Is Corned Beef and Cabbage Irish?

St. Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland.
St. Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland.

Top O' The morning. Growing up, I always clung to my Irish Heritage, more so than my parents. Still, there was always a reserved pride amongst the Reilly clan in the hardships their predecessors had encountered as immigrants to the United States. As such, there was the occasional nod to our roots, such as corned beef and cabbage on St. Paddy's day. I loved it and embraced the custom. As I would learn later in life, the Irish side of my family played a little loose with the facts.

It turns out, you won't find any corned beef and cabbage being served in Ireland on St. Paddy's day or on Easter. Not they don't have it and occasionally eat it. But it wouldn't be odd to find an Irishman who had never tried it. It's just not that special, so it's not something for a special day like St. Patrick's day. Ask an Irishman, and he will tell you, “That's a yank thing.” I felt I my chain had been “yanked.”

So how did this happen? How did corned beef and cabbage become this American Irish tradition? And while we're at it, what the hell does corn have to do with it? To get to the bottom of the story, one has to go way back into Irish History.

The people who lived here probably ate corned beef, but us peasants couldn't afford it.
The people who lived here probably ate corned beef, but us peasants couldn't afford it. | Source

What The Irish Eat

The Irish weren't strangers to corned beef by any means. They made it and were the first exporters of corned beef, and the biggest exporters until 1825. But beef was expensive—as was the salt used to cure it—and out of reach for peasants. A poem from the 12th century tells us that corned beef was a delicacy fit for a king, so only the rich would have eaten it. In fact, it's only been in the last century that beef has become a major part of the Irish diet. So if the Irish don't eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's day, what do they eat?

In Ireland, you're much more likely to find boiled bacon and cabbage on the table. It sounds odd until we consider what it is the Irish call bacon. It's a pork joint—meaning a roast of some sort, such as pork butt—or really any cut of pork except the leg, which like us, they call a ham. So at least we got the cabbage part right. But how did Americans come to eat corned beef on St. Patrick's day?

Irish immigrants  arrive in New York.
Irish immigrants arrive in New York. | Source

What Does 'Corned' Mean

When the Irish settled in New York in the late 19th century (when my ancestors came), both beef and salt were less expensive, so they treated beef in the same manner they would have treated their bacon; cured in salt then boiled with spices. Which brings us to the corn.

To cure the beef (or pork in Ireland), the meat was covered in pellets of salt the size of corn kernels, hence “corned beef.” That was before refrigeration, so the salting was for preservation of the meat and would require the meat be soaked prior to cooking to remove some of the salt. These days, meat is brined in a salty liquid for flavor, not for preservation, but the name “corned” has stuck. Incidentally, many will still soak the meat prior to cooking to remove excess salt, and even change the cooking water a couple of times during cooking.

Ah. Traditional Irish American Corned Beef and Cabbage.
Ah. Traditional Irish American Corned Beef and Cabbage. | Source

Pots Of Gold

I still love corned beef and cabbage, and in a sense, it's still an expression of my Irish heritage: My Irish American heritage. Nor do I think St. Patrick's day is the only day it can be enjoyed. The corned beef hash made from leftovers is divine, and the water used to boil the corned beef is an excellent, rich stock.

So you're not likely to find and corned beef and cabbage in Ireland, unless it's on the menu at a place that caters to American tourists. Oh. And you'll never hear an Irishman say, “Top O' the mornin',” either. You will however, find leprechauns and pots of gold at the ends of rainbows.

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Comments 49 comments

Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

I wonder if the Cockney song 'Boiled Beef and Carrots' was filched from the Irish-American 'Corned Beef and Cabbage'. It sounds so similar. I love both; you don't need to be Irish to appreciate good old fashioned home cooking.

Try singing this with a Cockney accent or an Irish one, and get the salivary glands going:

BOILED BEEF AND CARROTS

Boiled beef and carrots,

Boiled beef and carrots,

That's the stuff for your "Derby Kell",

Makes you fit and keeps you well.

Don't live like vegetarians

On food they give to parrots,

Blow out your kite, from Morn til night,

On boiled beef and carrots.

(Don't worry, Christopher; I don't understand some of those words, either).


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hey, Twilight Lawns. Here it is, filched from the Internet. "Derby Kell" is old Cockney rhyming slang for belly ("Derby Kelly"). "Blow out your kite" means "fill your stomach". It uses the word 'kite' (also 'kyte'), a dialect word, originally derived from an old English word for the womb, which -- by extension -- came to mean the belly. I'm going to blow out my kite soon, with livers and pasta.


