Why Corned Beef And Cabbage?


I have always been curious about the history of having corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day. This was never a tradition for me growing up and I have never yet ventured to make it for my own family. However, now that I have researched the history of this dish I very well may prepare it this year.

In order to understand why we eat corned beef and cabbage, we first have to understand a little bit about the history of St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick's Day is also known as the Feast of St. Patrick. St. Patrick was a revered patron saint of Ireland dating back to the 5th century. We celebrate St. Patrick's day on the day of his death—the 17th of March. This holiday was originally a religious celebration (which still may be the case in parts of Ireland), but has now become more of a cultural celebration. In short, St. Patrick's Day is a celebration of Ireland and, more specifically, it is the celebration of Irish-American culture.

Some argue that corned beef and cabbage really have no cultural ties to Ireland, but history seems to paint an interesting story that correlates the two. Ireland used to be an English colony back in the 1600's. It also used to be a major source of cattle production. They would use the cattle to make cured meat that they shipped to Britain. There are even stories of the British army eating this cured meat as a means of survival.

They would cure this meat using rock salt which they called corn salt, due to it's corn-sized proportions. They would place the meat in boxes along with corn salt and seal the containers until the meat had been sufficiently cured. The myth of corned beef having anything to do with actual corn can now be completely dispelled. It is simply another term for cured meat or meat that has been brined.

The cost of this cured meat was extrememly high in Ireland. So high, in fact, that they rarely, if ever, had the opportunity to eat this meat. The production of this meat had taken over nearly all of the farmland in Ireland. They were left with a few spots of ground with poor soil to grow potatoes in. These potatoes developed something called blight which spoiled the potatoes and made them completely inedible. This was a dark time for Ireland in which people starved and millions died. There were also many who immigrated to America during this period.

In America, the cost of corned beef was cheap in comparison to its price in Ireland. Immigrants from Ireland finally had a chance to consume this meat at a price they could afford. It has come to be known as a food that symbolizes both Ireland and America and in many ways tells the story of Irish-American culture.

The cabbage is still somewhat of a mystery but there have been some who suggest it was one of the cheapest vegetables Irish immigrants could find in America. Therefore, the corned beef coupled with cabbage is a reminder of the history of the Irish immigrants and their coming to America.

Sources:
  •   http://cookandbemerry.com/corned-beef-and-cabbage-for-st-patricks-day/
  •   http://www.delish.com/food/recalls-reviews/history-corned-beef-st-patricks-day-foods
  •   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick
  •   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick's_Day
  •   (photo) http://cdn.sheknows.com/articles/2012/11/corned_beef_cabbage.jpg

    Carrie Collette
    Monthly Newsletter Contributor since 2013
    Email the author! carrie@dvo.com


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