The Story of Corned Beef & Cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day

I don’t know about you…but St. Patrick’s Day is one of those holiday’s which is not only enjoyable to celebrate but it’s also fun to eat the food. I used to always wonder why one of my favorite foods, corned beef and cabbage, are eaten this day. So, I looked it up and the following information is what I found on yahoo.com. I certainly learned some pretty cool facts about it…so I thought that I would share it with you. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

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Photo Credit: LearningLark via Flickr
Photo Credit: LearningLark via Flickr

In the 1800s, the Irish ate a lot of potatoes and pig (all pig: bacon, sausages, hams, etc).
From 1845 to 1852, the Great Famine occurred, when the potato crops were wiped out which left pig (and sometimes mutton).

In my family, corned beef was an immigrant’s meal…a cheap cut of meat with inexpensive cabbage made a hearty, filling meal at low cost.

…Corned beef was made popular in New York bars at lunchtime. The bars offered a ‘free lunch’ to the Irish construction workers who were building NYC in the early part of the 20th century. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. You had to buy a couple of beers or shots of whiskey to get that free lunch. And that’s how corned beef became known as an ‘Irish’ food.

However, corned beef was, in fact, a major export of Cork from the 17th century, shipping it all over Europe and as far as the sunny British West Indies, where they still love their corned beef in cans. Many people in Ireland deny that corned beef was ever eaten but that obviously isn’t true.

Now, back to pig…it became popular to picture the Irishman as a drunkard or overly-enamored of his pigs. “Irish Americans vigorously protested an alignment of their ethnicity with an animal that carried all sorts of connotations about dirt and disease.”

So, the Irish immigrants in the US had become somewhat upwardly mobile and wanted food to reflect their heritage much as the Italians became known for their pasta.
…the potato brought too much memory of heartache and loss
…pig had been stigmatized
…that left beef and corned beef was well-known

Basically, even non-Irish eat corned beef & cabbage on St Patrick’s Day the way many people eat dim sum at Chinese New Year or roast pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day as has been traditional in German communities.

You don’t have to be of a particular ethnic group to enjoy their foods!

9 thoughts on “The Story of Corned Beef & Cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day

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    1. I do always find it interesting to learn origins of customs like this. I recall a couple years ago finding that Chinese fortune cookies were tracked down and turned out to be (in the main) restaurants in San Francisco’s Chinatown making an adaptation of a minor Japanese custom, which is kind of how these things go.

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