Enlydia Listener profile image

Enlydia Listener 5 years ago from trailer in the country

As soon as I read your title I could smell corned beef...now I will have to make it. Happy St Pat's Day! I feel he is my patron saint.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Enlydia. Yes, I know just what you mean. Happy St. Pat's to you!


cflynn profile image

cflynn 5 years ago from Ireland

Hello form Ireland. dont fret we still eat corned beef and cabbage. it was never my fave, i prefer bacon and cabbage. but my mother made it for my husband who had never had it (only the canned stuff in boarding school ...Shudder!!). my husband loved it so i make it occasionally. You can blanch the cabbage in the beef cooking water then pan fry with a little butter. the beef can be dry so it really needs a good parsley sauce and of course floury potatoes. but it is true its not a patricks day or easter dish....we had it on saturdays.


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Fascinating hub Christoph, but that photo of the corned beef and cabbage contains the strangest looking corned beef I have ever seen. I wonder why it looks so much more pink than English corned beef, and less 'mottled' in texture and appearance. Any ideas?


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Thanks, Chris, I always wanted to know this...I feel so much better now. :=)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

A very interesting hub! I've never stopped to think how corned beef got its name. Thanks for the information.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

cflynn: Well, after all the stuff I've read about it over the years, it appears no one has gotten it right. Would you say it's common; not so common; rare, to eat corned beef in Ireland? Actually, in this country, I'd say it's not very common, except on St. Patrick's day. Is your husband Irish, or American or other? I knew about the parsley sauce, but have never made any. Thanks for the information. I really appreciate it.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Misty: How odd. That's exactly what it's supposed to look like here. If it didn't, I wouldn't eat it cause I'd think there was something wrong with it. "Mottled" doesn't sound too appealing to me. Here's the deal on that. Corned Beef is brined using pink salt, which contains nitrates. The salt is dyed pink to keep it from accidentally being ingested as table salt. The nitrates retain the color of the raw meat, and the dye in the pink salt exaggerates it. Perhaps in your country they don't mess with this nitrate business.

Thanks, Alec. I'm sure it's been keeping you up at night. Ha! Well, now you'll have some small talk when you server corned beef at your inn. Love ya!

Thanks, Alicia C. Appreciate your comment!


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 5 years ago from Near the Ocean

Yummmm. Salt, spice, fatty chunk of animal flesh and paired with a nice ale. Makes an Irish lass Happy :)


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

And a laddie too!


cflynn profile image

cflynn 5 years ago from Ireland

Hi Christoph

my husband is irish. id say is not so common for younger people to eat corned beef. perhaps more country and older people. it still is readily for sale tho. spiced beef is more common esp at christmas. parsley sauce is simple. it was my job to make it growing up but nothing was weighed! put 1-2 ounces or heaped tablespoons butter into a saucepan, melt, add a heaped wooden spoon of plain flour, stir. the butter should be fully absorbed by the flour into a paste (this is a roux in posh language), if not add some more flour. add a few cups of milk and continue to stir over a medium heat until it forms a creamy sauce. i like it quite thick, not very elegant! thin with more milk if necessary finally add a good handful of chopped parsley any kind. salt to taste. goes great on the carrots too. our corned beef was sort of silvery and mottled pink, but it does seem to be pink these days. what's corned beef hash? im guessing potoes and leftovers?


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Ah. Yes. We call that a "Milk gravy," which I make a lot, but not with so much parsley (and we call it a roux too.) Yes on the corned beef hash. Sauté some chopped onions in some butter and/or some olive oil. When they're translucent, add chopped corned beef and chopped boiled potatoes. Press them down with your spatula and let them brown on one side. Turn and brown the other side. You want some crispy bits. Serve topped with a couple of eggs(I prefer runny.) Here's a recipe: http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/corned_beef_hash/


cflynn profile image

cflynn 5 years ago from Ireland

milk gravy! who knew. we called it white sauce...add parsley= parsley sauce, add cheese=cheese sauce etc! the hash sounds great. husband loves anything with a runny egg (called a dippy egg in this house) thanks for that must make it soon


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Well, yes, we say white sauce too, (or fancy, a bechemel if you add 1 small onion studded with 3 cloves, a bay leaf, and a grating of nutmeg), but in the Southern US, milk gravy. Add sausage, serve it over biscuits, and you have a Southern favorite, biscuits and sausage gravy.

