland

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Photo Credit: The Gathering Ireland 2013

Photo Credit: The Gathering Ireland 2013

There are only a few hours left in 2013! And I can tell from the stats page on In an Irish Home that a good few of you are still looking for Irish toasts and blessings to help you ring in your New Year’s Eve celebrations.

With that in mind, there’s no need for a long post. I’ll leave you for now with a heartfelt thank you for visiting and following In an Irish Home in 2013. I wish you and yours all the best tonight and in the coming year. Athbhliain faoi Mhaise daoibh (Happy New Year)!


May you always have walls for the winds, a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire, laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.


May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light.
 May good luck pursue you each morning and night.


May you always have work for your hands to do.
 May your pockets hold always a coin or two.
 May the sun shine bright on your windowpane.
May the rainbow be certain to follow each rain.
 May the hand of a friend always be near you.
And may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.


May joy and peace surround you, contentment latch your door.
 And happiness be with you now
and bless you evermore.


May your troubles be less and your blessing be more. 
And nothing but happiness,
come through your door.


Always remember to forget the troubles that pass away. But never forget to remember the blessings that come each day.


May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.

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Well…we survived Christmas! Did you?

After all the fuss leading up to yesterday and the search for meaning and joy, I’m happy to say that though Christmas was nice enough, today, the Feast of St. Stephen, is particularly enjoyable. With no school or work to go to, no cooking or washing-up to be done, no unwrapping of presents or recycling of paper and boxes to hassle with, we four have been free to enjoy whatever we want. Ahh, the bliss of it!

Our day started with a walk and it is ending with a movie. The in-between hours have been taken up with fun stuff like make-up tutorials, manis and pedis {hey, we’re almost exclusively a house full of women here!}, reading the newspapers, eating leftovers, putting our feet up, and, for me, writing this post.

Anyone who is Irish knows the drill on Stephen’s Day…shopping, eating, relaxing, horse racing, and, if you live in the countryside, a visit from the Wren Boys.

We’ve never been visited by the Wren Boys but I’ve written about this very Irish tradition in books and articles before. My lovely blogger-friend over at A Silver Voice from Ireland has first-hand experience of the custom and wrote about it beautifully here. I’d write more about it but, quite honestly, I wouldn’t do it the justice A Silver Voice has.

The only other St. Stephen’s Day tidbit I’m going to leave you with today is this: St Stephen’s Day, the 26th December, is one of Ireland’s 9 public holidays {also known here as Bank Holidays} occurring each year. Most businesses and schools are closed. Other services, for example, public transport still operate but often with restricted schedules. To see the full list of public holidays in Ireland visit here.

A very happy Lá Fhéile Stiofán {or Lá an Dreoilín} to you and yours!

Related Articles:

A solid history of the tradition of St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland at http://blog.mikerendell.com/?p=564 and http://www.ouririshheritage.org/page_id__70_path__0p4p.aspx and

An Irish Times article on the Wren Boy tradition at http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/another-life-wren-boys-herald-tales-of-the-tiny-king-of-birds-1.1631979

A slew of Irish Christmas traditions at http://www.irishfireside.com/enewsletter/1206/1206holidaytrad.htm and http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Christmas-in-Ireland.html and http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/ACalend/StStephens.html and Top ten Christmas traditions observed by the Irish (PHOTOS) (irishcentral.com) and 12 Christmas Traditions That Are Truly Irish (youthvoiceireland.wordpress.com) and Irish Christmas Traditions (rjegrad.wordpress.com) and An Irish Christmas (inanirishhome.com) and In Ireland the day is one of nine official public holidays. (stairnaheireann.wordpress.com)

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DSC_0663Oh my gosh! Oh my goodness! These biscuits (cookies) are to-die-for good!!

The first time I made them, they didn’t turn out so well. Silly me, I didn’t chop the crystallised ginger near enough and they were lumpy. The second time I made them, however, I did everything right and even my pickiest eater liked them.

They are a doddle to make. {Which is all the more important in this busy holiday season.} It probably took 10 minutes to mix up the ingredients.

