March 17, 2017
Milk and cookies, Valentine’s Day and flowers, peanut butter and jelly some things are just meant to be together. For St. Patrick’s Day it’s corned beef and cabbage, which has been an American tradition since the 1800s. But did you know that cabbage became popular as a result of a damaging agricultural fungus?
More than 150 years ago, Ireland was a large agricultural nation, many Irish people were tenant farmers and the potato, imported from South America, was a staple crop. In the mid 1800s potato plants started to show signs of a strange disease that caused potatoes to rot. This disease spread across Ireland, drastically reducing their potato production, causing mass starvation economic devastation, and what is known today as the Irish Potato Famine.
The culprit behind the famine was late blight or potato blight (Phytophthora infestans), a fungus-like airborne microbe not native to Ireland. The Irish Potato Famine is just one example of how invasive species can devastate the environment and agricultural systems in an area, consequently affecting the lives and livelihoods of people in that region.
With the devastation the potato famine had brought to Ireland, the Irish turned to cabbage as a primary source of sustenance. Many affected by the agricultural ruin fled the country for America, bringing with them an assortment of cabbage dishes. One popular dish is bacon and cabbage. Yes, I said bacon, and no I do not mean corned beef. Originally bacon was a primary source of protein for the Irish because of the high cost of beef. It was cheap, and readily available. Once in America the situation changed. Corn beef was the cheaper alternative and quickly became an Americanized version of cabbage and bacon.
In Florida, cabbage remains a wonderful affordable vegetable that is widely grown; ranking 3rd in the nation accounting for approximately 13% of U.S. cabbage production. Cabbage can be readily found in season from November to June.
So while donning your greenest attire and feasting on your annual corned beef and Florida cabbage, you can education your family and friends about the wonderful history of cabbage and its abundant heritage in Florida.
Check out these great cabbage-inspired recipes:
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!