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Small Talk: St. Patrick’s Day feast has me green with envy

May your troubles be few and your blessing be more — May you know where you are, when you wake up on the floor.

A delightful St. Patrick’s Day to all. This annual Irish holiday was always celebrated roundly by my thoroughly Irish father and I try to keep up the tradition. I paint my hair green, stick a shamrock on my cheek and put on my best Irish lace. Nonetheless, every year this time, a special sort of insecurity creeps up on me that is most unsettling to the Irish half of my gene pool.

It all began the first time I tried to cook my own corned beef. No, I didn’t try to pickle it — just cook it, for the love of Mike. And every time since (with steadily diminishing frequency), I still turn out a piece of meat that smells like heaven, but defies the sharpest knife. Never mind trying to chew it.

My mother never, in 50 years of St. Patty’s Day feasts, served a tough corned beef, so I know it can be done. I have tried both brisket and rump cuts. No difference. Still shoe leather. I am particularly puzzled, because I have cooked a host of regular pot roasts to perfection. I got so good at pot roasts, I was ready to run out in the yard and holler, “June Cleaver’s got nothing on me!” But then March 17 rolls around, and I start hoping a good cook will invite me to dinner.

I was mildly relieved to read recently that the average Irishman never saw anything so luxurious as a slab of beef, corned or otherwise. Those expensive items were found only on the tables of the kings, whereas the average Irishman was more likely to toss a bit of salt pork into his cabbage and potatoes. That actually sounds pretty good and may be part of my German-Dutch side. While it’s not what they are really famous for, my more southern European ancestors are no strangers to cabbage or a bit of salt pork. And for what it’s worth, I can cook a mean bratwurst and sauerkraut. But that must wait until Oktoberfest.

Right now, I want to produce one of those melt-in-your-mouth corned beefs that my mother always threw down without batting an eyelash. I will probably try it again this year, but only in secret. Heaven forefend I should invite anyone else to partake of my Irish flaw. I read the directions in three cookbooks, and follow them to the letter. I breathe in the fabulous aroma of the pickling spices as the meat cooks, and I mutter various Irish blessings and curses. I’ve even considered learning to say the Anglican rosary. It couldn’t hurt.

Or I may take the low road and buy my corned beef at the local deli. I’m beginning to think my mother had a leprechaun locked in the closet. I take some solace in this thought. Perhaps cooking a tough bit o’ beef is the true Irish way. I’m thinkin’ Mary Margaret’s corned beef may have been the reason the first Irishman invented whiskey.

Jean O’Hart Gillette is a freelance writer fighting with her crockpot. Contact her at [email protected].