Boiled dinner is an honorable meal, and a great dish together with all its wonderful leftovers. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

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Jane Newcomb in Owls Head commented in a letter to the editor that my column honoring Marjorie Standish and our region’s wonderful boiled dinner was a month late for St. Patrick’s Day and further that I neglected to tell how to make gray corned beef which, to her credit, Newcomb does.

Happily, New England boiled dinner, the one with all the root vegetables cooked with the corned beef has been served up since colonial times on a lot of days besides March 17. Corned beef and cabbage is the more common combination for St. Patrick’s. Fall-butchered beef, salted down or brined, was ready all winter long for cooks to pull out of brine, soak in water to freshen if necessary, and cook together with winter-kept root vegetables.

Strictly speaking, corned beef was a more lightly salted piece of meat, usually, brisket. The process preserved a piece of fresh meat for a number of days, whereas salting ensured its preservation for months.

It’s true that I didn’t provide instructions for preserving the meat. It wasn’t neglect; I deliberately omitted it. Over the years, I’ve cheerfully provided instructions for preserving vegetables and preserving fruit. I’ve shied away from meat because I suspect not many readers of this paper, and probably only the most adventuresome ones, are willing to tackle meat preservation which needs more consistent care and attention, sometimes scarce commodities in modern life.

In addition to the salt brine of two cups of water plus a cup of salt, Marjorie Standish’s recipe called for sugar, black pepper, garlic, bay leaves and pickling spice. She recommends brisket or thick ribs but a quick survey I made of local grocery stores shows that brisket isn’t uniformly available at all times of the year, and frequently has to be ordered.

If you want to try salting or corning your own beef, call ahead to make sure the meat is available. Newcomb uses beef roasts, good for brining and being leaner than brisket will toughen somewhat in brine and require longer cooking to get to that meltingly tender state we admire in corned beef.

Boiled dinner is an honorable meal, and a great dish together with all its wonderful leftovers.

Sandy Oliver