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Corned Beef & Cabbage: A Dwarven Feast?

With St. Patrick's Day nigh, we decided to cook a dwarven repast from Heroes' Feast: Corned Beef & Cabbage. It's also an opportunity to spotlight how different cultures express their identity through food in fantasy campaigns.

With St. Patrick's Day nigh, we decided to cook a dwarven repast from Heroes' Feast: Corned Beef & Cabbage. It's also an opportunity to spotlight how different cultures express their identity through food in fantasy campaigns.


Corned Beef & Culture​

It's worth pointing out that corned beef and cabbage is associated with St. Patrick's Day in the United States, but that's not necessarily the case everywhere. Cows weren't commonly bred for their meat in Ireland; that came later thanks to expanding British influence. In fact, the term "corned beef" is British:
The British invented the term “corned beef” in the 17th century to describe the size of the salt crystals used to cure the meat, the size of corn kernels. After the Cattle Acts, salt was the main reason Ireland became the hub for corned beef. Ireland’s salt tax was almost 1/10 that of England’s and could import the highest quality at an inexpensive price. With the large quantities of cattle and high quality of salt, Irish corned beef was the best on the market. It didn’t take long for Ireland to be supplying Europe and the Americas with its wares.
As you might imagine, tastes have changed considerably since then. Corned beef in the U.S. is actually made from brisket, a kosher cut of meat from the front of the cow. Because brisket is a tougher cut, the cooking process changes the flavor of the meat considerably to something much more tender than its predecessor. Heroes' Feast specifically recommends brisket for its recipe.


Fantasy Beef & Culture​

Heroes' Feast doesn't have much to say about the recipe other than it's associated with dwarves:
From the mines of the Ironroot Mountains to the halls of the Iron Hills, this savory winter repast is a favorite of dwarves everywhere. Hungry miners will blush pinker than the beef itself when their noses catch the distinct scent of coriander, allspice, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, and red pepper flakes wafting from a full-to-the-brim cauldron. Served in a light, tangy broth with generous helpings of boiled cabbage and doused in vinegar, this dish is sure to satisfy the sale cravings of even the saltiest dwarves (just as long as you don't forget the ale).
The recipe calls for pickled spice, which were weren't able to procure in pandemic conditions, so we instead made our own. I also overdid it on the celery (as a new chef, I'm still learning measurements). This meal takes over four hours, so it's not something you're going to whip up for your players just before they arrive to game.

For all the references to salt, the recipe does its best to minimize your sodium intake. The butter is unsalted and the chicken broth is low-sodium, presumably because you'll add the salt yourself.

Overall, the meal was surprisingly tasty. It was spicier than I might have expected, but then we created our own pickled spice so that surely had something to do with it. Some kind of bread would go well with it (Heroes' Feast rarely mentions any sides to go with the recipes). All that said, there's a lot of meat and mostly vegetables so I'll be eating this all week for sure.


Where Do Dwarves Live, Anyway?​

There's a reference to Ironroot Mountains in the recipe's introduction, which is in Eberron in eastern Khorvaire:
The Ironroot Mountains are a stretch of mountains in eastern Khorvaire, lying parallel to the Hoarfrost Mountains and along the western border of the Mror Holds. It is believed that the Ironroot Mountains have some of the richest mineral deposits in Khorvaire. The dwarves of the Mror Holds trade and mine in these mountains, but their operations tend to come under attack by the Jhorash'tar orc clans. Many clans of Jhorash'tar orcs live on the mountains, making it incredibly dangerous for wandering travelers and even more so for any dwarves.
Heroes' Feast also mentions the Iron Hills, eastward of the City of Irongate in Greyhawk:
The Iron Hills are a massive series of highlands extending eastward of the City of Irongate and surrounded by the United Kingdom of Ahlissa to the north and the Principality of Naerie to the south. The Iron Hills are the home of the Kingdom of the Iron Hills Dwur, ruled by King Holgi Hirsute (ml dwf LG Ftr15), who is firmly allied with Irongate. The hills produce very high grade iron ore, and several kinds of precious metals. Gnomes and humans do some of the mining in the area, but the largest and most productive mines are dwarven-run.
There's nothing in either of the above wikis that explains the history of how dwarves came to create such a dish. Given the winding history of how corned beef and cabbage has come to be associated with St. Patrick's Day, a meal like this is an opportunity to tell their story, particularly of a well-traveled people who have faced a lot of hardship.

