The Truth About Corned Beef and Cabbage

By Alex Cronin

Mmm...corned beef platter

Photo: Jeffery W/Flickr CC

As a kid I would always go to my grandmother’s house on Saint Patrick’s Day for the traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage and I hated it. Now, that I look back on it, it was probably my grandmother’s cooking, but I also learned that this meal is not traditionally Irish. It is a sign of adaptation and how the Irish learned to survive in the New World.

Irish are not traditionally considered the best cooks but it is not their fault. Their cooking ability was limited to what was available to them. In Ireland during the early 1900s most homes were only equipped with peat-fired stoves and they could only cook with ingredients that were locally available. When the Irish immigrated to the United States they were stuck with small kitchens and had to adapt the little cooking experience they had. Jasper White of the Patriot Ledger said

They took their love for cabbage and potatoes and stewed them with the kosher cured brisket, bought from the Jewish butchers who lived in the same low-income neighborhoods. And so was born the iconic corned beef and cabbage dinner – a literal and metaphorical melting pot of the New World.

So this meal that I dreaded every year has an interesting background. My ancestors make did with what they had and knowing that this meal is actually a sign of strength and survival makes it a little more enjoyable this year.


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