The Irish in America


Day Three of Irish American Favorites: My Grandma’s Boiled Dinner

“Go on, have another potato…they are good for you.”

Grandma with her brother Frank, llong before she perfected her boiled dinner.

Grandma with her brother Frank, long before she perfected her boiled dinner.

Without fail, my grandma uttered those words every time she served up a delicious boiled dinner. Actually, she said this when she was feeding you anything – just make a substitution for the word potato. Everything was good for you, including chocolate chip cookies and fudge. Grandma argued that she only used good ingredients, so a second helping wouldn’t hurt you.

Like most things my grandma cooked or baked, her boiled dinner was no-nonsense and consisted of meat, cabbage, potatoes, onions, and carrots. Occasionally, another root vegetable might sneak into the mix, and the meat was usually country-style pork ribs. Talk about comfort food!

The reason this is one of my favorites of Irish America is because my wonderful Grandma Agnes McMahon Regan was – you guessed it – Irish American. A boiled dinner is a meal found in some form in countries the world over. My grandma’s version is a take on the traditional New England Boiled Dinner. Grandma preferred the pork to the corned beef, and the precise cut changed over the years. By the 1980s, she settled on the country-style ribs.

When I was a child, I would sit at Grandma’s kitchen table while she peeled and cut the vegetables for boiled dinner. I always wanted to help, but Grandma didn’t trust me with the vegetable peeler and knife. I remember she would give me the heart of the cabbage to eat. I think that treat may have been just to shut me up. I (used to) talk a lot.


Grandma in 2001

In America, we eat corned beef and cabbage on Saint Patrick’s Day. I suspect this tradition evolved as much from the traditional New England boiled dinner as from the Irish bacon and cabbage consumed in Ireland. The funny thing is, my grandma’s boiled dinner always tasted like the Irish bacon and cabbage to me.

I miss my grandma’s boiled dinner, but of course I miss my grandma more.