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New England boiled dinner

Boiled corned beef with root vegetables is a classic New England dinner, as well as a cherished St. Patrick's Day supper.

By Kendra Nordin / March 16, 2013

Boiled New England dinner features corned beef, carrots, potatoes, turnips, cabbage, and squash. It requires little tending and no added seasoning.

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Here in Boston, boiled corned beef is especially cherished by Irish Americans on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s even served every Thursday evening at Doyle’s Cafe, our local Irish pub in Jamaica Plain (movie stars and politicians love this place).

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Kendra Nordin

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Say the words “boiled dinner” to most epicurians and you might be greeted with a grimaced face that seems to say, “Boiled? It sounds simply awful!”

In fact, boiled dinner is quite delicious. The corned beef is cooked until it melts in your mouth and the root vegetables are so tender they can be sliced with a spoon. It’s also so easy to prepare without much watching that it could be called the original slowcooker meal.

When considering this dish as a New England classic, it’s easy to see how the corned beef could have been put on to simmer early in the morning before church, and then finished up when everyone returned home for Sunday dinner.

New England boiled dinner was also a favorite dish of another famous Bostonian – Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of The Christian Science Monitor.

Her cook, Minnie Weygandt, took copious notes on what meals were served in the Eddy household to avoid repeating menus too often. But New England boiled dinner was a regular in the rotation. On April 15, 1900, she noted this dinner:

“One dinner which [Mrs. Eddy] liked so much that it almost seemed as if she hardly knew when to stop eating was boiled dinner. But that was not ordinary boiled dinner such as most of us are used to. The corned beef was put on at dawn to simmer in a great kettle. Then all kinds of vegetables were put in and this cooked and cooked until it was almost like jelly. Three Bartlett pears were added when they were to be had.

When this dish was brought to the table it was of such texture and consistency that it melted in the mouth. Custard pie was often served as dessert.

As it was quite a job to prepare and cook these boiled dinner just as Mrs. Eddy wanted them, I always saw that there was ample quantity on hand. The leftover cabbage was packed in a mold and sliced down and served cold, dressed with vinegar the next day. The vegetables and beets were made into what Mrs. Eddy called ‘flannel hash.’ She was very fond of these dishes, but the family somtimes got tired of them and fussed a bit when they saw a boiled dinner appear, thinking, I suppose, that there were going to get too much of a good thing.” (Weygandt reminiscences, p. 36-37)

When I set out to recreate New England boiled dinner, I had some trouble figuring out what “corned beef” looked like. I know you can buy corned beef hash in cans, but that’s not what I was after. The tattooed hipster store clerks at the community co-op where I shop had no clue either. I circled the store several times before I found it.

It is a huge piece of meat.

The package held about 4 pounds of brisket. I decided for my purposes, I would just make half the recipe. This also makes a good winter meal because it uses such a nice collection of root vegetables and squashes. You can swap out and add any variety of root vegetables to your liking.

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