Of Corned Beef and Cabbage

Thinking of my Mom on this St. Patrick’s Day, and corned beef and cabbage. I don’t know that we had it every year for St. Patrick’s Day, but often enough that I remember it. Mom was an excellent cook, she took on Italian, Filipino, Chinese, didn’t matter, she’d try it. But St. Patrick’s Day dinner with corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes, some good rye bread, today that’s the one that’s standing out in my mind. There isn’t a lot that is associated with Irish food that we think of as really tasty, the first thought most people have is of potatoes, right?

And I don’t go out of my way for corned beef any other time of the year, though I do remember corned beef hash in a can that my mom would make from time to time for breakfast with some eggs.

But the real deal, the meat that she’d buy from the butcher and cook in all the right spices with big wedges of cabbage and potatoes, that was something special. I guess because it was really a once a year kind of a thing that made it more so. Not like the spaghetti we had every Sunday, which I still never got tired of, by the way.

Corned beef and cabbage dinner was a sign. That winter was over, spring was on the way. Easter was just around the corner. Days were getting longer, and temperatures warmer.

It was never a big party, never the big drunk fest that St. Patrick’s Day has seemed to become here in the states. Instead, we would just have dinner. As a family. My parents, brothers and sisters, and whichever relative or friend had set up temporary camp in our home for the time being.

And we were sitting in our own kitchen, around our own dinner table, not at a restaurant. And there was no whiskey involved, either. My parents were not much about drinking, only occasionally when they had friends over for a party, but on a regular basis, I don’t remember much at the dinner table except water, milk and pop. Yes, we called it pop. Still do.

But back to the dinner. It was something special not only because it was a once a year feast, but it was one thing we did as a family that represented my mother’s heritage. She became such a part of this big noisy Italian family on my dad’s side that it was easy to forget she was an Irish-Scottish girl from a small farming town in the middle of the state.

This feast once a year allowed us to tune into that side of our family, to honor our mother’s ancestry. Her father who came from Scotland to work in the coal mines,  ultimately settling in that small Midwestern town, dying young from black lung disease. Her mother, who was raised in a house with no indoor plumbing or heat, who had a phenomenal garden, a knack for sewing, and could run a bar like nobody’s business.

I’m grateful to reflect on them today, grateful they are part of who I am. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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