Friday, March 20, 2009

My Kitchen, My World - Ireland

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Well, it is a few days late but better late than never! Guess what we had for dinner? That's right we had corned beef and cabbage. Now, let me stop you before you say "But corned beef and cabbage isn't even Irish!". Guess What? You're wrong! It is an Irish dish. It may not be a very popular dish in Ireland but it is most certainly an Irish dish. I did some research on this because I was tired of people informing me it wasn't Irish. I figured the tradition had to start somewhere so I decided to find out the answer. I found a great article written by Megan O. Steintrager. The entire article can be found at Epicurious.

Here are some highlights from her article~

Americans still think we live on corned beef and cabbage over here," says Irish cookbook author and teacher Darina Allen.

In fact, the dish that's synonymous with St. Patrick's Day and all things Irish in the U.S. is so rarely eaten in Ireland—for the holiday or otherwise—that some people wonder if it's actually Irish. In Irish Country Cooking, Malachi McCormick says he likes corned beef, but then adds: "But our national dish? No, it's a New World dish!" Furthermore, thanks to the many awful versions served in bars in the U.S.—and washed down with plastic cups of green beer—this one-pot meal is often reviled by Irish Americans and Irish-for-a-Day Americans or, at the very least, relegated to a sloshy once-a-year tradition.

So let's set a few things straight: First, corned beef and cabbage is most definitely Irish. Second, when properly made it's "delicious," says Allen Third, with the current multicontinent trend of chefs looking to the past for inspiration coupled with a craze among food-lovers for all things cured, this briny classic is poised for a comeback.
Although corned beef is "almost a forgotten flavor in Ireland," according to Allen it was once an extremely popular and important food for all classes. To "corn" something is simply to preserve it in a salty brine (the term corn refers to the coarse grains of salt used for curing). In the days before refrigeration, corning was essential for storing meat, especially from large animals like cows. Historically, beef that was slaughtered and corned before the winter was served with the first fresh spring cabbage to break the Lenten fast on Easter.

Corned beef has always been associated with Cork City, because, Allen explains, "that was the provisioning port for boats before they crossed the Atlantic." In fact, between the 1680s and 1825, corning beef was Cork City's most important industry. The meat was exported to Britain, continental Europe, and as far away as Newfoundland and the West Indies.

These days in Ireland, corned beef is still most associated with County Cork, where Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery School and the Ballymaloe House and restaurant started by Allen's mother-in-law, Myrtle Allen, are based. Corned beef is sold at the English Market, a huge covered market in Cork City, and is also available at the Farmgate CafĂ© within the market—Allen says Ballymaloe House also serves it occasionally for lunch. "So there are people who eat it all the time."

But even in Cork, Allen says, corned beef "seems to be a flavor that a lot of older people enjoy more than younger people." Why, then, has corned beef dwindled in popularity? "The Irish economy is very, very strong, and with that comes changes in people's diets," she says. Yet for Irish immigrants, many of whom fled their famine-stricken homeland during the heyday of corned beef, the dish remained important. "The immigrants brought it with them and it became sort of like a cult food," says Allen. "I think what happens sometimes when people immigrate is life stands still. Their memories of a country, and of the traditions, stay as it was when they left."

But with so many chefs looking to the past for inspiration, corned beef could be poised for a comeback in its country of origin. "[Irish] chefs are serving a lot of peasant foods and highlighting them again," says Allen. D.I.Y. fever could also play a role in corned beef's return to the Irish table. "Over here, just as over on your side [of the Atlantic], a lot of younger people are getting involved in curing their own bacons and hams and things again, making sausages and salamis," says Allen, who runs a series of "forgotten skills" courses at Ballymaloe Cookery School, teaching students how to keep chickens, make homemade sausages, build a smokehouse, and so forth.

So there you have it. If you are Irish, Irish-America, or just wish you were Irish enjoy your corned beef and cabbage! Here is our St. Patrick's Day dinner!

Now, if I could only go to Ballymaloe Cooking School!


Natashya said...

I LOVE corned beef and cabbage. So very delicious.

The Poor Folk Gourmet ;) said...

Very interesting. I had only run across info sayng that corned beef and cabbage was not an Irish combo. I may have to post a retraction on my blog ;) Yor food looks yummy even though I do not enjoy the strong taste of corned beef.

joannabug said...

I'm a (music) historian, so I'm a sucker for all of the information you give about food, always learn something from your posts.

Looks so good--reminds me of dinners at my New England grandmother's house.

Elra said...

Hi Michelle, I haven't visit you for pretty long time ...
Happy St. Patrick to you too!
My husband love corned beef and cabbage, and I made it pretty often just for him. I am okay with corned beef, not the dish (because I'll eat the cabbage and the broth) but the beef itself. It is too stringy for my taste.

Anyway, yours look delicious indeed.

Colleen said...

I don't think I've ever made corned beef, but I do like it. Thanks for the food history lesson!