Irish Tradition of Corned Beef and Cabbage on New Year's Day and St. Patrick's Day
Being of Irish ancestry, it has always been tradition in our family since as long as I can remember to have corned beef and cabbage on New Year’s Day for good luck and prosperity in the New Year. Of course, St. Patrick’s Day is also a big day for the Irish with another round of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots all boiled together in the pot. And even though I am not Catholic, I love watching the Notre Dame Fighting Irish play football.
History of Corned Beef and Cabbage
The Irish were major exporters of corned (or salt-cured) beef in the 16th and 17th centuries with exports to France, England and America. Interestingly enough, since the majority of beef was exported, the cost of beef to the Irish people was prohibitive. Most of the Irish peasants used their cattle for dairy products and ate pork as their main protein source instead. That is even assuming they could afford meat. Many subsisted on primarily potatoes. Thus, when the potato famine occurred in the mid-1800’s, over 10% of the Irish population emigrated from the country while about 10% of the population died from hunger.
In America, the Irish immigrants discovered that corned beef was similar in texture to the salted pork that they used in their recipes plus it was cheap and readily accessible to the working poor. So in truth, corned beef is really an Irish American rather than a native Irish food.
Cabbage, on the other hand, was a common source of nutrition for the farmers of Ireland which pre-dated the potato. It was domesticated and farmed as early as 600 BC. Irish farms could produce up to 65 pounds of cabbage per person each year. During the potato blight that caused the Great Famine, the cabbage was used prominently again. Needless to say, when the Irish came to America, they brought their traditions and celebrations with them so that now everyone can celebrate being green one day each year.
So, if you want to have good luck for the upcoming year, be sure to have corned beef and cabbage along with potatoes (blight free of course), carrots, and onions. Simply boil and simmer the corned beef according to the directions on the package and add the seasoning packet. Add potatoes, carrots, and onions to the pot about 30 minutes prior to the time the beef should be done. We boil the cabbage in a separate pot for about 15-20 min and serve in the evening between football games. Enjoy.