Your Turn: Is dwarven cuisine different from other meals in your campaign?

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


Lawyer by day. Rules lawyer by night.
See this makes a lot of sense to me. 5th Edition made it a formal point of indicating that dwarves are resistant to poison, which implies they eat and drink poisonous things that would be harmful to others. Given that there are no official alcohol rules (I think we have to go all the way back to 2nd Edition for that), it could be drinking a LOT and not getting alcohol poisoning, or it could be the food they eat, or both.

End result being that if we made "authentic" dwarven dishes, humans couldn't/shouldn't eat them, which would defeat the purpose of a book like this. But it's fun to speculate, and I think your ideas are excellent. I'm fond of "Doppelbock" which is essentially beer that can substitute for a meal: Bock
I think it shows some blindered thinking from a fantasy standpoint.

For example, once you switch away from the stereotypical working-class dwarf concept to "what would someone who eats a lot of roots and mushrooms eat" concept, you can find a lot. I Googled "mushroom recipes." The first hit was a listing of recipe ideas from Bon Appetit. Here is the ingredient list for one of them:

Spicy Mushroom Larb
  • ¼ cup roasted, skinless peanuts
  • 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 12 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, quartered
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1 1" piece ginger, peeled, finely grated
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced into rings, rinsed, drained
  • 1 red chile, such as Holland, Fresno, or Thai, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup mint leaves, torn if large
  • 1 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • ¼ head of green cabbage, halved crosswise, leaves separated
Also, think outside of the traditional D&D is Europe conceit. There are plenty of peoples who live in mountains. Peru is an excellent example. Central Asian countries like Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are others. And of course, there are Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan.
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You're right! D&D 3.5 had a bonus to poison saves, whereas 5th has actual resistance to both the condition and the damage type. I didn't play a 4th edition dwarf so unfortunately I'm out of the loop on where they were resistance-wise.
I just looked it up and it goes back to at least 1E AD&D, I don't own anything earlier. I don't remember much of anything from 4E as we played it only for a short time. Seems this has been a feature of the race for a very long time, honestly one I most associate with dwarves is that they are tough constitution wise.

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Most food and drink associated with dwarves doesn't make a lot of sense, given how little farming they apparently do above-ground. So either they're trading for all their supplies -- not impossible -- or there's a little-discussed agrarian component raising all the grains and meat they consume.

In my campaign, they do both: There are dwarven farmers and they also spend a lot of their resources bringing in foodstuffs farmed by others that they then make into their own cuisine.


There are three good methods to make a corned beef:

1) For the time-pressed, use an Instant Pot. Instant Pots are great for this. I use mine once a week in the winter to make a Yankee pot roast. It cooks in less an 90 minutes.

2) For those with day jobs, use a Crock Pot. Crock Pots are designed for all day braising. Prep your stuff the night before, put it in a Ziploc bag, and dump it into the Crock Pot. Turn it on and go to work. Your dinner will be waiting for you when you get home.

3) For the traditionalist, use a Dutch oven. The only difference between a Dutch oven and a Crock Pot is that it is much safer to leave your Crock Pot unattended all day long than to leave your oven unattended all day long.

If you don't care about your fat intake, take care to cook your corned beef with the fat side up. This way, as the fat cooks, it will melt through the meat, imparting flavor. If you do care about your fat intake, don't make a corned beef. It's loaded with dietary fat. That's why it tastes good.

Add your cabbage and potatoes toward the end so they don't get too soggy. And get a good, solid, whole-grain mustard to serve alongside. If you can't find soda bread, either a hearty rye (preferably seeded) or pumpernickel is an excellent pairing. For beers, you're going to want a Kolsch, not a stout or porter. The salt will make you thirsty, and the Kolsch will take care of that and also cut through the fat. Plus, the fruitiness of the Kolsch will accentuate the subtler notes from the bay, peppercorns, and fennel. For a wine, again, choose a fruity red like a Beaujolais or Grenache. On the white wine side, you wouldn't be wrong in selecting a dry Riesling.

