The Myth of Irish Corned Beef and Cabbage
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.
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.