I’ve been reading Traditional Irish Cooking by Darina Allen. (It’s on sale at Half-Price Books right now, in their St. Patrick’s Day display, and it includes tons of really useful information, both historical and modern, as well as scrumptious recipes and pictures.) She’s a famous Irish chef and runs a cooking school.
She says, on page 111:
“Corned Beef with Cabbage.
“Although this dish is eaten less frequently nowadays in Ireland, for Irish expatriates it conjures up powerful nostalgic images of a rural Irish past. Originally it was a traditional Easter Sunday dinner. The beef, killed before the winter, would have been salted and could now be eaten after the long Lenten fast, with fresh green cabbage and floury potatoes. Our local butcher corns beef in the slow old-fashioned way that, alas, is nowadays more the exception than the norm.”
Elsewhere on the page, she gives the procedure for corning beef. She also mentions the (delicious) existence of corned mutton on one of the mutton recipe pages.
So the next time some Irish guy on the Internet says that the Irish didn’t eat corned beef and cabbage, you can know that he’s just being ignorant about his ancestors (or other people’s rural ancestors).
Allen also says, elsewhere in the book, that other popular traditional Easter Sunday dinners included roast lamb and roast kid (especially in the Burren, where there were free feral goats to catch and eat). It probably depended on what was being raised and grown in what area of Ireland, and what a family could therefore afford.
Allen also gives a recipe for a dish more commonly eaten in modern times: Bacon and Cabbage. You boil a big old shoulder or loin of bacon (20 minutes for every pound), quarter some cabbage, and then add the cabbage to the boiling bacon about 30 minutes before the bacon should be done. She also includes a 19th century recipe for curing bacon the Irish way. (I told you that it’s a very thorough book. There’s a huge section on how to cook bits of animal organs and make sausages, including how to make goose blood sausage in the neck left over from a goose – might work with turkey.)
Oh, and if you make soda bread and don’t use it all up, you can fry any stale bread for breakfast, to go along with your bacon and eggs.
The weirdest bit is finding out that the Irish scorn soft potatoes as “waxy”, and want dry potatoes that split their skins when they’re done cooking. To me, a potato is a potato, so this strikes me as weird.