Family history becomes a hot topic around St. Patrick's Day. But aside from my dad's family in North Carolina and my mom's roots in New York, I can't say I know exactly from where my family originated.
But with my grandmother's maiden name being McHugh, I feel pretty safe saying I have a drop or two of Irish blood in me.
Maybe that's why I look forward to our annual corned beef dinner so much. When it's time to get out the slow cooker, season the brisket and prep the veggies, I can almost taste the salty, brined meat and the tender cabbage.
But I wondered, how and where did this unusual style of meat begin? And why was it called "corned?"
Much to my surprise, I discovered two things. First, corned beef had nothing to do with corn. According to Wikipedia, "corn" refers to the coarse granules of salt used to cure and preserve the beef.
Secondly, corned beef and cabbage was popularized in New England, not Ireland. After emigrating to this country in the 1800s, Irish Americans couldn't find the cut of pork used in their Irish bacon-and-greens dinner, so they used the readily available corned beef, pairing it with cabbage.
Whatever its origin, corned beef is delicious. Having grown up on my mom's version of New England Boiled Dinner, which is basically corned beef and cabbage with some more vegetables thrown in, I have enjoyed sharing this tradition with my kids.
I don't use a recipe exactly. But I prefer the slow-cooker method to the stove-top version. The meal cooks more slowly, with the vegetables maintaining more of their texture and color.
In addition to the carrots and yellow potatoes, this year I tried white boiling onions and savoy cabbage. The onions require some more prep because of their small size. But its that size that makes them so appealing in this dinner.
I also liked the twist of using the savoy cabbage. It's not as waxy as regular cabbage and adds a bright yellow green color as well as a curly texture to the plate.
For the meat, try to get the flat-cut brisket. It will cook more evenly and is easier to slice than the point cut. And don't forget the little packet that comes with the meat. Those pickling spices add flavor to the meat, broth and veggies.
When you have all of your ingredients, turn on your slow cooker and layer the goods. Put the onions, carrots and potatoes in the bottom, then lay the brisket on top.
Cover with water (some people add a bottle of ale) and cook on high for four hours or low for seven hours. Add the cabbage wedges about half-way through so they don't get overcooked. For a more detailed recipe, try this one.
And when it comes to celebrating your Irish roots this St. Patrick's Day, don't worry if you don't have any. This delicious dish brings together both the Irish and American ways of life.