We think of corned beef and cabbage as a traditional Irish dish, but it is actually Irish/American. According to Bridgett Haggerty of the Irish Cultures and Customs website, cows were generally used for milk in Ireland and were too valuable to eat. Pork was cheaper, so a side of bacon was cooked with cabbage for Easter. The Irish in New York substituted corned beef for bacon, borrowing from their Jewish neighbors, and it has come to be associated with St. Patrick’s Day. She says that Irish pubs now serve corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, but it is to please the tourists. Another bit of trivia—did you know that the national color of Ireland is blue?

Here’s a verse from a poem by Frances Shilliday:

Good Grief—Not Beef!

This custom the Yanks have invented,

Is an error they’ve never repented,

But bacon’s the stuff

That all Irishmen scoff,

With fried cabbage it is supplemented.

©Frances Shilliday 2004


I don’t usually think about corned beef and cabbage until I see the seasonal specials in the stores in mid-March. It makes an easy, tasty, one-dish meal; I don’t know why I don’t make it more often. (Try my walnut trick to keep the cooking odors from permeating the house and to make the rutabagas taste more like potatoes.)

1 corned beef brisket, spice packet included, about 4 pounds

1 head of green cabbage, cut into wedges

3 or 4 small rutabagas, peeled and cut into chunks (about 4 cups)

2 whole walnuts in the shell

Put the corned beef and the contents of the spice packet into a large pot and cover with cold water; bring to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer for 2 and 1/2 to 3 hours or until almost tender. Add rutabagas and walnuts and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the cabbage and simmer for an additional 30 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are fork tender. Discard the walnuts. Slice the corned beef across the grain and surround with the vegetables. Serve with prepared mustard.

Servings: about 8.

Total Carbs per Serving: 8.6 g, Fiber: 3.3 g, Net Carb: 5.3 g
Note: Corned beef was cured with dry spices in Anglo-Saxon times to preserve it. Corned refers to the large grains of coarse salt used in the rub. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of the word corn as a “small, hard particle, a grain, as of sand or salt.” Corned beef is now brined or pickled in liquid.

My brother has done a bit of research on our family history; as far as I know, he hasn’t uncovered any Irish connections, but I suspect that somewhere in my gene pool there was an Irish grandma, spouting Gaelic proverbs, which I sometimes find myself repeating even now. When I was a girl, I used to whistle when I was concentrating or when I was nervous. My mother would tell me, “A whistling girl and a crowing hen always come to no good end.” I’ve come across several variations on this aphorism in Irish anthologies. When I see the beginnings of those little pucker lines on my lips, the kind that only smokers are supposed to get, I wonder if this could be my comeuppance for breaking the no-whistling rule for proper young ladies.

(C) 2008, Judy Barnes Baker

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Judy Barnes Baker

The working title for my first book was, “You’ll Never Know What You Are Missing.” It summed up my goal: to make eating for health synonymous with eating for pleasure. Once you discover the secret, you will find that the very best food for weight management, longevity, the treatment and prevention of disease, and over-all health and happiness is also the most sumptuous, satisfying, and indulgent way of eating the world has to offer. You are invited to the feast. Enjoy!
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