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The rooted goodness of harvest

By Staff | Oct 28, 2010

Have you ever wondered why a New England boiled dinner is such a satisfying meal? Or how the next day the leftovers from the corned beef can create a completely different meal that is equally as memorable to our palettes? Each fall I look forward to making a New England boiled dinner with the latest jewels from the soil.

My first experience with a New England boiled dinner came from the hands of my mother. We all knew it was window washing and storm window day when Mom reached for her large Dutch oven and prepared this boiled dinner. This is the type of meal which the cook can prepare ahead of time–with little watching–and for the most part, it will be gratifying for the hungry souls gathered at the red gingham.

Fundamentals for her boiled dinner included the following: corned beef, potatoes, carrots, onions, and cabbage-all of which enjoyed a mixing with a few bay leaves, water, and a touch of salt and pepper. The rules were simply to simmer the corned beef with the onion for about three hours. Shortly before serving, add potatoes and carrots. Dress the top with a small head of cabbage. The trick was not to overcook these vegetables. Therefore, the potholder remained on top of the lid with a long tined fork within close reach. Once all vegetables could be pierced with ease, they were removed and placed in large green Pyrex serving bowl–dotted with butter and covered with tinfoil. They remained there until the slicing of the corned beef was completed. Then together they sauntered to the table.

While living in New England, I had the delight of taking part in several New England boiled dinners. All of them were pleasurable, as this style of one-plate dinners had their origin here. As the rosy apples of autumn are gathered in, so are the carrots, potatoes, onions, cabbage, beets, parsnips, and turnips. As a follower of boiled dinners, I do believe the last three vegetables listed above add greatly to making a boiled dinner very appealing. This is not to say that the carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage are non-consequential.

You may not think of beets, parsnips and turnips with a boiled dinner, but I can assure you that once you try this recipe, it will become a favorite. The beets are cooked separately and their arrangement on the serving platter with the meat and other vegetables showcases their crimson, plum color of wonder– as if they were famed amethyst. Next to them in topaz tone will be the parsnips, and seated third, a trail of turnips. Since the parsnips and turnips are cooked with the meat, they have flavored in all contacts with their earthy goodness. Our gallant necklace around the corned beef would not be complete without our disks of orange carrots and chunks of white onion. The fashionable trend of wearing two necklaces appears as a ring of cabbage finishes our attractive platter. As I have said many times, we eat with our eyes first, so let us dress to impress. Last week we received a wonderful abundance of gorgeous, rich orange carrots from Gordy and LaNeta Pieterick. They were as welcome as the lilacs of May. Oh my, our hearts fluttered as we began to enjoy these bunches of orange bliss. It is important to realize that these carrots were planted on the Pieterick farm at Wolford. Inspirations come in many forms, and one of my favorite is from artists. Now granted Gordy is not painter or a sculptor, but rather an artist whose medium is soil and seed. His works of art come forth in harvest.

The Red River Valley is often considered the alpha and omega of loam, but do not misjudge the topsoil of northern Piece County. The good Lord created the rolling hills there and He also sowed soil so rich that his handiwork continues to stand in splendor today. It is the combination of all the elements above that have brought forth these carrots of pure stardom. They will be appearing in our boiled dinner this week. (I may have to see if the Pieterick’s are interested in growing other rooted vegetables!)

It is good to realize that the juice of cooked cabbage does not blend well with the rooted vegetables; therefore, cooking it alone is wise. The company of the other deep grounded vegetables and their flavors makes this meal worthy on any table. The beets are also cooked by themselves as the color would overtake the presentation of this boiled dinner.

I share with you a New England boiled dinner served often in Massachusetts.

Hearty New England Boiled Dinner

4 pounds of corned beef

pound salt pork that has generous streaks of lean

3 quarts boiling water

cup sugar

3 bay leaves

1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled

4 medium potatoes, peeled

3 yellow turnips, peeled and thickly sliced

8 large carrots sliced into thick disks

4 white onions, peeled leaving the root on and quarter

6 parsnips, peeled

1 small head of cabbage, cored and cut into 8 wedges

6 small beets or 1 can of round beets

Wash beef in cold water. Place beef and salt pork in large pot with boiling water. Add sugar, bay leaves, and garlic. Simmer covered with a good lid for about 4 hours. Thirty minutes before completion of cooking, add peeled potatoes, turnips, and carrots. A few minutes later add onions and then follow with parsnips. Watch these vegetables and remove at once when done and place in warm bowl and cover.

Transfer 2 cups of the cooking liquid to another pot. Add cabbage and boiling water to cover well. Cook only until tender. At the same time in another pot also dip another 2 cups of cooking liquid and cook small fresh beets until tender. If you are using canned small beets, heat them in this juice until hot.

Remove corned beef and salt pork from pot; cool slightly and then slice. Arrange the dinner on a heavy warmed platter with corned beef and side pork placed in the center. Make a necklace of all the vegetables except the cabbage. With the cabbage, outline the vegetable necklace and moisten all with a bit of remaining cooking liquid.

To impress all present, have dishes of mustard and horseradish for the corned beef. Buttered dark bread or corn bread is also a fine addition–along with plenty of cottage cheese, which will bring the coolness to this meal.

If you should have any leftovers, you will want to have a cold corned beef sandwich on rye the next day. Once again, savor the richness of rooted vegetables cooking with meat.

Repnow is a Rugby resident.

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