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    Is Corned Beef Really Irish?

    The rise and fall and rise of the traditional St. Patrick's Day meal


    ARTS & CULTURE Is Corned Beef Really Irish?

    The rise and fall and rise of the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal

    Shaylyn Esposito March 15, 2013

    Corned Beef and cabbage Photo courtesy of flickr user TheCulinaryGeek

    It’s hard to think of St. Patrick’s Day without glittered shamrocks, green beer, leprechauns, and of course, corned beef and cabbage. Yet, if you went to Ireland on St. Paddy’s Day, you would not find any of these things except maybe the glittered shamrocks. To begin with, leprechauns are not jolly, friendly cereal box characters, but mischievous nasty little fellows. And, just as much as the Irish would not pollute their beer with green dye, they would not eat corned beef, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. So why around the world, especially in the US, is corned beef and cabbage synonymous with St. Paddy’s Day?

    The unpopularity of corned beef in Ireland comes from its relationship with beef in general. From early on, cattle in Ireland were not used for their meat but for their strength in the fields, for their milk and for the dairy products produced. In Gaelic Ireland, cows were a symbol of wealth and a sacred animal. Because of their sacred association, they were only killed for their meat if the cows were too old to work or produce milk. So, beef was not even a part of the diet for the majority of the population. Only the wealthy few were able to eat the meat on a celebration or festival. During these early times, the beef was “salted” to be preserved. The first salted beef in Ireland was actually not made with salt but with sea ash, the product of burning seaweed. The 12th century poem Aislinge Meic Con Glinne shows that salted beef was eaten by the kings. This poem is one of the greatest parodies in the Irish language and pokes fun at the diet of King Cathal mac Finguine, an early Irish King who has a demon of gluttony stuck in his throat.

    Wheatlet, son of Milklet,

    Son of juicy Bacon, Is mine own name. Honeyed Butter-roll Is the man’s That bears my bag. Haunch of Mutton Is my dog’s name, Of lovely leaps. Lard my wife, Sweetly smiles Across the kale-top

    Cheese-curds, my daughter,

    Goes around the spit,

    Fair is her fame.

    Corned Beef, my son,

    Whose mantle shines Over a big tail.

    As the poem mentions, juicy bacon or pork was also eaten. Pigs were the most prevalent animal bred only to be eaten; fom ancient times to today, it earned the reputation as the most eaten meat in Ireland.

    Irish cow near Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare, Ireland Photo by author

    The Irish diet and way of life stayed pretty much the same for centuries until England conquered most of the country. The British were the ones who changed the sacred cow into a commodity, fueled beef production, and introduced the potato. The British had been a beef eating culture since the invasion of the Roman armies. England had to outsource to Ireland, Scotland and eventually North America to satisfy the growing palate of their people. As Jeremy Rifkin writes in his book, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture, “so beef-driven was England that it became the first nation in the world to identify with a beef symbol. From the outset of the colonial era, the “roast beef” became synonymous with the well-fed British aristocracy and middle class.”

    Herds of cattle were exported by the tens of thousands each year from Ireland to England. But, the Cattle Acts of 1663 and 1667 were what fueled the Irish corned beef industry. These acts prohibited the export of live cattle to England, which drastically flooded the Irish market and lowered the cost of meat available for salted beef production. The British invented the term “corned beef” in the 17th century to describe the size of the salt crystals used to cure the meat, the size of corn kernels. After the Cattle Acts, salt was the main reason Ireland became the hub for corned beef. Ireland’s salt tax was almost 1/10 that of England’s and could import the highest quality at an inexpensive price. With the large quantities of cattle and high quality of salt, Irish corned beef was the best on the market. It didn’t take long for Ireland to be supplying Europe and the Americas with its wares. But, this corned beef was much different than what we call corned beef today. With the meat being cured with salt the size of corn kernels, the taste was much more salt than beef.

    Irish corned beef had a stranglehold on the transtlantic trade routes, supplying the French and British navies and the American and French colonies. It was at such a demand that even at war with France, England allowed French ships to stop in Ireland to purchase the corned beef. From a report published by the Dublin Institute of Technology’s School of Culinary Arts and Food Technology:

    Anglo-Irish landlords saw exports to France, despite the fact that England and France were at war, as a means of profiting from the Cattle Acts…During the 18th century, wars played a significant role in the growth of exports of Irish beef. These wars were mainly fought at sea and navies had a high demand for Irish salted beef for two reasons, firstly its longevity at sea and secondly its competitive price.

    Source : www.smithsonianmag.com

    Where Does Corned Beef Come From?

    In March, St. Patrick's Day will be celebrated around the world. In the U.S. that means shamrocks strewn across faces, green beer, and Irish eats. But some of your favorite Irish foods (corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, and more) might not be all that Irish after all. Here's a history of a few of those iconic St. Paddy's Day dishes.

    The History Of The Most Popular St. Patrick's Day Foods

    Some of your favorite Irish foods might not be all that Irish after all.

    by KIRI TANNENBAUM FEB 27, 2019


    In March, St. Patrick's Day will be celebrated around the world. In the U.S. that means shamrocks strewn across faces, green beer, and Irish eats. But some of your favorite Irish foods might not be all that Irish after all. Here's a history of a few of those iconic St. Paddy's Day dishes.

