about st partricks day
do you celebrate normally? or is it some "Harney blarney heidey hodey!" irish type deal?
If by 'celebrate', you mean going to a bar and getting drunk, I've never done that.
But I wear green on St. Patrick's Day and sometimes I'll cook some kind of traditional Irish dish, like Irish Apple Cake. (Corned beef and cabbage is so 1950's, I have two Irish cookbooks and one of them doesn't have any recipes using corned beef.)
It's not that corned beef and cabbage is "outdated," it's just not what Irish people eat... as Knocksedan says, they generally have lamb. So where did the American - particularly Irish-American - tradition of corned beef and cabbage come from?
For starters, try getting lamb in mid 1800s New York (many came in through Ellis Island) or Detroit, or Canada (many came in through Grosse Ile, as well, especially after Ellis Island tightened their screenings). In most cases, lamb just wasn't available... but since both New York City and Grosse Ile were ports, "salt beef" - corned beef - was both readily available and relatively cheap, since it was able to be transported on and by the ships. In other words, ships would both bring it into port, and also buy it locally to eat on their journeys.
That's how the corned beef thing started. (It also explains why the Atlantic Canadian regions "Jigg's Dinner" tradition looks almost identical to the stereotypical Irish-American St. Patrick's Day fare.)
How it stuck is probably related to the fact that the Irish, like most immigrants at the time, tended to settle in large cities, at least for a generation or two... and in those cities, shops and delis that were owned by and catered to Jewish folks also sold corned beef cheaply, since they could move a lot of it thanks to it being kosher.
Toss in over a hundred and fifty years and stir, and you end up with Irish-American families who don't realise corned beef and cabbage isn't an Irish thing, and Irish families who think the Yanks are being odd/offensive/too stupid to find lamb.
My family still has corned beef and cabbage, even though we know it's not Irish. There's a pretty simple reason why - lamb's still bloody expensive in the US! "Next year, we'll have (i.e. be able to afford) lamb" is our perennial joke.
We also have Apple Cake, although it's called Apple John in our house. There's also far too much champ.
Before dinner, there's Mass to attend, and after dinner, we tell family stories - we used to go down to the local pub, but the past several years it's been packed with drunken yobs, and I don't have the patience... so now, we go down to the pub a few days after to catch up with family and friends, once the "Kiss me I'm Irish" crowd have moved on to how they're going to appropriate Cinco de Mayo.
Same with the parades... We used to go, but in our area, they've steadily become less 'a thing to do with family' and more 'a place for people (mainly Americans) to go drink green beer until they vomit,' so I'll go if a specific group asks me to march with them and then I'll get out of there ASAP - I'm both a non-drinker and very much not a fan of the casual racism displayed in plastic paddyism, so I have to leave before a well meaning drunk tries to hand me some random green bit of tat.
So interesting, thanks! Is the origin of the cabbage tradition also its low cost?
Part of it was low-cost/easy availability, yes - there was a lot of "cuisine crossover" between the Irish community and the Jewish community at the time, since they tended to live in either the same or adjacent neighbourhoods.... so the foods that were cheapest tended to be the ones that were bought by both.
There is also the fact that bacon and cabbage is a traditional Irish meal, so cabbage would have been a familiar vegetable. The reason that the Irish immigrants didn't plump for bacon to go with their cabbage is two-fold - firstly, bacon was quite a bit more expensive than corned beef, and secondly, the Irish (and British) use back bacon, which is a cut that's still pretty unknown on US shores (and back then, it would have been pretty much unattainable). What we have in the US is smoked pork belly, which would not really have been something the Irish recognised as "bacon" per se. (For the most part, this remains true - the internet is full of Americans living in the ROI/NI/UK complaining that they can't get "real" bacon, and of people from the UK/NI/ROI living in the US with exactly the same complaint!)
I poked around in a few of my Irish history books after my first post, because I thought I dimly remembered that Ireland had some connection to corned beef, just not a culinary one, and it turns out I'm not losing my mind - back in the mid-1800s and early 1900s, Ireland was the largest exporter of corned beef, and Irish salt beef was renowned for its quality - which makes sense, as being an island, they could (and did) make far more money selling it to ships and exporting it to Europe than eating it themselves. This led to the Irish notion that salt/corned beef was an expensive luxury meant for affluent foreigners. Ireland's dominance in the market was for a relatively brief period, roughly 1840-1900, but the prevailing attitude that came with it during that time period goes a long way toward explaining why, when the Irish immigrants went looking for something to replace their bacon, they chose corned beef over, say, chicken or regular beef. I can only imagine how shocked/thrilled they would have been to see that what was an expensive luxury "back home" was some of the cheapest meat available in their new country. Never mind the bacon, we can eat like kings!