The only hitch is you have to let them rest in the fridge for 1-2 hours before popping them into the oven. Actually, since I’m thinking/writing out loud, these are the ideal biscuits to make while you are wrapping presents…you mix the ingredients, refrigerate, wrap, bake, wrap, enjoy – what could be simpler? Right?!

While you’re busy baking and wrapping, turn up the volume on your computer/iPad and have a listen to this podcast on Irish Christmas food. Eoin (sounds like O-wen) Purcell of HistoryJournal.ie interviews Regina Sexton, food and culinary historian at University College Cork, about the origins of the foods we eat at Christmastime. If you’re not familiar with HistoryJournal.ie {which I was not}, it is an “exclusively online Irish history journal, covering a wide range of topics across Irish history and the wider Irish worldwide community”. 

And, for a bit of cheer to those living abroad, here’s a few of the best 2013 Christmas food advertisements playing on telly.

From Lidl –

From Cadbury –

From Baileys –

Lastly, for a bit of a laugh {you can’t take him too seriously}, here’s a clip of Colin Farrell’s interview with American television late-night-host Jimmy Kimmel about his traditional Irish Christmas.

Avoca Handweaver’s Crystallised Ginger Shortbread

Makes about 16 biscuits


1 cup/130g plain flour

1/2 cup/60g icing sugar

1/2 cup/60g cornflour

9 tablespoon/130g unsalted butter

130g crystallised ginger, finely chopped

30g caster sugar (for top of shortbread)


1. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

2. Place the flour, icing sugar, cornflour, and butter in a food processor and blitz until starting to come together, then add the crystalized ginger and continue to process until the mixture combines fully. {I also added a few drops of ice water at this point}

3. Remove and roll into a ball.

4. Roll out the dough to 0.5cm thick. Cut into rounds with a small scone or cookie cutter.

5. Place on a lined baking sheet and allow to rest in the fridge for 1-2 hours, then bake for about 40-45 minutes.

6. Remove, and while still warm, sprinkle with a little caster sugar. The shortbread will keep in an airtight container for up to 10 days.

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English: Wicklow Street, Dublin, Ireland. A Ch...

Wicklow Street, Dublin, Ireland. A Christmas greeting in Irish Gaelic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Christmas countdown begins tonight in our Irish home and we are all a flutter with bringing home the Christmas (dressing the house and making treats). 

Our many boxes of decorations are sitting unopened in the hallway as I type this post, the tree is in the house waiting to be dressed, and the crèche is still in its boxes {as are my mom’s Department 56 holiday villages} but not for long! Tomorrow is December 8th which means Christmas in Ireland is officially underway.

Without a doubt this is one of the loveliest times of the year. Starting 8th December, with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and going through to 6th January with the Epiphany, there are lights to see, pantos to attend, singing choirs and street musicians to listen to, festive windows to visit, pubs to stuff into {mind your packages}, and traditions to keep.

Speaking of which, traditionally people living in the “country” come up to Cork, Dublin and Galway to start their shopping on 8th December but that’s not where the fun ends. There’s mid-night mass, a swim at the 40 Foot Christmas morning, the horse races on St. Stephen’s Day, and Nollaig na mBan on 6th January. I particularly like the last event as it’s the day when women meet up with one another or put their feet up and the men of the house do the housework, cooking and take down the Christmas decorations. {Laughter}…that’s never happened in our house!

So there you have it…Irish Christmas 2013 is just beginning. Hope you feel all the joy of the season and have a very Happy Christmas!

Read more: 

More about an Irish Christmas then and now at: http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/ACalend/XmasthenNow.html

Christmas in Ireland Traditions at: http://christmas.guide-to-nireland.com

A typical Irish Christmas at: http://www.dochara.com/the-irish/irish-christmas/a-typical-irish-christmas/

Top Irish Christmas Traditions at: http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/The-top-ten–Irish-Christmas-traditions-that-make-the-season—SEE-PHOTOS-112236619.html

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