Sunday, February 27, 2011

There is no Corn in Corned Beef

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
Diabla's Kitchen

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
Nic Cooks


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.



Carmen said...

Thanks for the post! My mother has always had a big St. Patty's day feast, for as long as I can remember. She decorates her whole house with sparkly green shamrocks and leprechaun figurines from the 70s and little clay pots of clover. She takes the day off work and makes a huge meal of boiled corned beef, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, fresh Irish soda bread, and for dessert pineapple upside-down cake, which isn't Irish at all but it works. I look forward to this meal every year, everyone in my family does. My fiance's cousin even flys to Florida from California every year. Traditions like this, regardless of how "traditional" they are, make memories that are hard to come by these days. Your girls will appreciate this and when they have children will be able to share it with them as well.

The Yummy Mummy said...

Thanks Carmen! That is exactly my point. Your mom's feast sounds absolutely wonderful. I bet she could teach me a thing or two about starting a tradition! Love it!

The Table of Promise said...

Nice Post! I love corned beef, hey I am an O'Brien. But I couldn't help but comment on the corned part.

I read once that the word corn in old(er) English refers to any small grain. Anything that was small and granular in texture could be referred to as 'corn' or 'corny'. In the case of corned beef, it is the salt grains that make up the 'corn' part.

The Yummy Mummy said...

To Table of Promise -

You are exactly right about the corn being any kind of small grain. I thought I said it alright, but you said it better.



onewetfoot said...

Corned beef was never a part of my family's tradition. My Irish grandmother leaned toward beef roasts with mashed potatoes and (canned) peas, with invocations of our heritage and possibly a trip to church for Mass. It was my French Canadian mother who made what one might think of as a more typically Irish dish, Irish stew. That was the meal we looked forward to every year.

As an adult, I started making my own version, with Guinness, which passed for sophisticated with my non-cooking friends.

Now on St. Patrick's Day, the whole family meets at my brother's Irish-themed restaurant, where dishes both "authentic" and Irish North-American can be had year-round.

Lynn said...

Lovely post. Corned beef was the tradition at my house too. Thank you for the Francis Lam link, and the Charcutepalooza highlights. So inspiring!

Nuts about food said...

I got teary thinking of your daughter calling you from outside of a pub one day on St. Patrick's Day. Where you a sobbing pile on the floor when you wrote that?

dp said...

I always wondered how corned beef got its name, but was too lazy to do the research. Thanks!

In Denmark, they called corned beef "sprængt oksekød", which literally translates to exploded beef.

I worked at a restaurant in Copenhagen that served corned duck (exploded duck, haha!) breast with a slightly sweet horseradish sauce. I wasn't a big fan, but it was popular with the patrons.

Christine said...

My mother is Italian born and my father is American of Lithuanian descent. There was no green in our house, but we always had boiled corned beef too.

Funny how traditions work, eh?

Brook - Learn to Preserve said...

I have been out of town for several days, with limited access to the Internet. (I know, it was really hard!)
Imagine my surprise, and DELIGHT to find log onto The Yummy Mummy, with the intent of reading your Corned Beef post, and then read that my Bacon Post (and "gorgeous step-by-step bacon photos") was/were among your favorites.
I am flattered. Honored. Thrilled. Almost speechless. Almost.
Thank you so much for making me possibly the happiest little bacon-curer in the world today.

Rita said...

Interesting post. What a great way to carry on a family tradition. BTW, I love Lucy's new hairdo. She looks so grownup.

Also, in my opinion, for what it's worth, you were no dork in school !!!

Anne Stesney said...

Oh, what a fantastic post. Pure Kim-funny, touching, making me cry. I just love traditional meals. Okay, Foster. I'm in. I'll be brining this weekend.

Warner (aka ntsc) said...

When I was about the age of your kids, I can remember my mother's butcher Stan telling her the state was making him get rid of his brine barrel and no more butcher shop corned beef.

It was a very cheap cut of meat then and not just brisket, but any piece about to go bad.