When I was a kid, Saint Patrick's Day meant three things - Going to school dressed head to toe in green, wearing a very large "Kiss Me I’m Irish" pin - which was as good as asking to be kissed and pretty provocative Lady Gaga stuff in my upstate New York middle school - and after school, as soon as Dad got home from work, eating a boiled dinner my mom had made. Corned Beef, cabbage and potatoes.
The tradition was inked into my yearly calendar through the 70's, as part of me as multi-colored striped knee socks and my bay city rollers scarf, although by highschool I was tired of getting beaten up in the girls locker room for being a dork and all that remained of the tradition was my mom's corned beef homage.
Later, when I moved to NYC on my own, I spent nearly every Saint Patrick's Day howling with my neighbors at a dark Irish pub on the Upper West Side, sitting low in a leather banquet with an ale in my hand, strangers reveling all around me. I always ordered the corn beef, boiled potatoes and cabbage. Never deviated. Because that dinner is locked in my Saint Patricks' Day DNA. To me, that day and that meal are linked. It feels authentic. Irish. I had been known to step out of the bar into the cool night for a smoke, and call my mom, just to say "Hi". For no particular reason.
Corned beef can do that to a girl.
As we're making corned beef for Charcutepalooza, and Lucy and I are making our brine, and Cathy is holding sandwich-making contests and weighing in on which is better, The Reuben or the Cloak and Dagger, I've also been trying to explain - stupidly explain - to my girls why there is no corn in corned beef. This simple and completely logical question forced me to start googling and find out exactly what I was making and eating. Why is it called corned beef? Apparently, the corn refers to the coarse kernels of salt used to cure the beef back in the old days. The children still looked at me baffled, but okay, mystery solved.
But my whole idea of a traditional Irish dinner shifted when I stumbled upon Francis Lam's terrific piece on corned beef and the Irish in America. I suggest you read it. If nothing else, it explains how the idea of an "authentic food" is subjective, ever-changing, personal, loose, transient, and never really to be pinned down for very long.
Corned beef is Irish, technically, but then again, not very Irish for many Irish families. It is different things to different people and always seen and changed through the lens of our own times, and personal experiences as we look back on it. I know this, of course, on some intellectual level, but I hadn't given corned beef and Saint Paddy's day even the slightest thought. I just accepted. The day was about green, corned beef and that ridiculous overly-large pin that begged people, damn near provoked people, to kiss me.
But it's more complicated and frankly, more human that that, isn't it?
I think I may never use the word authentic to explain anything again, like - let's go to that Japanese place, I hear the food is pretty authentic - but I'm still going to cook a perfectly simple, no frills, boiled dinner for the family on Saint Patricks Day with my own home-corned beef, because - Irish or not - my mother made it a tradition, a simple one that I will pass on to my kids and hope that it gives them a sense of ritual and comfort, the idea that some things in life are steadfast and predictable, coded into our sense of selves.
And maybe someday when Lucy is celebrating in some dark pub on Saint Patrick's Day, she'll think of corned beef and me and order the boiled dinner. And maybe she'll step outside into the cool night and give me a call.
That would be nice.
Now, to deviate away from corned beef for a moment, Cathy and I want to announce some of the best reads and best photos of last month's bacon challenge. We are so enjoying reading all the posts. They are remarkable. Thank you for diving in the way you do. Here are our favs this month:
1. Rabbit meets pork.
A Year Without Groceries
2. It ain’t milkshakes that bring the boys to the yard.
Braise Boil Bake
3. Sauce that makes you think of your wife.
Leave Me The Oink
4. East meets...Bacon.
5. Gorgeous step-by-step bacon photos.
Learn to Preserve
6. A chef remembers his dad.
Bread and Cup
7. Duck Eggs in Pancetta Cups with Porcini Mushrooms and Cheese
Duck and Cake
8. From sourcing to hash browns: Porky Comfort
C Plus C Design
9. Smoker Girl
10. Lamb's Brain Terrine Enveloped in Bacon
Inspired By Wolfe
And just for fun and because we missed this last month...Kangaroo Prosciutto from Sydney, Australia
Pancetta from Eat Drink RI
Lamb Pancetta from The Paupered Chef
Bacon from That's Some Pig
Miso bacon from Cook Blog
Scratch BLT from Viveksurti
Charcutepalooza loves our sponsors. D’Artagnan offers 25% off the meat-of-the-month. If you aren’t receiving your email with the secret code for Charcutepalooza members, register here. And the trip to France – an awesome grand prize deliciously designed by Trufflepig and Kate Hill at Camont.