published Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

For more than 40 years, couple has celebrated St. Patrick's Day with friends, food and green beer

Corned beef hash stew and bread are displayed on a table at Marsha and Jim Salter’s home.
Corned beef hash stew and bread are displayed on a table at Marsha and Jim Salter’s home.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

CORNED BEEF HASH STEW

2 cans corned beef

4 or 5 medium potatoes

Half head of cabbage

Salt and pepper

Peel and dice potatoes. Place in a Dutch oven or stock pot. Add two cans of corned beef to the pot, breaking apart meat. Chop cabbage and add to pot. Fill pot to top with water. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover with lid and cook on stove top. Let mixture come to boil, then turn down heat to medium for the remainder of 30 minutes. Stick fork in potatoes to determine whether done. If not, continue cooking until tender. Serves four.

— Marsha Salter

MANDARIN ORANGE SLAW

Half head of cabbage or one package slaw from grocery deli

1 pound white grapes

1 can mandarin oranges

Cashews

Mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Chop remaining half head of cabbage not used for stew. Place it, or the packaged slaw, in bowl. Slice white grapes and add to bowl. Add drained mandarin oranges, handful of cashews, mayonnaise to taste and lemon juice.

Mix and serve. May be refrigerated first, but not necessary.

— Marsha Salter

Part of the fifth generation in a family that can trace its roots back to Ireland, Marsha Conway Salter says St. Patrick's Day was a grand holiday throughout her childhood.

"We always celebrated it. My Dad's the only 200-pound leprechaun I've ever known. He wore a green jacket, green tie and always had on a green boutonniere every St. Patrick's Day," she recalls.

Once grown and married to Jim Salter, she started her own St. Pat's tradition. For 43 consecutive years, the couple has hosted a St. Patrick's Day party that draws an average of 50 people and sometimes as many as 70. Salter says her 44th party on Saturday night promises to include the wearin' o'the green and serving o'the green beer -- along with her famous stew that relies on three staples of Irish dishes: corned beef, cabbage and potatoes.

"We have friends come who we've known since elementary school at (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) to high school at Notre Dame. Some are new this year, some are work colleagues; there are sorority sisters from UTC and a lot of people from our church, Sts. Peter and Paul Basilica. Even priests come," Marsha says.

"It's interesting to me that many people come looking for somebody they've met here in previous years. They've formed friendships and this may be the only time in a year they'll see each other. It's really about people getting together and talking and visiting with one another," she says.

Her stew is a dish served to the Conway family during Marsha's youth.

"I'm the oldest of four children, the other three are boys. Mother was a master at filling us up when we didn't have a lot of money. She was a good meat-and-potatoes cook. She loved to cook," she says.

For their St. Pat's party, the Salters set up a self-serve buffet that includes the stew, wheat bread Jim makes in their breadmaker, and beer, sodas and water.

"I make at least one big stew pot of corned beef hash stew, and sometimes a second is needed to feed everyone," Marsha says. "It's ridiculously easy, but really tasty and everyone loves it. You can use a corned beef brisket if you want, but the simplest way is to buy the canned corn beef that comes with the key on the side."

  • photo
    Marsha Salter taste-tests corned beef hash stew.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

  • photo
    Jim Salter cuts up bread in preparation for an annual St. Patrick’s Day party where he and his wife, Marsha, feed 50 to 70 people.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

Clare Sawyer, former director of the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, says she and husband Burt have attended almost every one of the Salter's holiday parties. The only years they missed were when they were out of town.

"Once you ever come, you're on the mailing list and get an invitation every year," Sawyer says.

A highlight of the annual celebration includes an Irish whiskey toast to friendship. The toast grew in poignance to the Salters after their North Chattanooga home burned in 1977. One of the few salvageable items remaining was the jug in which the Irish whiskey for the annual toast was kept.

"The jug has a singed look, but we bring it out every year," says Marsha. "It never gets empty because we pour a little bit more in it every year. The new whiskey mixes with the old, just like our new friends come and mix with the old here.

"We fill a glass, make a toast, pass the glass around and everybody takes a sip. People who get here a little late always ask if they've missed the toast," she adds, chuckling.

In addition to feeding 50 party guests, Salter prepares a second stockpot of soup to feed almost that many at her church.

"During Lent, we have Stations of the Cross set up. Over that six-week period, people sign up to make soup and salad and everybody comes to the Parish Hall on Wednesday night to eat," she explains. "We feed whomever comes to Stations of the Cross. I always choose the Wednesday closest to St. Patrick's Day and bring corned beef hash stew."

"On cold winter nights, when you want to have some kind of soup, this is wonderful because you can come home, peel the potatoes, put them in a pot with corned beef and cabbage, and serve it to your family within 40 minutes," she says.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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