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Love it or hate it, corned beef and cabbage is a St. Paddy's Day staple. Tuck into the story of how this dish became associated with the Irish holiday.

Why corned beef and cabbage? The origin of the St. Paddy’s day classic

Here we are, the second St. Patrick’s Day in lockdown. Since getting wasted at the bar with our friends and singing Irish folk songs (in public) has been scratched off the list once again, all we can hope to do is bingewatch Derry Girls and binge-drink Guinness from the couch while sitting in our green Lucky Charms jammies. 

And of course, either make the traditional corned beef & cabbage or order it from GrubHub. And for those of you who don’t think corned beef & cabbage is magically delicious, or even if you do, you’re probably wondering why this staple is associated with St. Paddy’s Day. Even if you’re opting to eat a bowl of Lucky Charms instead, here’s why corned beef & cabbage is eaten by Irish Americans on March 17th. 

Famine

People from Ireland began emigrating elsewhere in the seventeenth century, but immigration from Ireland to the U.S. exploded in the middle of the nineteenth century thanks to the potato famine. Potatoes, which had been a staple crop in Ireland for a couple of centuries, became infected with blight, and a crop the poor in Ireland depended on to survive was thus wiped out. 

Since the poor couldn’t afford other food grown in Ireland like beef, barley, and dairy, many emigrated to the U.S. to seek a better life. However, they were met with discrimination when they arrived. With “Irish need not apply” signs hanging in windows, the Irish often couldn’t find work, so poverty often followed them from their home country. 

A staple Irish Americans could now afford was beef. In Ireland, beef was considered a luxury, but in the U.S. corned beef was affordable from Jewish butcher shops producing brisket, which is the toughest cut of meat. Jewish & Irish immigrants often lived in the same neighborhoods in cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago, and frequently bought goods & services from each other due to discrimination against both groups. 

Cooking corned beef

To prepare corned beef, it must be salted & boiled to make it tender. However, boiling the beef for too long will make it too tough – and no one wants to eat shoe leather! TheKitchn.com recommended simmering your corned beef at a low temperature for a long time in order to make it tasty and melt-off-your-fork scrumptious. 

If you have a crockpot, St. Paddy’s Day would be an optimal time to break it out. If you throw in your corned beef & cabbage and cook on low, following the recipe of your choice, it should come out delicious! You can also throw in some potatoes & carrots, too. 

Not a fan of corned beef? 

Good news, there are other traditional Irish dishes you can make besides corned beef & cabbage. Lamb stew with potatoes & carrots was actually more likely to be eaten in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day before corned beef & cabbage came to town. 

Bangers & mash is another option. Purchase some sausage, make some mashed potatoes, and if boiled cabbage isn’t your thing, maybe a nice cabbage salad on the side would do. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can easily make this recipe meatless with some vegan sausage or “veganize” it with plant-based alternatives to milk & butter. 

And sorry, Lucky Charms is an American product. If you want an authentic Irish breakfast, a fry-up is a great option. Eaten by farmers & industrial workers in the eighteenth & nineteenth centuries, a fry-up consists of fried egg, sausage, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, fried potatoes, and toast. It would give workers the energy they needed to sustain them through a long day. 

Of course, if you’re still into baking bread, Irish soda bread is something you could try your hand at making on St. Patrick’s Day. No yeast? No problem. The leavening comes from buttermilk & baking soda. It’s crunchy on the outside, but soft & delicious inside. It’s often baked with raisins or dried fruit inside for extra sweetness. 

Do you have any St. Patrick’s day traditions or recipes you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments! 

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