It’s just after midnight of what many native Irish call “The Day That’s In It,” and as a result, only maybe a third or a quarter of the people coming to “Out of Ambit” for the next twenty-four hours have some vague interest in what I do professionally, or what I write, or what I think about stuff. All the rest of them are here to get an answer to the question “What part of the cow does the corned beef come from?”
I can’t even remember what impelled me to put the posting in here in the first place, as it really doesn’t belong here. It ought to be over at EuropeanCuisines.com, the recipe website that has been hobby, casual pleasure and pet project for me since 1995. But EuroCuisines wasn’t always so organized. It started out as a rant.
The Rant is here, and every year for quite a while I’ve linked to it from the blog on or around St. Patrick’s Day. Very shortly after we settled here in the late 80s, I started becoming aware that North Americans who talked to us about Irish food always, always mentioned corned beef and cabbage as something they assumed Irish people ate all the time. The joke — at least it seemed like a joke at first — was that I never saw or heard of any of our native-Irish neighbors eating it. Over time it became clear that they never did, and had no idea why they ought to be eating it. They didn’t even have a clue where the idea came from.
As time went by I got more and more annoyed about the way my people assumed that a whole nation ate pretty much one thing, and never bothered to question whether this assumption even made any sense. I did the research that would allow me to put The Rant online for the first time, and pretty much (I thought) got it off my chest. The only thing I would feel like adding to it these days would be the minor point that while corned beef definitely is Irish — after all, salting beef is hardly any culture’s unique invention — in my experience it only appears here in sandwiches. The cooked stuff with cabbage on the side is fed almost exclusively to tourists.
The Rant does a pretty brisk business this time of year, along with its companion article on “what do Irish people eat” (which does well all year round). But the really major issue at EuropeanCuisines.com is something much more fun. Over the next twenty-four hours, something like forty or fifty thousand visitors will drop onto the site looking for the soda bread recipe and techniques bequeathed to me by Peter’s Mum, who we both miss incredibly for hundreds of reasons that have nothing to do with her cooking.
The soda bread recipe has somehow or other become an incredible draw. Maybe because it’s just good, and because Mum absolutely knew what she was doing and how to communicate it. She taught me everything I know about the subject, and I wrote it down the best I could, added a couple of very basic video tutorials, and turned it loose.
After a while I started adding other recipes to the basic Irish collection. My favorite stuff has always been the central European food, the Swiss and German stuff, though we swing out in all kinds of directions (see, for example, the article on lepinje, the food with its own Facebook fan page: or the cake with its own publicity tour). I’ve always done most of the writeups for the site: Peter has increasingly been getting involved in the photography (which he’s a lot better at than I am). We test the recipes together, do the best images we can, and put them online for the delectation of whoever’s interested.
But the Irish stuff has always remained center stage over the years. So while I work for the next day or so, I’ll be using Woopra to keep an eye on the thousands of people who will be sitting down at their computers and typing the words “soda bread” or “Irish soda bread” or (best of all) “peters mums soda bread” into Google. (The most impressive one of these for me was the visitor who typed it in from somewhere in Ulan Bator.) It used to make Mum laugh in polite disbelief when we would tell her that for this week and a half or two weeks every year, no matter how often we might hit the Times list or how many times our names appeared in some movie’s or TV show’s titles, Mum would be far better known than we ever were.
My money says that somewhere she’s still laughing about it. All I know is that I hear that laugh unusually clearly, in memory, just before St. Patrick’s Day: and when we go down to the local pub to drown the shamrock with our neighbors tomorrow, we’ll lift one for her.
Meanwhile, I’ve got a Little Gem cabbage in the fridge. I think I’ll go make colcannon again.