    Corned Beef and Cabbage

    Corned beef and cabbage isn't actually the national dish of Ireland. You wouldn't eat it on St. Patrick's Day in Dublin, nor would you be likely to find it in Cork. It's typically only eaten around the holiday here in the U.S. So how did corned beef and cabbage become synonymous with the Irish?


    During the time of the Irish immigration to the U.S., the first generation of Irish-Americans were in search of the comforting tastes of their homeland. On St. Paddy's Day that meant boiled bacon. But the immigrants were too poor to afford the high price of pork and bacon products. Instead, they turned to the cheapest cut of meat available: beef brisket. Given that New York City was a melting pot for immigrants from around the world, rather than boil the beef, the Irish adopted cooking methods from other cultures. Brining was a technique of the Eastern Europeans, which is a way of salt-curing meat. And the corn? Well, "corned" has nothing to do with corn but instead refers to the corn-sized salt crystals used during the brining process (In fact, corned beef is sometimes referred to as "pickled beef," as you are quite literally pickling brisket with this particular brining process.). The corned beef was paired with cabbage, as it was one of the cheapest vegetables available to the Irish immigrants.


    Irish Soda Bread

    There is no Coke or Pepsi in Irish Soda Bread. The term "soda" comes from bicarbonate of soda — more commonly known as baking soda — which is a leavening agent and one of the main components that gives the bread its distinct flavor. Before ovens were in every kitchen, the bread was baked over an open fire in a round pot or casserole or baked on a iron plate over remaining embers. Thus, the reason why the bread is round and cut into pie pieces. In the U.S., we often find Irish Soda Bread flecked with currants (like scones are), while in Ireland that is not the traditional recipe. Fruits are only added for special occasions, in which case the bread goes by a different name such as tea bread, as it is something to accompany your afternoon tea.


    While this stout beer was first produced in Ireland, its inspiration came from Great Britain. The tangy, creamy, dark-as-night beer was done in the style of an English porter brew from the late 18th century. Arthur Guinness began making his beer at St. James's Gate in Dublin in 1759, but it wasn't until 1769 that his ales made their way to the public. And when they made their debut, those six and a half barrels were headed for England. It would take 71 more years for the ales to make their way to New York.


    Colcannon — boiled potatoes mashed up with cabbage or kale and then mixed with onions and butter (or cream) — can most certainly be traced back to Ireland. According to The Oxford Companion to Food, the word "colcannon" comes from the Gaelic "cal ceannann" meaning white-headed cabbage. "The 'cannon' part of the name might be a derivative of the old Irish 'cainnenn', translated variously as garlic, onion, or leek," states the publication. The recipe first appeared in print in 1775 in the diary of William Bulkely, and in the U.S., a recipe entitled "Cabbage and Potatoes" appeared in the 1847 publication of Mrs. Crowen's American Lady's Cookery Book.

    What will you be cooking this St. Patrick's Day?

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    Learn All About the Origins of Corned Beef and Cabbage

    Just how the heck is it “corned,” and when did a classic Jewish-American deli staple transform into a “traditional” Irish dish?

    Learn All About the Origins of Corned Beef and Cabbage

    Meaghan Glendon March 17, 2022


    AdobeStock | Brent Hofacker

    Just how the heck is it “corned,” and when did a classic Jewish-American deli staple transform into a “traditional” Irish dish?

    Even if you aren’t Irish, you’ve probably enjoyed, or at least heard of, corned beef and cabbage — a dish traditionally eaten on St. Patrick’s Day, and often served aside potatoes and Irish soda bread. Since this meal is typically only eaten on St. Patrick’s Day, most of us assume it is a traditional Irish dish. But guess what lads and lassies: Corned beef and cabbage did not originate from Ireland — and the meal isn’t actually Irish at all.

    Corned beef is a cut of meat similar to brisket that has been salt-cured. The term “corned” comes from the usage of large, grained rock salt, called “corns” used in the salting process. Today, salt brines are more popular.

    The dish’s popularity took shape during Irish immigration to the United States. Pork was the preferred meat in Ireland since it was cheap — if you’ve ever been to an Irish diner, you’ve most likely seen Irish bacon on the menu. In Ireland, cattle were expensive, so they weren’t slaughtered for food unless they were old or injured; they were important for milk and dairy production and farming. In contrast, beef was inexpensive in the United States.

    When the Irish immigrated to the United States, they often faced discrimination and lived in slums alongside groups like the Jews and Italians. It was at Jewish delis and lunch carts that the Irish experienced corned beef and noticed its similarity to Irish bacon.

    Cooking the corned beef with cabbage was another choice based on cost efficiency. Even better, the entire meal could be cooked in one pot making the dish cheap, easy to make, and let’s not forget — tasty.

    Looking to enjoy some corned beef and cabbage this St. Patrick’s Day (and don’t feel like cooking)? Maybe head to Mickey Spillane’s in Eastchester or Rory Dolan’s Restaurant and Bar in Yonkers, as these fine establishments cook and serve corned beef and cabbage all year round. St. Patrick’s Day revelers expect it and, really, if anyone knows how to make a good corned beef and cabbage, it’s these guys. Sláinte!

    Related: Where to Eat Irish Food on St. Patrick’s Day in Westchester

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