A dippy egg! That's my new phrase!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California

My wife makes corned beef and cabbage at least once every two or three months. She's got a great way of doing it where she just tosses all the stuff in a crock pot and we come home and the house smells awesome and we eat like a bunch of deluded Americans thinking we're all Irish-like. :) Leftovers (if that ever happens, which is rare when you have three teenagers), are awesome for sammiches. :D


cflynn profile image

cflynn 5 years ago from Ireland

sounds great shady! im not into purist BS. the Italian i cook is italian ish! my friends 1st gen husband likes it well enough. the bacon and cabbage i cook references my mother but is different...life goes on..sooo many young people in Ireland don't cook its ridiclyus!.... gime one o them sammiches


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 5 years ago from Florida

It is so great to see you on hubpages again! I had missed you. Thanks for the history lesson on Corned Beef and Cabbage. (I had never even thought about what "corned" meant.)

I rarely order it out because I hate over-cooked cabbage, but I do often order a Reuben.

I hope you are doing well, and thanks for commenting on my kitty hub!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Shades: Never done it in the crockpot, but sounds great. Yeah, a corned beef sandwich is a must.

cflynn: Yeah. Me too. Cook by memory and what I like usually.

Mysterylady: I'm with you on the over-cooked cabbage. I like mine just on the done side of crisp; not crunchy but still holds it's shape; not all floppy and limp.


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

I am guessing our stuff is largely canned which could explain the difference in appearance, but the thin sliced packs we buy in supermarkets do not appear to be canned, and are quite a dark mottled pink in colour. I shall try to find or take a picture to email you so you know what I mean. Currently in Tenerife, so not on Internet for long each day. Might have to do it when I return in 10 days or so :)


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Ugh. That looks like it's been processed, chopped and then stuffed into a can. Like Spam. Ours is an actual cut of beef (brisket) that's been brined, then packaged and sent to market whole. The one in this pic looks like it's about 12" long by 6" wide:

http://www.lobels.com/store/main/item.asp?item=822


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

I must say yours looks much nicer. We just don't seem to see it for sale like that anywhere in the UK and certainly not in the Channel Islands. Would love to try it one day if I ever get the chance.


To Start Again profile image

To Start Again 5 years ago

Anytime I hear the word 'hash', it makes me think of 'who-hash' from Dr. Seuss. Who knew the Grinch was Irish? :)


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

I like hash...both kinds.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Thanks for that about how the "corned" got in the name. I never gave it any thought. Growing up in my Polish family, corned beef was just another kind of meat, like kielbasa. If you picked it apart, physically or verbally, analyzing it, you got excused from the table and lost your dinner and dessert, too! Interesting, Misty's links to the corned beef she knows shows pictures that look a lot like molded loaves of corned beef hash. Thanks for another one of your Hubs that always leave me richer for reading.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

No offense to the British, but if that's their idea of corned beef, they haven't a clue. My first thought was that the picture looked like dog food. Glad you read it and enjoyed. I always feel richer when you do!


ACSutliff profile image

ACSutliff 5 years ago

Hi Christoph, boy it's been a long time! I have always wondered why it's called corned beef. And I think I can honestly say that I've never had it. A shame, I know, considering I have some Irish in me (I'm almost positive....:)

I tried to make cabbage once.... Did I ever mention I'm not really a kitchen person? :p How do you cook cabbage so it doesn't get all floppy, as you put it?

Wonderful history lesson, Christoph!

~AC


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi A.C. It has been a long time! Let's see...no floppy cabbage. Well, there's lots of ways. The main thing to do is stop cooking it when it's at the tenderness YOU want. You can use a steamer, or if you don't have one, put just a little water in a pan (about a 1/2", cut cabbage into quarters, place them in the boiling water, cover. Keep checking by sticking a fork in the cabbage. I like mine no longer crisp but not yet "floppy." Serve with salt, pepper, and butter. Or maybe some balsamic vinegar. As a kid, I would dip in a little ketchup on my plate. Here's a great recipe and it works great with red cabbage. Cook 6 slices bacon in a skillet. Remove bacon. Add cabbage (shredded)to the pan and sauté in bacon grease. Turn the cabbage to coat. After a couple of minutes, add your choice of wine, enough to saturate it well but not so the cabbage is swimming in it. Cover and simmer. Turn cabbage frequently checking for tenderness. When it's at the point you like, remove cabbage, place in a serving dish, sprinkle with crumbled bacon. Yum.


