So What Do the Irish Eat on Saint Paddy’s Day?

Mar 12, 2016 | 2016 Articles, Diana Bulls, Food Fun, Hometown History

by Diana Bulls

Some fun recipes for your St. Patrick’s Day at the end of this post!

Now that I am retired and on the proverbial fixed income, I am paying more attention to the grocery store sale ads. This week, I noticed cabbage was on sale. Cooked cabbage is not a favorite with my family (except in bierocks and that’s because they don’t realize its cabbage), but every St. Patrick’s Day I put on the green and serve up corned beef and cabbage for dinner along with a spicy honey mustard sauce. I tell them we are celebrating our Irish heritage (17% on Jim’s side, 20% on my side).



Since March 17 is just around the corner, I thought I might do a little sleuthing about the history of this traditional fare. Now you might have already figured this out, but it appears that corned beef and cabbage is as American as apple pie.

According to Shalyn Esposito, writing for, from early in history cattle in Ireland were not generally eaten. They were used for field work, milk and butter, and only killed for their meat if they were too old to work or produce milk. Pigs were the meat of choice, but even then it was only the wealthy few that could eat meat ? whether beef or pork ? as a regular diet.

After conquering Ireland, the beef eating British began exporting Irish cattle by the thousands. However, in 1663 and 1667 the Cattle Acts prohibited exporting live cattle and inadvertently set off the Irish corned beef industry.

This corned beef was nothing like the corned beef we know today. The term “corned beef” was coined to describe the size of the salt crystals used in curing. Because the crystals were the size of corn kernels, the end product tasted more like salt than beef. Irish corned beef fed the British and the French navies, and was exported to France and the American colonies. food

But still, the majority of the Irish people couldn’t even afford to eat corned beef. Most everybody relied on the potato which, by the way, was introduced to Ireland by the British, and that brings us to 1845 and the beginning of the Irish Potato Famine. During the next seven years, nearly a million Irish people died and a million more emigrated to the United States.

Once the Irish arrived in America, life still wasn’t perfect. True they were making more money, but they faced great prejudice, along with the Jews and Italians. These “undesirables” tended to settle in the same neighborhoods.

According to Esposito, Irish and Jewish cultures had quite a few parallels. Both groups arrived in America to escape oppression, each had lost a sacred homeland, they were discriminated against and had a love for the arts. They understood each other. The Irish were comfortable living next door to the Jewish and spending their new-found money at Jewish butcher shops. They could actually afford to eat meat now, and the meat they ate was corned beef.

This corned beef was the kosher brisket, and because it is normally tough, salting and slow cooking was needed to make it tender and flavorful. Thrown in a pot with potatoes, cabbage and other root vegetables, this was a hearty dish that was inexpensive and easy to prepare. And for that reason, when Irish-Americans transformed St. Patrick’s Day into a celebration of their heritage and homeland, corned beef and cabbage was the dish of choice at the celebratory feast.


diagram showing where a brisket comes from

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place not in Dublin but in New York City in 1762. Nearly one hundred years later, corned beef and cabbage, along with mock turtle soup, was on the menu of President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural luncheon, March 4, 1861.

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is more of a religious celebration. Families go to mass and spend the day together. Until 1970, pubs were officially closed by law on St. Patrick’s Day. In America, St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of being Irish. Since there are around 40 million Americans of Irish descent here in the U.S., it is easy to see why we embrace this holiday.

On March 17, everybody is Irish. So don all the green, shamrock adorned apparel you want, take the kids out to look for leprechauns (and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow), lift a green beer in toast and serve up some corned beef and cabbage.


Corned beef and cabbage

ERIN GO BRAUGH! (Ireland forever!)

Easy Corned Beef and Cabbage (my recipe from a corned beef package years ago)
Makes about 6-8 servings.
1 medium onion, cut into wedges
4 large red potatoes, quartered
1 pound baby carrots
3 cups water
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pepper1 corned beef brisket with spice packet (2-1/2 to 3 pounds), cut in half
1 small head cabbage, cut into wedges

1. Place the onion, potatoes and carrots in a 5-qt. slow cooker. Combine the water, garlic, bay leaf, sugar, vinegar, pepper and contents of spice packet; pour over vegetables. Top with brisket and cabbage. (Note: if you don’t want your cabbage too mushy, add it during the last hour of cooking.)
2. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours or until meat and vegetables are tender. Discard bay leaf before serving.

Easy Irish Soda Bread (recipe from a Taste of Home magazine)
Serves 12.
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
3/4 cup raisins

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, caraway seeds, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a small bowl, whisk eggs and sour cream. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in raisins.
2. Spoon into a greased 9-in. spring form pan. Bake at 350° for 40-45 or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing sides of pan. Cut into wedges; serve warm.

Spicy Honey Mustard Sauce (from the National Honey Board)
1/4 cup honey
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

Whisk all ingredients together and serve.

Link to Shalyn Esposito’s article:

Diana Bulls is an ongoing contributor to our
Hometown History section, having collected vintage kitchen utensils for over 40 years; she is also actively involved with the Reedley Historical Society.


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