Plain talk about food: Irish corned beef
by Colly Gruczelac
Mar 15, 2012 | 1509 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Irish soda bread, flavored here with currants and caraway seeds, is a staple in any St. Patrick's Day meal. It can be made at home in less than an hour. Courtesy photo
Irish soda bread, flavored here with currants and caraway seeds, is a staple in any St. Patrick's Day meal. It can be made at home in less than an hour. Courtesy photo
I begin thinking about my Irish papa, Patrick James, about this time each year. 

On St. Patrick's Day, everybody becomes just a wee bit Irish.

Papa would come home after work, three hours later than usual, his brimmed hat on the back of his head and whistling "Molly Malone." We knew he'd been at Harrington's, an Irish pub in Seattle.

St. Patrick, born Maewyn Succet in the fifth century in either Scotland or England, was captured by pirates and held as a slave for more than seven years. After escaping, he entered a Catholic monastery in France. Twelve years later, with the pope's permission, he set out to convert people to Catholicism. Along the way, he opened schools and monasteries throughout France, Scotland and Britain.

Originally a religious holiday to honor St. Patrick, the U.S. Congress proclaimed March as Irish-American Heritage Month in 1997.

The first St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City was held March 17, 1762, and Abraham Lincoln served corned beef and cabbage at his inaugural dinner March 4, 1861.

In addition, green shamrocks appear on the walls of Ben Lomond and Scotts Valley Market for customers to adopt in support of muscular dystrophy. For $11.99, you will receive a heaping plate of corned beef with all the fixings from their deli.

In 1977, Detroit’s Central Market had a feud going between two of its meat vendors. Tom Bedway and Tom Wigley, both Irishmen known for their high-quality corned beef, had vowed they would never undercut each other’s prices. Each man sold his corned beef for $1.27 a pound.

Well, something went askew; the reason remains unknown, but each man began dropping his price. By the time it was all over, they were selling it for $0.27 a pound. News quickly spread. New York’s “Today” show was on the scene, and both Toms appeared on the program. What had become a monetary disaster quickly became a publicity bonanza. The fellows vowed never to undercut each other again and returned to Detroit, where both raised their prices to $1.37 a pound. Today, their corned beef sells for $3.39 a pound.

Corn your own beef

Before refrigeration, brisket of beef was dry cured using large rock salt kernels that resembled corn; hence, the name of corned beef. Corning beef is a simple task, and the cheaper cuts of beef, like brisket or rump roast, can be used.

A brine of 8 cups boiling water with 1¾ cups of kosher salt, 1½ cups packed brown sugar, 2 cloves sliced garlic, 4 teaspoons saltpeter (optional for color) and 5 tablespoons pickling spices, mixed together, cooled and poured over the meat in a Ziplock bag, is all that is needed. Storing the brined meat in the refrigerator for eight to 12 days will give you the same results as store-bought corned beef.

Today, making a corned beef dinner is relatively simple. Safeway in Felton sells the Shenson brand. My personal flavor choice is Shenson’s flat cut.

The most important thing to remember is to follow package directions. Do not boil the corned beef; simmer only. This will prevent the meat toughening while cooking. Remove the meat when done and add your carrots, onions, potatoes and cabbage to the broth and cook.

And, of course, there is the Irish soda bread, necessary to complete the meal.

Cair vie, Papa, cair vie. (Fair winds, Papa, fair winds.)

- The Gourmet Dinner Club will celebrate its fourth year with a membership renewal barbecue between noon and 3 p.m. April 15. Those interested in joining the club for an afternoon and learning more about membership can contact Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident who loves people and loves to cook, at 336-8098 or




Makes 2 loaves

4 cups all-purpose white flour

1½ tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons orange zest or dry ground (Spice Islands).

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 cup currants

¼ cup honey

1½ cups buttermilk

¼ cup whisky


Preheat oven to 350. In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, orange zest, caraway seeds and currants.

Add honey, buttermilk and whiskey. Mix well.

Turn out onto floured board. Knead 3 minutes.

Divide in half and shape into two 7-inch rounds. Place on parchment-lined 8-inch pans. Cut an X on top of each loaf. Brush with buttermilk and let stand 15 minutes.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes until nicely browned.

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