Winery celebrates Irish heritage all weekend long

Winery celebrates Irish heritage all weekend long

By Jake Saunder

Many in southern Illinois were decked out in green for St. Patrick’s Day Monday, but Von Jakob winery got their celebration moving a few days early.

The winery’s annual event focused on traditional Irish food and welcomed a musical duo that added to the Irish lore.

However, while Americans may enjoy the festivities surrounding March 17, the holiday may not have the same meaning here as it does in Ireland, English professor Jane Dougherty said.

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“St. Patrick’s Day, as we think of it, is really an American invention,” she said. “In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was originally a religious holiday.”

But the holiday as celebrated in America is not restricted to one day.

“Every year we’ve always done something special for St. Patrick’s Day weekend,” Von Jakob tasting room manager Frank Wesseln said. “One of the biggest things we try to do are the food specials, and the past few years we’ve been trying to get traditional Irish music out.”

This year Von Jakob featured Roisin Dubh, meaning “black rose,” from Johnston City. The five-year-old group is comprised of duo Holly Kee, on keyboards, and Les Lannom, on bagpipes, guitar and harmonica.

“The bagpipes have nine notes on it and that’s all you can play,” Lannom said. “But I still love the music and I love the way it sounds, and there’s only one guy in Centralia and one guy in Marion around playing [bagpipes].”

The festivities began with the introduction of classical and traditional sounds stirred from the winds of the bagpipe. Accompanied by the keyboarded synthetic sounds of a big band, the melody rose and melodically strolled into a slowed pace. As the bagpipes rang out in an anthem-like pride, the keys helped project and place the instrument into modern setting.

If the music was not enough to bring the spirit of the Irish tradition into the area, the food certainly assisted.

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“The Irish food specials are clearly traditional things. It’s stuff that the owner and head chef enjoy,” Wesseln said. “It is equal parts what we like and traditional stuff.”

The beer-battered catfish was succulent and tenderly prepared. It broke apart within, as its outside batter was crispy and delicate. With a slight dusting of sea salt, the taste was complimented with a homemade tartar sauce and a side of potatoes.

“We try to do as much as possible in making it ourselves, fresh, homemade, as little processing as possible,” Wesseln said. “We generally buy stuff in bulk and local and fresh to make it all ourselves.

The corned beef — served with cabbage that brought an almost sour and puckering taste to the beef — was tenderly traditional and fell apart in a delicately delicious and rather savory way having been carefully cooked.

The shepard’s pie, a meal comprised of beef, lamb, potatoes and carrots in a stew, was robust and subtlety noted with hints of beer-like tastes in its crafting. The flavors were welcoming and warm and the consistency is thickly engaging.

Dougherty said traditional Irish foods include boxty, a potato pancake, and colcannon, a dish which includes seaweed. Corned beef and cabbage, however, is not traditionally Irish but fashioned by American culture.

While the bagpipes were playing and the food was consumed, many perhaps may not have focused on the tradition of St. Patrick’s Day, though they certainly did enjoy the traditional taste in the atmosphere.

“Next year we’ll do something similar,” Wesseln said. “It’s just something that’s fun, people like it because you don’t have to be Irish to have fun on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Jake Saunders can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @saundersfj or by phone at 536-3311 ext. 254.

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