New England Boiled Dinner Is Exactly What It Sounds Like

As a child growing up in New England, you know two things with certainty: Your parents are happier when the Patriots are winning, and when you come home from sledding, your family will have a boiled dinner on the stove. Crafted with simple ingredients and an even simpler cooking method, a classic New England boiled dinner typically consists of corned beef, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage boiled together with water, salt, and pepper.

Corned beef and cabbage may sound like the type of meal an uninformed movie producer engineered for a scene starring a down-on-his-luck Mark Wahlberg, but it really is a thing New Englanders eat. Boiled dinner is held in high regard much in the same way as a New Orleanian has reverence for gumbo.

As such, New Englanders take the question of what must go in the pot and what must never go in the pot as seriously as they take the dressing on their lobster rolls – very seriously. While some wouldn't dream of tossing anything beyond the basics in, others may gussy up the recipe with vegetables like beets, turnips, and leeks. Blasphemous as some might find it, New Englanders from different states may swap out corned beef for other cuts, such as brisket, beef flank, or even chicken. On the coast, some boils center around readily available codfish — an idea that could send a Vermont native into a full-blown panic.

The tradition of New England boiled dinners

Like many things in New England, the tradition of brewing a big pot of meat and potatoes has a long history. Of course, boiling humble ingredients together to create a meal is not an invention of early American settlers; countless other cultures have done this for centuries. However, it's believed that the recipe for a New England boiled dinner was carried over by Irish immigrants. Before leaving their mother country, the Irish likely whipped up this traditional dish with lamb or pork. However, upon landing in America, the Irish — many of whom were historically without wealth — could only afford corned beef. Just like that, a tradition was born.

The reason behind the longevity of New England boiled dinners isn't hard to understand. Esther Serafini, the owner of the Homestead Inn in New Hampshire, told, "We were poor. All poor families could raise some vegetables and find a piece of meat to put with them. Boiled Dinners kept us strong and healthy." For generations, they have continued to do just that: keep New Englanders warm and well-fed through the long and grueling East Coast winters.