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Corned Beef and Cabbage, but not together

March 22, 2012

It is difficult to resist the urge to start planting the outdoor gardens with this string of nice days we have been having. Anyone who lives in Iowa knows that the weather could turn on a dime and what seems like a good time for early spring gardening could change next week. I guess I will have to content myself with preparing the soil and planting seeds in the greenhouse area we have here at Living History Farms. I’ve started seedlings this week, the first of which are the cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

Speaking of cabbage, this past Saturday Irish (and non-Irish) Americans celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and the wearing of the green. Living History Farms has Irish roots, Martin Flynn, who originally owned this land, was an Irish immigrant. It is fitting then, for us to celebrate Irish food.

Traditional food here in America on St. Patrick’s Day is corned beef and cabbage. As I researched I learned that this meal, and in fact St. Patrick’s Day celebrations themselves, are products of Irish-American immigrants. In fact, corned beef was more of an export for Ireland, than something consumed by the Irish. A more traditional dish for the Irish was colcannon, fittingly a potato and cabbage dish.

Cabbage was a popular crop for Ireland and many parts of Europe. It does well in cooler climates, creates a big yield, and winters over nicely. Cabbage was brought to the Americas during the 16th century and continues to be consumed in may different ways.  This year on the 1900 farm we are growing 2 different kinds of cabbage. A green cabbage name Premium Late Flat Dutch (from 1840), and a red cabbage called Mammoth Red Rock (1889). While it will be 100+ days until we enjoy the cabbages, I look forward to cooking them in a variety of different dishes, with or without corned beef.

Speaking of corned beef, by 1900 you see different recipes for corned beef, so-called because of the corns of salt used for the preservation of the meat. Corned beef is the meat that President Lincoln ate for lunch on his first Inauguration day, a staple in a traditional Reuben sandwich, and a popular breakfast food when mixed in a hash. Corned beef hash triggers memories of my childhood here in the Midwest, and hashes would have been easily prepared on the farm.

The Boston Cooking School Cookbook of 1884 has a simple recipe for hash, I suggest giving it a shot:


Equal parts of meat and potatoes, or two of potatoes to one of meat. Remove all the bone, gristle, and skin, and have only one-fourth part fat meat.  Chop very fine, and mix well with the potatoes, which should be hot and well mashed.  Season to taste with pepper and salt.  Put in enough hot water to cover the bottom of the spider (skillet or pan); add one large tablespoonful of butter. When the butter is melted, add the hash, and let simmer till it has absorbed the water and formed a brown crust.  Do not stir it.  Fold like an omelet.  Use corned meat or roast beef. If the potatoes be cold, chop them with the meat.

– page 273

The recipe is designed to be used with meat and potatoes which have previously been cooked. It is but one way to make a hash, perhaps in time I can share some of my other favorites. I recommend frying in a skillet on your stove over medium heat.

No matter what your tradition, enjoy the warm spring weather that most of the country has been fortunate to have lately, and Happy belated St. Patrick’s Day!

Read more posts on the LHF Blog


1900 Farm   Around the House   Holidays   In the Kitchen   Recipes   Then and Now

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