In Honor Of St. Paddy, A Story About Corned Beef & My Daddy

Here’s a memory from my childhood, which was in many ways more unusual than most.  😉

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 11.53.19 AMSt. Patrick’s Day reminds me of my father.

He loved this holiday, partly because of his Irish heritage and partly because of the whisky [and whiskey] that flows on this day.

Among the many things that I could tell you about him, I’ll start with the fact that he was a genius.  As in, GENIUS.  Scary smart.  Wickedly funny.  Strangely conservative.

Always up to something batty in his spare time.

He was a foodie long before that term existed, and being a physician he thought that he could make anything, no matter how obscure, if only he had a good recipe.

• • •

So one day when I was about 8 years, Dad decided to make Corned Beef.

He bought cookbooks & researched recipes.  He bought the perfect pickling spices from catalogues.  He bought many large 10 gallon stainless steel cans with lids.  He bought 7 or 8 different cuts of meat after talking with meat cutters about which ones would be best.  He bought gallons of premium vinegar.

Then he set about making Corned Beef.  Lots of it.

This required brining solution, boiled in huge pots on the stove top;  large containers in which to put the beef, with brining solution, as it pickled;  a cool place, like the basement, to leave the containers;  and the ability to turn the containers every so often so that the beef was evenly brined.

It was a mess to make.

• • •

During this activity, my mother and I watched. Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 11.51.42 AM

She was not thrilled with his latest excuse for spending money;  but I, on the other hand, found it fascinating to see what was going to happen next.  I had my doubts, but then again I’d seen this guy successfully do many a nutty thing, so I was rooting for him.

Well, as it turns out, when one is making Corned Beef from scratch one can determine if the brining process isn’t going well by using one’s nose.

That is, the meat begins to rot.

It fills a home, from bottom to top in our case, with a pungent carrion potpourri.  Easily distinguished from any other normal home scent, by anyone who is willing to admit that there’s a problem here.

• • •

But Daddy wasn’t immediately willing to admit defeat.  NO WAY.  For days he refused to say that anything was wrong, determined instead to make his project work through the magic of denial.

But he didn’t succeed.

Eventually, my mother convinced him that he had to throw out the rotting meat, and begrudgingly he did so.  Then he went to the grocery store to buy a piece of Corned Beef so that we might have it on St. Patrick’s Day.

Providing for us a holiday meal that could well be the most expensive one we ever had!

[Images from here.]

16 thoughts on “In Honor Of St. Paddy, A Story About Corned Beef & My Daddy

  1. I have always enjoyed that story. I like making foods, but when it comes to something like that, the local K-roger will do just fine.


  2. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Ally!
    Hmm, that is almost how my homemade kosher pickling turned out. No reek of rotting meat but a disgusting, floating, layer of mold on top of the brining solution. Maybe Irish-Americans should stay away from any kind of brining recipe. We may have lost the touch.


    • And the same to you too, Colleen. I tried pickling some radishes last summer and ended up with a mess. I agree with you, we may have all lost touch with our ability to brine things. Thank goodness, we can still drink, though!


  3. He’s sounds like a character. In our family we tried all sorts of things. My Dad made wine (never very good). My Mom made pickles and canned all sort of things (very good). One year we had so many tomatoes we decided to make ketchup. You have to cook it down for quite a while. It makes the house smell sour like vinegar. It makes jars and jars of the stuff. In the end while it was good, we all deemed it not worth the effort and went back to Hunt’s the next year.


  4. Rotting meat–ewww! Your dad sounds like a very determined character which does make for some interesting stories and adventures. My late husband was similar and we have some quirky stories about him also. 🙂


    • Margaret, Dad was a character, to be sure. The thing about the Corned Beef episode was that he rarely failed at what he did. So this story was unique– and one that he laughed about… eventually.


  5. It is funny what we remember about our childhood, especially smells. I bet this smell has been ingrained into your olfactory senses forever! Your poor dad. I bet he was so disappointed. At least he tried something that should have turned out fine. It makes me think how amazing our ancestors were in figuring these things out.


    • Beth, you’re right about remembering the smell. And my mother’s displeasure surrounding the whole doomed project! Hadn’t thought of what you said about our ancestors. Can’t even imagine how they did what they did. Of course, they couldn’t even begin to comprehend how we do what we do, so I guess we’re even.


  6. I admire his ambition. That’s a tough task to take on. Glad his stubbornness finally abated. That smell must have been awful! 🙂 What a great story to have though.


    • Kourtney, the man was constantly up to something. Most of the time his projects worked, but this one was a disaster– and lived on in family lore. Despite being brilliant he did, on occasion, not succeed and was able to laugh about it. Thank goodness.


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