St. Patrick’s Day: Why Green, Cabbage, and Corned Beef?

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The origin of some traditional holiday food becomes clear when buying local, seasonal produce. Let’s take St. Paddy’s Day for example. Front and center, you have cabbage and potatoes, which is pretty much the only thing left in the cupboard in March in Ireland and here in the Northeast.

There is a little-known historical fact about the color green and the Irish Saint’s big day. According to the NPR article “The Dark History of Green Food on St. Patrick’s Day,” during the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, which left 1 million dead in six years, “people were so deprived of food that they resorted to eating grass. In Irish folk memory, they talk about people’s mouths being green as they died.”

And then there’s corned beef. Guess what. Not Irish. Corned beef arrived on the scene with the conquering Brits sometime around the 16th century. Believe it or not the ever-frugal Irish considered cows to be a sacred animal, since they valued the milk over the meat. Their meat of choice was pork and on St. Patrick’s Day that meant boiled bacon. Now moving on to the 19th century, enter the poverty-stricken Irish immigrant in America. Bacon was definitely not in the budget but cabbage and corned beef, an Eastern European food, were.

Facts sourced from Smithsonian and NPR

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