Corned Beef and Cabbage

Guest post by Kimberly Kafka

The first thing you do if you want to find out about corned beef and cabbage is talk to an Irish friend, if you’re lucky enough to have one.

The incomparable Trish Rogers was born and raised in Ireland. She’s a country girl and a farmer’s daughter, and her parents and brother still farm in Ireland. She is deeply into food and wine and is part owner of the Oregon winery R. Stuart & Co.

But when I ask this quintessential Irish lass about corned beef and cabbage, I am quickly embarrassed.

“I have no idea why people think corned beef and cabbage is Irish,” Trish says. “When my American friends proudly mention having it because they think it’s a classic Irish dish, I don’t know what they’re on about.”

Trish had never heard of corned beef and cabbage until she came to America in her 20s.

“I had heard of corned beef, of course. Where I come from it’s a canned cold cut, sort of like Spam, that you make sandwiches with. Corned beef is what my father buys for his pet Pekingese. That’s what we think of corned beef in Ireland! You certainly wouldn’t eat it as a protein in a main course. At home what we have on St. Paddy’s Day is boiled bacon and cabbage with mashed potatoes and parsley sauce.”

Corned beef itself is an English concoction, Trish says.

“Irish beef was sold to England where it was salted (brined) and then canned and sent off to soldiers. The ‘corn’ in corned beef refers to the big corn-sized lumps of salt that were once used to preserve the beef.”

Two seconds of sleuthing on Google gets you to this great article that backs Trish up one hundred percent.

If you insist on celebrating St. Paddy with the distinctly non-Irish corned beef and cabbage, what no research could tell me was, what beverage would you pair it with? Thank goodness food and wine together is Trish’s specialty.

“Run away from tannic red wines that you normally think of when you serve beef,” Trish says. Because when you add that high salt content, you have to have high acidity to stand up to it. You’d want a high-acid, high-fruit white wine. If you have creamy mashed spuds with it, you’d have to have something with acidity, fruit and weight, like what you’d pair with traditional American southern foods. You have to find something pleasant and cool, and that’s going to mean blends. The wines that will kick butt in that situation will most likely be pinot gris and white Rhone blends.”

I was too embarrassed to even joke about what to pair with Spam.

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Kimberly Kafka has published two novels, as well as numerous articles for nationally distributed newspapers and outdoor magazines. She has been an advocate for water and soil conservation since childhood. She lives and writes in Wisconsin where the heart beats strong.