The Corned Beef Conspiracy
What you consider traditional Irish food isn't what you think.
It's time to get out my Irish tweed sweeter and don my Donegal wool cap.
Once a year everyone becomes a little Irish. Whether Irish or not, people like the idea of coming together on St. Patrick’s Day and celebrating with green-colored clothing and the watching of parades. If you're old enough, you get to drink thick, dark beer, and everyone eats Irish food.
Corned Beef and cabbage has long been thought of as the go-to Irish meal. But I am here to dispel that myth. There is no good luck bestowed upon the consumer of this mainstream meal of Americana. That's right folks--corned beef is not indigenous to the Emerald Isles. What we think of as a St. Pat's necessity is actually a traditional New England boiled dinner recipe. When Irish immigrants settled in the U.S., they adopted this recipe and abandoned a more traditional version.
The time-honored Irish dish for St. Patrick’s Day contains a cured pork loin, known as boiling bacon. The boiling bacon is simmered in water with cabbage and cooked till tender. Potatoes are boiled separately, topped with butter and served on the side. Traditionally they were just boiled in their skins and set out on the table for eating.
Pork is the traditional source of protein in the land of leprechauns. Pigs require much less effort to raise and are reasonably priced. They grow quicker than cattle and are a lot less labor-intensive. Lamb is another traditional meat of Ireland. Many Irish recipes use lamb or mutton. However, lamb is reserved for special occasions or Sunday dinner. Cattle are prized possessions and sought after primarily for their precious milk. Natives of Ireland are very fond of their dairy products. From clotted cream to Dubliner and Cashel blue cheeses to the finest butter in the world from Kerrygold farms, you'd be hard-pressed to convince an Irishman that his cow would taste better than its products.
The potato has long been the staple food of the Irish people. The Potato Famine of 1845-1852 resulted in hardship and death for more than 20 percent of the population of Ireland. When the potato became short in supply, Irish ingenuity kicked in. The potato needed to be stretched, as it is a featured ingredient in many traditional Irish recipes, including Champ (mashed potatoes and a green onion cream called colcannon); mashed potatoes with cabbage, leeks and cream; and Boxty (a pan-fried potato pancake), just to name a few. The potato became a side dish, served with things like the traditional pork and cabbage listed above. But all of the dishes evoke the spirit of the season and bring out the little "bit o' Irish" in all of us.