Eric 'Renderking' Fisk tackles a Saint Patrick's Day Tradition and questions the popularity of a dish made famous during this holiday.
Corn Beef And... Asparagus!
I always thought that this site should be about fellow Vintage Aficionado's, Retrocentrics, and Classic Movie Fans to share aspects of their lives with one another. In that regard - it's a monstrous success. I'm not pounding my own drum or blowing my own horn because I'm only responsible for One-Tenth it's success - the other Nine-Tenths comes from contributions of our other writers, those who participate in The Electric Speakeasy and letters sent to us once in a while. So I'm trilled and yet humbled after I just got one letter from someone who called The Fedora Chronicles "Possibly the coolest new site on the web..." with a follow up that read: "We love the potential of "Food And Drink" but could you alternate between writing about 'The Valdez Fields' in 'Dishwasher Confidential' and write about eating and drinking experiences you actually enjoyed?"
The answer is obviously "Yes." I would love to rant about eating and drinking experiences that I actually enjoyed and hope to inspire you folks to follow my lead.
With that said, I'm a Traditionalist - I love keeping some aspects of Vintage Style active, and much of a bi-gone era alive; but there are some traditions that just need to be adjusted or ended. I'm going to tackle St. Patrick's Day...
An Awesome Tradition
Before I offend anyone here with my rant (spending the good will that I've accumulated and rebuilt since my last one...) let me throw down and say that Saint Patrick's Day is an awesome holiday. It's huge here in The North East - From the State of Maine, to as far south as Pennsylvania and west as Chicago. It's huge everywhere else, I assume.
It's the day when everyone gets to wear the color green to excess - sport fake Irish accents and listen to Irish Music, or music from performers with Irish Sounding names. It's when we get to indulge in Irish Beer like Guinness and Killians, whiskey like Jamison's or even Bailey's Irish Cream in your coffee. It's OK to be "Drunk Like An Irishman" despite the fact that it perpetuates a negative stereotype, and indulge in stories about pots of gold, Leprechauns and adorn the house with banners that say "Erin Go Brah" or four leaf clovers.
Best part of the holiday (that doesn't have anything to do with eating or drinking, I mean) is the retelling of the stories about Irish Immigrants who came to The United States and Canada to over-came oppression and prejudice. It's an amazing holiday in that aspect - where some of us remember our heritage and where we came from, and for people who aren't Irish to learn about a different culture. How can a Vintage Aficionado not like that aspect of this holiday? Seriously - every ethnic group should have their own holiday. Imagine a holiday that celebrates the history of some of our other ancestors like the Norwegians, French and Italian to the same extent that we celebrate Saint Patrick's day.
Breaking With Tradition: Abolish The Cooked Cabbage.
There is only once aspect of this celebration that's a serious downer: Cooked Cabbage.
I have no idea why this is a popular aspect of Saint Patrick's Day, since it's the only part that I actually try to avoid and loath I can only assume that others dislike it as well. "Corn Beef and Cabbage" is as Irish-American as Meat and Potatoes (or Mom, Baseball and Apple Pie) is American. You have to take the good with the bad, no matter how bad it really is - or the bad smells that follow.
Saint Patrick's Day dinners can often conjure up memories of an earlier time, even for those of us who have no experience migrating to North America from a different land. As I'm writing this I remember my time spent in college waiting for the doors to open of my favorite pub, or when I would be serving this concocted combination out chafing dishes and have to hold my breath so I couldn't smell the foul cabbage any more. I have even earlier memories of this meal being severed and enjoyed by my mom and my two siblings. The memories of this that I hope will endure the longest, though, are the times enjoyed with my own wife and children.
There are some vegetables that should never be exposed to heat - Broccoli is one of them, Cabbage is another. For some of us out there - for reasons that have more to do with experience then genetics - the smell is horrible, like that of other spoiled vegetables heaped onto a pile of half-finished compost. For those who don't know (and I just confirmed this by talking to the cooking expert of the house,) Corn beef and cabbage is cooked together in the same pot so the flavors can co-mingle. It's a great way to ruin a Brisket of Corn Beef. Cabbage can be easily ruined with an extra minute in the cooking pot, and no matter how well it's cooked there's still the undesirable effect it has on some people's metabolism in the form of excess gas. - It's hard to have good spirits when you fear your gaseous companion who is mimicking Riverdance gets close an open-flame.
According to a few different web sites - Corn beef and Cabbage isn't even an Irish tradition - it's an "Irish-American," or more specifically it's a New England Irish-American Tradition. So - with that said you can skip the Cabbage and replace it with something else and feel no guilt towards your ancestors traditions. Or, if you insist on having cabbage but want to keep from ruining it - I'm sure there are some Irish Coleslaw recipes out there on the internet.
Here's a great way to replace the cooked cabbage - the best suggestion by far...
The absolute best Saint Patrick's Day I spent was back at the dawn of the new millennium. And it wasn't actually spent with someone who wasn't Irish... It was spent with a young woman who's part Scottish and part German. I can picture her smile even now, this angel of a woman who's face still contains some of the spirit of the 12 year old Tom-Boy she used to be while at the same time being an alluring siren in her early 30's. The two of us had a wonderful dinner and then spent the rest of the evening watching The Quiet Man on Turner Classic Movies. The two of us shared a six-pack of Killian's Irish Red Ale after dinner and it's in my top 10 Memories of simple pleasures and fond memories.
That woman is actually my wife who is still the beautiful doll she's always been and will be. She's actually the inspiration of this rant and introduced me to an alternative to cabbage on this holiday...
This year, my wife and I (with the company of our two sons who ate something else) and a replica of the first Saint Patrick's Day meal we had here: Corned Beef and red potatoes that was boiled to perfection with her own seasonings of freshly ground black pepper, fresh parsley and sea salt.
The real special treat was the Asparagus! The recipes for this is incredibly simple yet marvelous - prepare the Asparagus with a touch of olive oil, and sprinkle your own desired amount of curry powered and cumin. The two seasonings are very similar yet very distinct, Cumin is one of those secret ingredients that many people use to make Potatoes Salad more exciting. Both spices have Middle-Eastern flare and it might also be sacrilegious to have such served during a meal meant to honor a United Kingdom country. But the flavor is so great that you won't care after one bite.
Proof Is In The Eating...
Most traditions are terrific, that's why they endure. It would be pretty ridiculous to have a tradition that people actually DON'T like - such as eating over-cooked or boiled cabbage. At some point - regardless of how long the tradition's been around it's time to just say 'good bye' and change it when folks dread it.. at the very least modify it till it's at least enjoyable. Corn Beef isn't the most vestal of all the meats served, and it's unique flavor and texture is one of the reasons why it refreshes strong memories of this holiday.
This is a holiday meal that's desperate for some alterations, and as I wrote earlier you can swap out one side-dish for something more appetizing. The trick is to do so with out allowing that new replacement to become mundane.
If you have a better idea on how to prepare cabbage for this holiday - let us know and we'll spread the word.