March 17 commemorates the patron saint of Ireland - Saint Patrick - and the heritage and culture of the Irish in general.

Born about 385AD in Wales - or Scotland (it's debatable) - Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland. He escaped but later returned to introduce Christianity.

St Patrick's Day is celebrated the world over and about 70million people will rejoice with a party or a pint of the national drink.

Guinness, contrary to popular belief, is not a meal in a glass. It has the same number of calories as many other beers. It is an almost black stout prepared from malted and roasted barley plus hops, yeast and water.

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Another famous tipple is Baileys Irish Cream, an Irish whiskey and cream liqueur. It is popular "as is" or as a post-dinner delight. However, it's also great served over ice or poured over icecream topped with lightly toasted walnuts.

Potatoes are a must on any St Patrick's Day menu. Traditionally, it is the day the Irish plant their potatoes.

From the 1700s, Irish farmers enjoyed enormous success with their potato crops that were a more reliable food source than grains. The typical Irishman ate 4-7kg of potatoes each day.

Potatoes are loaded with vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and protein. Infant mortality plummeted and the Irish grew bigger, stronger and healthier and soon towered over their rural English counterparts who ate bread.

As A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh books, put it "What I say is that, if a fellow really like potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of a fellow."


RECIPES

GUINNESS-BATTERED OYSTERS

Serve with lemon wedges.

1/2 cup self-raising flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup Guinness
Canola oil for deep frying
12 large shelled oysters, patted dry
1/4 cup extra flour for dredging

Whisk the flour, seasonings and enough Guinness to make a thin batter. Heat the oil in a deep saucepan until a faint haze rises. Dredge the oysters in flour, one at a time. Dip into the batter 2-3 at a time. Deep-fry until golden, about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Great served with a squeeze of lemon. - Serves 2-3 as a snack

BAILEYS' BALLS

Truffles with kick.

4 tbsp Bailey's Irish Cream
3 tbsp cream
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
350g dark chocolate chips
3-4 tbsp dark cocoa powder
1-2 shakes chilli powder or to taste

Place the Baileys, cream and vanilla essence in a glass bowl. Place over a saucepan of barely simmering water, until it is hot. Stir in the chocolate chips, whisking until they melt. Remove the bowl, cool a little and then refrigerate until the mixture is almost set.
Combine the cocoa powder and chilli powder in a plastic bag. Take teaspoons of the chocolate mixture and roll into balls. Place balls in the plastic bag and carefully move them around until they are coated in the cocoa mixture. Remove and store in an airtight container in a cool place until ready to serve. - Makes about 20

RYAN'S POTATO CASSEROLE

A tasty accompaniment. It can be prepared ahead of time and baked just before serving.

4 large potatoes
250ml sour cream
1 small onion, diced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp butter

Peel the potatoes and cut into quarters. Boil in salted water, until tender. Drain well and mash.

Gradually beat in the sour cream, onion and egg. Spoon into a greased 20-23cm casserole dish. Dot with the butter. If preferred, cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Return to room temperature before baking.

Bake in a preheated 180C oven for about 35 minutes or until hot and golden. - Serves 6

IRISH CHOCOLATE CAKE

Light and moist, this cake can be topped with whipped cream or cut into wedges and served with scoops of icecream.

1 cup Guinness
250g butter, chopped
3/4 cup dark cocoa powder, sifted
1 & 1/2 cups caster sugar
150ml sour cream
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla essence
275g plain flour
2 tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease and line a 23cm round cake pan with baking paper.

Place the Guinness in a large saucepan and add the butter. Heat, stirring, until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the cocoa and caster sugar. Once smooth, beat in the sour cream, eggs and vanilla essence. Sift in the flour and baking soda and mix well.

Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Stand the pan on a rack to cool.

Turn out on to a serving plate. Cover and store in a cool place until ready to serve. - Serves about 10