When we were in Ireland a few years ago, we found two places serving corned beef and cabbage, but I preferred the Shepherd's pie. My wife isn't fond of either lamb or mutton. I ate enough of the latter in college (where it was often called 'mystery meat' by the students), that I've never cooked it.
Driving around the Irish countryside, we probably saw more sheep than I'd seen in the rest of my life, and I came from farming country!
When I cook a leg of lamb, my trick is to let it sit in a spiced yogurt marinade in the refrigerator for a day before cooking it. I aim for taking it out of the oven halfway between rare and medium. If your wife finds lamb to be too gamey or too tough for her taste, preparing it in this manner might change her mind about it.
After nearly 45 years of marriage, I've learned there are things you just don't mess with, like feeding her lamb.
For many Irish families with young children, St Patrick's Day will involve attending a St Patrick's day parade, and many will also go to a religious service (it is, after all, celebrating a Saint). Kids who have given up sweets for Lent are usually given a dispensation too :-).
Apart from the parades, for most people St Patrick's Day is similar to a traditional Sunday, except that the shops are shut, so people often have a large mid-day meal (more likely to be spring lamb than "corned beef and cabbage") and maybe attend sporting events (the All-Ireland Club Finals in Croke Park are a big deal on St Patrick's Day).
You can see clips from some of the many local parades around Ireland on the RTÉ Website:
You can also see full coverage of the main parade in Dublin
This discussion includes a link to a home movie of a parade from 1977 for comparison :-)
I play traditional Irish music, and Saint Patrick's day is definitely not my favorite day to have a session. The pub gets packed with drunk people who are there to party, not to appreciate the music, and the probability of beer getting spilled on you is very high. This year the people who play Irish music in my town scattered in all directions... Our usual pub was almost empty, and the only musicians playing either had a gathering at their own house, participated in an early-evening thing, or had an organized concert not in the city center. The main concert+session organized for Saint Patrick's by the musicians was the day after (good strategy to avoid the drunks), and well outside the city! All this was happening in France, where the Saint Patrick's festivities are calm compared to many parts of the English-speaking world...
Of course we use any excuse to play more Irish music, so we do organize special concerts, sessions, etc for Saint Patrick's :-) We're just strategic about it.
Though I must confess, I did get quite drunk on Saint Patrick's last year... but more because I was in a good mood that particular night than because it was Saint Patrick's. When you're addicted to Irish music, you don't need a special day of the year to go to a pub and celebrate Irish culture, because you do that at least once a week already :-)
Besides that, I used to try and make some (gluten-free) Irish soda bread, corned beef+cabbage, and/or a sort of Irish stew to mark the tradition (I am from the US). As kids we'd make sure to wear something green to school to avoid being pinched, and the school staff would play jokes on us about seeing leprechauns running down the hall and such to watch us all try and chase them down.
About the beef/lamb thing - wasn't beef also considered a luxury food in Ireland in the 19th century, so when the Irish arrived in the US they weren't too bothered by the fact that the lamb/beef price ratio was flipped and started eating beef instead? That might be just hearsay, I'm not certain of the details.
Re: beef, as I said in my second comment above, yes, it was considered a luxury good.
But in terms of how much/whether they cared, it depends which wave of Irish immigrants to whom you refer. The "lace curtain" Irish - largely (though not exclusively) Protestant, who immigrated before the Famine, and were by and large very affluent individuals... no, they generally couldn't care less what the price of beef was (or lamb). And why would they? They were rich! Many of that group would have had the pleasure of having "home grown" salt beef before ever leaving home. (As late as the 1930s, salt beef was still openly spoken of by some Irish people as being for "rich people and priests"... a direct quotation from good friend of mine who told me so in person, speaking of his own childhood.)
The later immigrating "black shanty" Irish (poor, largely Famine Irish, emigrate-or-starve) had usually nearly sold every scrap they owned just to afford passage to the US.... yeah, they very much cared about price (keep in mind, few Irish families at the time only had two or three mouths to feed). They would have picked whatever the cheapest meat was, regardless of what it was, and it wasn't uncommon for them to rarely have any kind of meat for the first year or two because even cheap meat was out of financial reach (especially during the later Famine years, when anti-Irish prejudice had had the chance to really gather steam and made entering the job market more difficult - for a modern equivalent, think "Syrian refugees."). For that group, the fact that what was a luxury back home was the cheapest meat around in their new American city(-ies) was just an added bonus.
And, as I also mentioned, it's very likely that both groups would really have rather had bacon, at least once in a while... but back bacon isn't a cut the US recognises as "bacon" at all. (Quite literally. In the US, to this day, in order to be sold as "bacon," it's required to be "smoked pork belly"). Back bacon is cut from the loin and cured but not smoked - it's the fact that in the US, we rarely bother to cure the loin that makes back bacon difficult to find, unless you either import it or have a butcher who cures small batches on his/her own and really likes you.