This Saturday, March 14th, marks the return of the St. Patrick’s Day Irish Channel Parade, which includes 30 floats and over a 1,000 marchers. The parade begins at 1pm and rolls right through the heart of the Garden District and Irish Channel. Onlookers will have the chance to collect their share of Irish-themed parade throws (green beads, four-leaf clovers, leprechauns, etc…), but the most celebrated prize is something a little more digestible: cabbage.

“Food throws weren’t invented here,” said Liz Williams, president of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. “That’s something that’s been done for ages. But we love food in this city, so it makes sense.”

Cabbages at the Irish Channel Parade have become almost as coveted as a Zulu coconut or a Muses’ shoe, but of course, both of those prizes are decorative collectibles. The idea behind throwing cabbages from floats, as well as carrots, onions and potatoes, is that people will take whatever they’ve accumulated back to their kitchen and whip up a meal – usually corned beef and cabbage.

St Patrick's Day revelers outside of Parasol's.

The quest for a cabbage.

A view from the float, courtesy of Bob O'Hara.

Other parades in the south throw food from their floats, most notably in Mobile, Alabama, where the Mardi Gras Moon Pie has long been a sought-after prize. But Moon Pies are packaged, sealed, and meant to be consumed right there on the parade route.

The food throws in the Irish Channel Parade, on the other hand, are meant to be collected and then cooked. The exchange between those on parade floats and hungry onlookers along the sidewalk creates an intimacy that few parades in the country can match.

“People would dodge carrots in New York City,” said Ms. Williams. “And a lot of parades elsewhere don’t even have throws, let alone food throws. But because food throws are useful and practical, the Irish Channel parade has become unique and special.”

People in New Orleans always turn out for food. Liz Williams, president of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

Residents that live along the parade route often plan meals around catching food. They might purchase corned beef ahead of time, but then after collecting cabbages or carrots or whatever else, they can carry the parade festivities right to their stove. That interactive element creates a sense of anticipation while also bonding members of the community together. Plus, the sight of green-clad residents strolling down sidewalks with armfuls of food makes for a spectacle unlike any other parade in New Orleans.

“People in New Orleans always turn out for food,” said Ms. Williams.

Ms. Williams was also kind enough to share a recipe (below the break) for making corned beef from scratch. Though some of the ingredients you’d have to purchase beforehand, many of them could be caught along the parade route.

Corned Beef
-2 quarts water
-1 cup kosher salt
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
-1 teaspoon mustard seeds
-1 teaspoon black peppercorns
-8 whole cloves
-8 whole allspice berries
-12 whole juniper berries
-2 bay leaves, crumbled
-1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
-2 pounds ice
-1 (4 to 5 pound) beef brisket, trimmed
-1 small onion, quartered
-2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
-1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
-1 green cabbage, coarsely chopped


Place the water into a large 6 to 8 quart stockpot along with salt, sugar, saltpeter, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the ice. Stir until the ice has melted. If necessary, place the brine into the refrigerator until it reaches a temperature of 45 degrees F. Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag and add the brine. Seal and lay flat inside a container, cover and place in the refrigerator for 10 days. Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine.

After 10 days, remove from the brine and rinse well under cool water. Place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cover with water by 1-inch. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender. Remove from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.

The Irish Channel Parade is Saturday, March 14th at 1pm. For parade route information click here.

More information can be found at the St. Patrick’s Day in New Orleans website.

Images by Cheryl Gerber unless otherwise noted.

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