Most families in Ireland celebrate Christmas and Christmas Eve with dinners similar to those in the majority of U.S. homes -- perhaps a turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted vegetables and cranberry sauce. Traditional Irish Christmas dinner, however, does have a few additional items that are still an integral part of the Christmas feast in many Irish homes.
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Similar to the American-style Christmas fruitcake, the Irish version is slightly more decadent and is laced with Irish whiskey. A baker makes a traditional Irish Christmas cake weeks before Christmas to allow the whiskey-soaked cake to air dry before covering it in icing and marzipan. The cake is made of wheat flour and contains whiskey-soaked dried fruits including currants, cherries and raisins as well as citrus peels and caraway seeds. Once the cake is dry, the baker wraps it in a sugary almond paste known as marzipan.
Mincemeat pies are a traditional English food served year-round though most commonly during the holiday season. Irish cooks make mincemeat pies from standard pie pastries filled with a combination of ground pork or mincemeat and spices. The pie can be large or made into small individual delicacies.
Many Irish families serve a roast turkey or ham for Christmas dinner, though some families still serve the traditional roasted goose. Turkey and ham appears on the table with the usual gravy or cranberry sauce, while roasted goose should be served with traditional chestnut and port sauce.
Spiced beef is a Christmas tradition unique to Ireland. Cooks prepare spiced beef at least one week prior to eating as it must marinate in a combination of spices including brown sugar, cloves, peppercorns, juniper berries and saltpeter. After a week of marinating, the beef is slow-cooked to dry out. The cook then slices it thinly and serves it cold as an appetizer or side dish at Christmas dinner.
The vegetables accompanying the Christmas dinner in Ireland are as diverse as those served in the U.S. Some families serve asparagus, roast carrots, onions and green beans, but the most traditional Christmas vegetable in Ireland is brussels sprouts served roasted or boiled.
Unsurprisingly, potatoes have a traditional place in the Irish Christmas dinner. Boiled, mashed or roasted, the type of preparation depends on the preference of the particular family. Potato cakes and bread are also popular side dish items served with the meal. Potato oat cakes are an Irish tradition at most religious holidays including Christmas, Lent, Easter and All Saints Day.
Plum pudding, sometimes called Christmas pudding, is a traditional Irish and English holiday dessert that ironically does not contain plums and isn't a pudding in the American sense of the word. Plum pudding is a dark porridge cake filled with dried fruits, spices and honey. Before serving, the cook covers the cake in brandy and sets it ablaze, traditionally on Christmas Eve.