Thursday, November 10, 2011

Special Guest Blogger: Mama K on Boiled Dinners!

I wanted my Mom to write a guest blogger post, and thought about the dishes that most represented the cooking from my childhood during the 1970s. What came to mind? Boiled dinners!

While Googling about these culinary creations I stumbled across a cool cookbook mentioned in the Cookbook of the Day blog:

Now it's on my wishlist.

My memories of these dinners was that they were simple but had complexity of flavor (not that I knew what that meant at the time). Mom's versions were very straight forward. No Old Bay or garlic. No herbs. The smell would be enticing, filling the house with the promise of something good to come.

But let's hear what Mama K. has to say.
As a young girl growing up in California, I had no idea what a boiled dinner was. Eventually, a person from the East showed me his version of a Boiled Dinner. It consisted of a piece of beef, vegetables, lots of liquid and cooked in the oven.

Several years later, I was married with two children. The four of us arrived in Hornell, New York, from France, after my husband (at that time) was discharged from the U.S. Army.

There were many differences for this California girl to get used to, after landing in New York. Boiled Dinner was my favorite.

So, this is what I learned about a Boiled Dinner:

The ham (at that time) was so salty, that it was ALWAYS boiled in a large pot on the the top of the stove for a few hours, until the ham was falling off the bone. At that time, chunky cut-up vegetables such as, cabbage, carrots, turnips (optional), and onions are added. When vegetables are about half done, the potatoes are added; as they cook fairly quickly, they will totally fall apart if added too soon.

The ham provides a lot of flavor (and salt) to the vegetables. Each person at the meal can decide if butter, pepper and salt needs to be add to the dish. This dish can be served with or without the liquid.
(Editor comment: I don't remember a single turnip.)

I hadn't realized that the hams of the day were saltier than the ones we find now, but it helps explain why you'd want to boil the daylights out of it. Today's hams are so lean and tender that I hate to think what a few hours in bubbling water would do to the texture. I'll have to try it with a smoked picnic shoulder, assuming I can find one.

The other style of ham I remember from the era is canned.

Fortunately for me, time heals all memories, and my recollection of them was significantly more appealing than this.

(BONUS LINK: Turns out canned ham is strongly associated with camping trailers, at least according to Google images. Click here to check it out.)


  1. I enjoyed the collaboration between you and your mom. Nice story ! Food brings back many childhood memories, mine are of home made spaghetti sauce and fudge. Today the aroma of salt pork or cocoa bring me back to days long ago!