Reflecting Pool profile image

Reflecting Pool 5 years ago from The other side of the coop

Well fine and dandy.. Wish my GGGran was here.. I'd ask her. Never mind.. I love this stuff! Took a lot of years to like it (mind you) but now I'm nearly an addict. Nearly. You make it, I'll come over! Agut!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Reflecting Pool: I don't have it often, but when I do..look out! It's always a treat no matter when I have it! Thanks for the comment.


Christopher Price profile image

Christopher Price 5 years ago from Vermont, USA

This was an informative and enjoyable hub.

I had avoided reading it until now because the American celebration of St. Patrick's Day fails to move me. Although I'm sure Brother Pat was a fine fellow, my ancestors were Welsh, (outside of nature) Green is one of my least favorite colors and I worked as a bartender for 8 years and had my fill of drunken wanna-be temporarily Irishmen. Babysitting amateur drinkers puking green beer is high on my least-favorite-things list.

But corned beef and cabbage, and the resulting breakfast hash, qualify as some of my favorite victuals.

CP


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

I agree. I never went out on "amateur night" either, nor imbibed the ridiculous green beer. Worst night to go out to a bar, in my opinion, full of drunken fools packed together like beery sardines.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 5 years ago from Canada's 'California'

What a great article! I never knew the history of corned beef, just that my family adored it (not necessarily me LOL)


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Enelle, How nice to see you. Thanks for stopping by. I love corned beef, but don't have it very often.


Sun-Girl profile image

Sun-Girl 5 years ago from Nigeria

Great work which i enjoyed.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Came by to see what you've been up to lately. (Still giggling over the Casey McSlick hub, btw.) I never knew the history of corned beef either, or that (green) cabbage was good for anything but coleslaw and a Polish concoction of sausage wrapped in cabbage leaves and baked. I do like a bit of red cabbage in a garden salad, but your red cabbage and crumbled bacon recipe makes me want to pop out to an all-night grocery and get the ingredients!

Corned beef hash is my idea of culinary ambrosia, but only if it doesn't come out of a can! The canned stuff DOES look AND taste like dog food, and the one time I accidentally ate some...under the impression it wasn't canned...it did a number on my digestive system that I don't care to repeat ever again!

Great hub! Glad to see you're still haunting the halls of Hubpages! ;D


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi JamaGenee, I am fascinated in the origination of the foods we eat...their history. Don't know why..just do. So what are you up too? Life treating you well?


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Life is good. Followed one of my chitlins and his chitlins to the wilds of central Oklahoma last fall. Sure like getting a pass on the snow and ice in Kansas, and like the much lower humidity here, but could do without the 100+ temps for days on end and the lack of rain. Living in the midst of several Native American tribes, tho, is rather interesting. Much here to write about, just have to DO IT. Hope all is well with you and yours. ;D


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

I spent five formative years growing up in Muskogee, so I know whereof you speak. Our friends had names like Red Eagle.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Really. Then you know that Texas isn't the only "whole 'nother country". I popped into north Texas last Sunday, btw, but being by necessity an in-and-out trip, didn't have time to indulge in the Texas Experience. Next time...


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

Very interesting and thanks for sharing.

Take care

Eiddwen.


AEvans profile image

AEvans 5 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

I enjoy corn beef and cabbage too! Now I also understand how the termed it 'corn beef.' Enjoyed this one and hope to see you soon. :)


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks, Eiddwen.

Thanks to you, AE. Hope you are well!


Anna Marie Bowman profile image

Anna Marie Bowman 5 years ago from Florida

Chris-- How I have missed you!! And, now, you make me miss corned beef and cabbage, which I eat every St. Patrick's Day. I don't care if they don't eat it in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day. LOL!! I also love a good Irish stew with yummy brown bread...mmmmm...guess I am off to search for recipes for Irish stew...


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Not as much as I have missed you, Anna! Now you're making me think about it too! I have to have it too, and don't need Paddy's Day to have it either!


molometer profile image

molometer 5 years ago

My Parents came from Waterford in Eire' and we always had a dish of boiled bacon and cabbage. The bacon was usually a salted ham hock. Another dish that was cooked the same way was cruebeans pigs trotters. A great hub, very interesting. Now paint yourself green and have a pint!


stessily 5 years ago

Christoph Reilly: I look forward to corned beef and cabbage for St Patrick's day to celebrate Irish American creativity, and corned beef hash doesn't seem like leftovers at all to me. One of these days I plan to make corned beef from scratch. Thank you for sharing this information.

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