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The Myth of Irish Corned Beef and Cabbage

Updated on February 22, 2013

For Tourists only!

I am Irish,have lived in Ireland all my life and I hate to be the one to tell you but I have never eaten Corned beef and cabbage,and most Irish people will tell you the same thing. Restaurants have begun to serve it recently but it is aimed at TOURISTS.

So why does the rest of the world think it is our traditional dish?And what is our traditional dish?

Well we did and still do eat a lot of BACON and Cabbage-but Bacon is Pork-not beef-so how did it get so mixed up?

Cabbage and Bacon with Mashed Potatoe

Early Irish Food

Pork has always been the staple dish, because pigs bred much faster and were a lot less labour-intensive to rear than beef.

Pork was salted to preserve it.Then before cooking it the Irish soaked it in water to draw off the excess salt .They then boiled it with cabbage-easily grown locally,so readily available, and served it in its own juices.The bacon and salt gave flavour to the cabbage.

They tended to over cook the cabbage though and most of us remember the pungent smell of cabbage-(not very fondly) in our Grandmothers kitchens.

Beef did not feature at all in the ordinary Irish people's diet until the 1900's.

Even then the majority of Irish people still could not afford beef and never ate salted beef as that added to its cost

Cattle were raised for milk and were slaughtered only when they stopped producing milk , or when they were no longer any good for breeding purposes.

Beef and The Great Famine

The Great Famine between 1845 and 1852 was a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration in Ireland and it made beef even rarer in the Irish diet.

The awful tragedy is that among much other food, Irish tenant farmers were still exporting hundreds of thousands of barrels of beef to Britain and Canada.

They were forced to do this because they were raising that beef on behalf of the landlords who owned the land on which they lived and worked.It was the only way they could pay their rent and remain on their farms.Eventually they either starved or immigrated.

How did Corned Beef get its name?

Corned beef is actually salted beef.

"Salt Beef" came to be called "Corned beef", because of the grain or "corn"-sized chunks of salt that were used in the preserving process.

Corned Beef or Bacon?

Many Irish people, during that period, got their first taste of beef when they emigrated to America or Canada -- where both salt and meat were cheaper. There, when they got beef, the Irish emigrants tended to treat it the same way they would have treated a bacon joint at home in Ireland.

They soaked the salt beef to draw off the excess salt.Then boiled it with cabbage and served it in its own juices. The beef and salt giving its flavour to the cabbage-exactly as they did with bacon at home.

Fun book marks. Free downloads at
Fun book marks. Free downloads at | Source

St Patricks Day favourite?

This dish does turn up on some Irish tables occasionally at Easter. But it's been learned and brought here from the Irish/North Americans.

We Irish have no special Saint Patrick's Day food.The family tradition was to pick shamrock,wear it in a lapel and go to Mass. After a quick lunch go out to watch the local parade, followed by music and dancing and come home to cabbage and bacon in the evening.However now the festival has grown and developed, we buy shamrock and plastic "Irish"icons of one kind or another,watch sophisticated parades,and eat "gourmet Irish" food that our ancestors would never recognize.Oh and some of us drink too much!!

So to conclude I offer my recipe for tasty Irish Cabbage and Bacon.

Basic Cabbage and Bacon Recipe


2-3lbs collar bacon

1 medium-sized cabbage

4 medium new potatoes


Soak the bacon overnight in cold water-or rinse for several minutes under cold running water to remove excess salt.

Place in a pot, cover with fresh water and bring to the boil.

Cover and simmer for 1 hour and 30 minutes ( 30 minutes per lb).

Cut cabbage into strips and add to the pot after about an hour.This timing is really important to avoid over cooking the cabbage.

Wash potatoes and with jackets on add to pot after another 10 minutes.

Cook for another 20 minutes until both meat and cabbage is tender, and potatoes are soft but firm. Cabbage needs to retain a slight bite.

(Hint) If potatoes or cabbage seem cooked remove from the pot until everything is cooked then return to heat up before serving.

Slice the bacon and serve on a bed of cabbage, with potatoes on the side.

It is absolutely delicious and nutritious.



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    • bredandagnes profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks a million for your comment.Its just a bit of interesting trivia really.

    • peachpurple profile image


      5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Glad to have stumbled upon your hub. Some great news to know the origin or corn beef which is actually eaten as corn bacon. Thanks for the detail hub. Voted up

    • bredandagnes profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Ireland

      Thank you so much for the comments.Glad you enjoyed.I agree its all yummy, it was so much fun to write. I've been writing articles about my own profession which is speech and Language therapy but this was way more fun.I am a newbie but rapidly getting very fond of hubpages!Happy St.patricks Day.

    • noturningback profile image


      6 years ago from Edgewater, MD. USA

      I just know that Corned beef taste like salted pork, as in a ham or picnic shoulder and I know I like it all, so let's eat ?

      Thanks for the great hub.

    • Bretsuki profile image

      William Elliott 

      6 years ago from California USA

      Hello, great hub.

      I have been telling American friends for a long time that Corned Beef and cabbage is not Irish.

      In one story I heard the American idea of corned beef and cabbage was actually brought to New York city by Jewish immigrants from Germany. The lived in the same area, Five Points in downtown Manhattan as earlier Irish immigrants. Being n inexpensive food in that area. Both groups shared their cuisines. It then became a favorite with Irish New Yorkers who spread the idea that it was traditional. They forgot that beef was a very rare delicacy in Ireland.

    • pinkhawk profile image


      6 years ago from Pearl of the Orient

      wow! So that's the reason why it was called corned beef. Thank you for the yummy recipe...also the useful information behind makes it more interesting. ^_^


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