You may be surprised by this Irish food 'tradition'

This is going to be difficult to report, but I feel it's my duty to inform you: Corned Beef and Cabbage is about as Irish as Spaghetti and Meatballs.

It's true - Corned Beef and Cabbage is not the national dish of Ireland. Your silence is deafening - sit down, take a deep breath. Let me gently explain how this grievous mistake could have been made.

Yes, corned beef was available, in Ireland, but not to the common man. Both salt and beef were expensive items in early Ireland. However, Irish emigrants to the United States in the early 19th century found prices of both items much cheaper. They treated beef in the same manner they would have treated a 'bacon joint' at home in Ireland: they soaked it to draw off the excess salt, then braised or boiled it with cabbage, and served it in its own juices with only minimal spicing, maybe a bay leaf and a little pepper.

That makes Corned Beef and Cabbage technically American cuisine, with Irish influences.

The Irish raised cows for their milk. They could make hundreds of nourishing foods.

Cows were a prized bartering medium. The size of your cattle herd was an indication of your status and wealth. Irish lore is rich with tales of poor trades as illustrated in 'Jack and the Beanstock' and about tribal chieftains stealing each other's cattle.

What makes up Irish cuisine? A review of the island nation's terrain gives us many clues.

The sea provides a wide variety of foods. The Irish dine on fairy-tale-named shellfish such as bairneachs, cockles, periwinkles. They eat fish with names that we are familiar with: Cod, herring, mackerel, trout, eel, salmon, lobster, prawns, shrimp, mussels and crab.

The heavily wooded landscape and extensive inland waterways provide the ideal habitat for a variety of wild fowl and other game, like ducks, geese, pheasants, plover, pigeon, squab, hare and rabbit and venison.

Dairy products play an important role in Irish cuisine, a serious consideration for not 'thinning the herd.' Try these Irish cheeses: Brekish Dairy, Cliffony and Waterville.

Pork is the favored meat, with ham and bacon the most popular forms used.

Chicken and eggs are also used in the cuisine.

And of course, the New World's gift of potatoes saved the Irish people from starvation. Cabbage, onions and carrots are also staples in the diet.

I have it on good authority that beer is the national beverage.

Don't let this news spoil your St. Patrick's Day celebration. I am going to prepare Corned Beef and Cabbage, but I am also going to prepare some traditional Irish dishes.

For the record, Bacon and Cabbage is considered Ireland's national dish.

I leave you with this Irish proverb to begin your St. Patrick's Day Feast: 'The Freshest of food and the oldest of drink.'

Bon Appetit! - Eat Locally!

Bacon and Cabbage

Serves 12 to 15

Without question this is Ireland's national dish!

4 to 5 pounds ready to eat Canadian bacon with a nice covering of fat (ask your butcher).

1 head cabbage


white pepper

Cover the bacon in cold water and bring slowly to a boil, discarding any white froth. Each time it forms, replace the water and reboil. Cover with hot water and simmer, for one hour or until it is warmed through.

Meanwhile, remove the outer leaves from the cabbage. Cut the cabbage into quarters, remove the center core. Cut each quarter into thin strips across the grain. About 30 minutes into the cooking of the bacon, add the cabbage. Continue cooking until the cabbage is soft and tender and the bacon fully cooked through. Remove the bacon to a hot plate and strain the water off the cabbage. Return the cabbage to the pan with a lump of butter, season with white pepper. Serve with the bacon and, traditionally, boiled potatoes with parsley sauce.

From The Complete Book of Irish Country Cooking, Traditional and Wholesome Recipes from Ireland, by Darina Allen 1995

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811, ext. 101, or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Canadian bacon is a lean smoked meat that is a closer kin to ham than it is to regular bacon. It's taken from the lean, tender eye of the loin, which is located in the middle of the back.

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