Corned beef and cabbage: as History.com states, it’s as Irish as spaghetti and meatballs and as American as apple pie.
Like Italians and spaghetti and meatballs, corned beef and cabbage was created by Irish immigrants out of necessity combined with their newly found American ingenuity. Irish immigration to the United States grew rapidly in the 1800s and the new immigrants brought their own food traditions. Pork, which was cheap in Ireland, had been the go-to meat; the favorite was Irish bacon, which was similar to Canadian bacon. In the U.S. however, pork was very expensive so the newly arrived Irish families began cooking beef.
In New York, Irish families lived in the same neighborhoods as recently transplanted Jewish families, and it was at Jewish delis that the Irish immigrants first tasted corned beef, which was very similar in texture to Irish bacon. Irish cooks found that when they combined cabbage and spices with corned beef, they had a tasty and easy-to-prepare dish that fit their budgets.
Salon.com writer Francis Lam, whose story “Where Curry Replaced Corned Beef and Cabbage” about new immigrants in Queens through the years resulted in a letter from an Irish-descended reader who, Lam says, “was gently protesting my mention of that stereotypical dish.”
The reader’s letter stated, “My Irish family never ate corned beef. My grandmother was perplexed that Americans associate corned beef with being Irish. In Ireland, most people ate pig. Lots of bacon, lots of sausage (lots of trichinosis).
“…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. My grandmother hated the stuff and wouldn’t allow it in her home. I myself first tasted corned beef when I was in my thirties at some non-Irish-American person’s ‘St. Paddy’s Day’ party.”
Dismayed, Lam said, he sent that letter to a friend from Dublin. “Every word of that post is pure gospel,” she wrote back. “We NEVER eat corned beef and cabbage. We mock Americans and their bizarre love of that ‘meat’.”
At Truxton’s American Bistro, we don’t judge. And we celebrate all things American and their origins, wherever they hail from. We’ve created specials available now through March 21, to help you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day: Irish Fries, Corned Beef Sandwich, Corned Beef Hash and of course Corned Beef and Cabbage. We’ve refrained from tinting anything green, so you’ll need to bring the shamrocks.