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Be sure to count your Irish blessings

By Staff | Mar 13, 2009

Did I hear you ask the question, “How did corned beef come to be?” What perfect timing you have with St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner. It would be a pity if we did not partake in some Irish cookery this day.

A long time ago, around the 16th century, the manufacturers of gunpowder used the term “corned” to indicate that their product had been spread out and allowed to dry in single grains. This was an important quality control they used in marketing their gunpowder. Soon after, the term “corned” was also applied to the sprinkling of coarse grains of salt on beef and other meats for the purpose curing and preservation. Let us keep in mind this was long before we had the luxury of refrigeration. Thus the term “corned” was coined.

America has long been called the melting pot of the world when it comes to ethnic blending. Thousands of Irish folks were living in the melting pot shortly after the great potato famine in Ireland. The Irish Americans were among some of the poorest immigrants. They had the great sense, however, to take from their past and blend with the new. For instance, the brining of meat, for preservation’s sake, was very popular in Eastern Europe. While they made their way in the New World, they often were forced to purchase the cheapest cuts of meat – brisket and the cheapest vegetable – cabbage.

So it is fair to say that corned beef and cabbage is truly a dish created by the Irish-American blending. Today we have the blessing of refrigeration and beef is corned with spices for flavor, not for preservation. Thus, it is less salty than the original model. Our corned beef today must be refrigerated.

The ethnic blending of Rugby is mainly Scandinavian and German. However, when Jan and I moved to our current home on Third Street SW, we had the delight of having Gladys McGuire as our neighbor. Not that we minded having Norwegian and German neighbors, but it was refreshing to have a bit of Irish blending right in our back yard.

From the very start, we adored Gladys. Shortly after we moved into our home, she showed up on our front doorstep with a box of delicious brownies that looked as if they had just popped out of the Pillsbury cookbook. These kind, thoughtful, neighborly surprises were often repeated, to the delight of our taste buds. I once said, “Her husband, as an auto dealer, knew Ford Rangers were built tough, but I wonder if he knew Gladys was tough competition on the range at home?”

Needless to say, our friendship was one of “back alley with front door hospitality,” and we spent countless hours in each other’s yards and homes. Jan and I quickly learned she was a savvy Scrabble player. It was during these games she talked much about her husband, Mike, and their Irish heritage and related foods.

Gladys would always decorate for St. Patrick’s Day. This included placing a string of vivid green Christmas lights in her north kitchen window box. We enjoyed seeing them from our home. Early one morning, (at 1 a.m.), I observed Gladys scooting outside to unplug these lights. I could not help myself, and I immediately called her on the telephone. I mentioned to her that we were not at all accustomed to living in a neighborhood that had such carryings-on! We both shared a hearty laugh, and it further enhanced our neighborly relationship.

Gladys was also a wearer of the green. I can recall that she had this great shamrock green dress of a silk-like fabric. She naturally wore it to church around St. Patrick’s Day and looked stunning in it, I must add. Being a photographer has allowed me the privilege of being creative. Also, much of the duty as a photographer is to tell the story of who you are. That next summer, I noticed her wearing another green dress very similar to her St. Patrick’s Day dress. The only difference being this dress had some wonderfully fashioned cap sleeves rather than long sleeves. In true Gladys style, it was an ensemble elegantly sharing color, style, and class. There she stood among the wedding guests, and on her arm was her classic wooden cottage pursewhat a portrait she created. (Once a photographer notices you wearing the right color, it is almost the law that he gives a compliment.) So I strolled over to Gladys and commented that she was certainly a wise woman to have both a long-sleeved and cap-sleeved dress in this fine shade of green. She quickly responded, “I truly hated those long sleeves, and with a couple of snips I refashioned them to my taste.” A couple of snips-yeah, right! She, as a fine seamstress, was doing a mighty fine jig with her scissor and needle!

I share with you now an Irish-American recipe and a warm Irish blessing. This recipe has evolved over time and is the result of tips from good cooks like Gladys McGuire.

Repnow is a Rugby resident.

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