We commemorate every thing around here with food. Wednesday, I didn’t have time to make Green Bay Packer Potatoes to honor Brett Favre’s career. Nonetheless, we ate buttered, yellow corn (previously frozen), and Stouffer’s green Spinach Souffle with our leftover ham as we discussed Favre’s retirement. Our verbs shifted to past tense, and our minds added him to the legion of heroes in Wisconsin’s past.

foods for heros-1In 10 days, we will celebrate another great page in history. It will be St. Patrick’s Day. I only know that St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland. I’ve never been to Ireland, I’m only 1/4 Irish, and not much of a drinker, so this saint’s feast day could slip by unnoticed. But, not in our house. We will feast on corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes and commemorate the hearty Irish who, enduring extreme hardship, settled in the foreign land that would become Wisconsin, our home.

And why did they come? They were hungry. The great potato famines, first in 1831, then 1841, then again in 1845, drove thousands of Irish immigrants from Ireland to the Wisconsin wilderness where they set to work transforming forests into thriving farms, business, towns, and cities. Land purchased in 1841 by Michael Lynch and Eleazor Rowley with subsequent purchases by the Quinns, Daleys, Fitzgeralds, Welches, and Murphys, became one of the first towns in Wisconsin, the town of Erin.

Milwaukee grew and prospered with Irish immigration in the mid-1800’s. The Milwaukee Sentinel, on March 19, 1933, described the city’s dependence on the hard-working, hard-living Irish in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. 

foods for heros 2Our St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are a perfect time to honor the Irish heroes of Wisconsin’s past. We’ll eat Irish food, drink Irish beer, and play Irish music. And in honoring them, we’ll recall and honor all of our immigrant ancestors who built Wisconsin.

So, it’s fitting that the following recipe for corned beef, while perhaps originating in Ireland, came to me by way of a mostly German woman who got it from her friend’s Jewish grandmother who immigrated to Chicago from Russia after WWI. The special spices added to the boiling water and the sweet-mustard glaze baked on during the last half hour of cooking sets this corned beef apart from the rest. With the recipe, I’ll pass along the grandmother’s caution to my now 70-something friend who, at that time, was a young new bride, “Don’t corn your own beef now.”

“Why?” I asked my friend. She replied that in the 1800’s salt peter (coarse salt in the form of pellets) was used to corn (preserve) beef, and it was also given to soldiers to keep their thoughts chaste. Thus, salt peter should not be handled by a young bride.

But beef brisket already corned is easily purchased in the grocery store. My friend and I agree that cheap corned beef is mostly fat, and the few extra dollars for lean, delicious brisket is money well spent. And when you get it home, still make the effort to trim off the strip of fat on the brisket’s top. Otherwise, the glaze will flavor the fat, not the meat.

Corned Beef  – (If this recipe wasn’t easy to make and tasty, it wouldn’t have survived over a century.)

  • About 1/2 of a mild cure, corned beef brisket (most packaged corned beef is roughly a half of a full brisket and therefore just a few pounds)

Put the brisket in a BIG pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a full boil, then dump all the water out, rinse the beef, and do the same thing all over again.

Except, the second time, to the water and beef add:

  • 4 garlic cloves (I crush them)
  • 1/2 stalk celery
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 or 5 peppercorns
  • 4 or 5 whole cloves
  • 1 or 2 whole all spice
  • pinch of red pepper
  • pinch of black pepper
  • dash of dried parsley flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • (1 teaspoon of any other dried seasoning you like, optional)

Bring the beef and spices to a hard boil, then turn down the heat to low and simmer about 3 hours – slow and easy.

When the meat is tender, remove it from the pot and put it in a roasting pan. Stir together:

  • 1 Tablespoon yellow mustard (liquid, not powdered)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Spread this mustard glaze over the brisket and bake uncovered for 1/2 hour at 350 degrees.

To make the potatoes and cabbage that traditionally accompany corned beef, you can…

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