The country just celebrated St. Patrick's Day with all of its legends and traditions. There were parades as well as delicious food that were supposed to be traditional Irish fare. When I looked up corned beef I found there was some controversy about that tradition.
According to Frances Lam, a senior writer at Salon, the reason that corned beef became associated with the Irish dates back only to the building of New York City. The Irish immigrants worked as construction workers. Corned beef was served "free" to the construction workers at the various bars and establishments on St. Patrick's Day when they purchased something to drink. He quoted an Irish friend of his as saying that corned beef was never served in his family, even on St. Patrick's Day.
Irish food experts, however, say that corned beef was cooked in Ireland as early as the 17th century. It was even listed as an export from the Cork area. Of course, some of the Irish immigrants to the U. S. came from the Cork area so it is entirely possible that they brought their love for corned beef and their skill in cooking it along with them.
It should be noted that the traditional dish of Irish bacon and greens is far more commonly served. The Irish loved their pigs and took every opportunity to indulge. They even had a game that became known as Pin-the-Tail-on-the Pig.
All of this being said, Americans think of corned beef as being an Irish tradition. The very first time I ever had corned beef was when I cooked it myself. We had some Amish workers at the farm while we were building a new silo and an addition to the barn. My mother-in-law and I were wondering what to serve them for lunch.
We settled on corned beef. I cut potatoes, carrots, and cabbage to cook with the corned beef. We had plenty of food for everyone. The corned beef was delicious. Even after that we did not eat corned beef often.
Last weekend I cooked a big corned beef roast for the family. The children smelled it when they walked in from school. They asked what I was cooking so I showed them. The little boy was not sure if he liked it so I offered him a sample. He not only ate the sample he asked for more before supper. It was a hit.
That reminded me of another corned beef dinner that we enjoyed with some of my husband's cousins. We just happened to be visiting their farm on a day when they planned to have corned beef. The vegetables were placed on the table and we all helped with the cutting. With the men assisting with the cutting, I am sure that not all of the vegetables were in uniform pieces as the seasoned cooks tell us is necessary for even cooking. The vegetables were added to the pot to cook along with the meat.
When everything was done we enjoyed a delicious dinner of corned beef and cabbage. I do not remember if that was anywhere near St. Patrick's Day, but I suspect it was. These cousins were not Irish, but 100% Swedish!
Corned beef is something that I really enjoy. When eating out if Reuben sandwiches are on the menu I frequently order one. The first time I ever ate a Reuben was when the neighbor fixed one for the group of ladies who regularly got together to play games together. We met at various homes to enjoy games like Clue and Sorry.
Not all restaurants make Reubens the same. I have had some very tasty ones and some that were greasy. It is all about the bread and the corned beef. I make mine with rye bread the kind with caraway seeds. I like it best when I have freshly cooked corned beef to add, but you can substitute the canned variety if you are desperate. They can even be made with turkey if you are looking for a more figure friendly meal. Of course, the cheese is the Swiss variety. The sauerkraut must be thoroughly drained so as not to wet the sandwich. I have even used fresh cabbage lending a subtle crunch to the sandwich. Instead of Thousand Island dressing, I use horseradish mustard. As you may have guessed I made myself a Reuben with the leftover corned beef last week.
Once, at a pot luck supper I ate a Reuben casserole that was wonderful. I found out that it was made by the mother of a former student of mine. I asked if she gave out the recipe. She gladly mailed me the recipe after the event. Since then I have taken it to some pot luck dinners and had many compliments.
If you happen to have leftover corned beef you might like to try this recipe.
1 lg. can sauerkraut - drained
2 c. shredded Swiss cheese
1 can corned beef or enough leftovers to cover a 9 x 13 casserole
A few squirts of spicy mustard
1 c. Miracle Whip
Pepperidge Farm party rye bread
Spray bottom of 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray. Lay sauerkraut to cover the bottom of pan. Be sure it is really squeezed dry. Lay on corned beef then, cheese. Mix mustard and dressing then spread over corned beef and cheese. Butter the bread on one side (the side that is up) and arrange as a top layer. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 30 min.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org