Finally, if you have a Penzey's near you, I recommend them. Their spices are far superior than the McCormick you'll find in your local grocery. The herbs and spices are fresher and of better quality. You can seriously taste the difference.
Method four is to use a sousvide water immersion method like thise. Since eberron is mentioned this method would even be possible with a common magic item that uses linited forms of prestidigitation and mage hand to circulate &keep the water at the proper temp

See this makes a lot of sense to me. 5th Edition made it a formal point of indicating that dwarves are resistant to poison, which implies they eat and drink poisonous things that would be harmful to others. Given that there are no official alcohol rules (I think we have to go all the way back to 2nd Edition for that), it could be drinking a LOT and not getting alcohol poisoning, or it could be the food they eat, or both.

There were official D&D rules for alcohol in 3rd Edition. The Arms & Equipment Guide for 3e had alcohol rules.

It treated them as mild poisons that essentially did 1d2 temporary Dexterity and Wisdom damage (that, unlike most ability score damage, wears off at a rate of 1 point per hour, instead of 1 point per day). Most drinks were DC 11, with potent drinks like Dwarven Ale and very potent liquors being DC 13 to 15.


I remember eating so many of those candy bars when I went to Switzerland.

I passed on that as well, for the same reason. "Oh look, they just slapped a geeky name on a Boulevardier recipe." As an amateur cocktail enthusiast, that doesn't cut it. I keep idly thinking about putting together an eBook of some of the fantasy-themed cocktails I've created. For example:

The Dwarven Forge:
2 oz whiskey
.5 oz amaretto
.25 oz goldschlagger
Dash smoked bitters
Serve over a large ice cube and garnish with half a cinnamon stick

Some years ago I went to a seminar by Daniel Myers (writer of the excellent A Dwarven Cookbook) on developing fantasy culture cuisines, and it was a real eye-opener.
Since folks are making fantasy drinks, absinthe is a great one very few players (or gm's) will have tried. While I can't give a long historical breakdown, the folks from Lucid do a great job of doing that while showing how to use it in this great 1hr video. I & one of my players like the standard absyne with iced water dripped over the sugar cube & special spoon (see the video to watch it change color), that has a very strong very strong fennel/anise flavor &many might not if they don't love the fennel in sweet italian sausage or black licorice. Because of that I'm going to suggest a mixed drink with it that I first got to try at a local speakeasy* that literally has floating magic led candles. Since my eberron campaign associates absynthe with zilargo gnomes & in my experience I've never had a bar not need me to describe or teach them the recipe for a reverse sazerac sour on the odd event they even have absynthe I'll call this reverse sazerac sour a zilargo style sazerac.

Zilargo style Sazerac sour
  • 1 & 1/4oz lucid** absynthe
  • 1/2oz lemon juice fresh
  • 1/2oz simple syrup
  • 1 fresh egg white (approx 3/4oz)
    Rinse dash scotch or rye whiskey into coupette glass prior to strain mix
    Dry shake and shake again with ice, strain into chilled compete glass or rocks glass (no ice)
    2-3 drops Peychaud’s bitters as garnish on top of foam as desired
    Lemon twist (discard)
*no really, they actually call it the speakeasy up front & the door is disguised with a library book drop
** You could say Lucid is the version that doesn't include minor illusion, but really I include it to help you avoid buying green vodka, absynthe should not look like midori no matter what hollywood thinks.

I've got a page of notes so far, but the only one that's complete is the one I shared. Right now I've got them broken down by lineage, with gnomes (irish whiskey, muddled sage, olive oil) and half-orcs (fernet branca, muddled berries, simple syrup, ouzo) being the only other ones taste-tested yet. Elves, Halflings, and Tieflings are still just in the conceptual stage.

Given the amount of pandemic imbibing we're all doing these days, I encourage you to publish your book!

Probably the same way we do - trade. Cinnamon, for example, is all over medieval European cooking recipes. And if you look at something like the old Rockhome sourcebook, dwarven kingdoms have lots of surface-area farmland. Dwarven Ale wouldn't exist without it, so they're already going to be growing the crops needed.

I would think that a vodka distilled from potatoes would be more appropriate than a spirit distilled from grain. Similarly, where are the dwarves getting the apricots and the cinnamon?

Instead, 2 oz. horseradish-infused vodka, .5 oz. vermouth, Stir vigorously with ice until well-chilled. Strain and garnish with a pickled gherkin.

Argh, yes, this! It's almost always this bright glowy green in movies.

Anyway, I dig the Zilargo Sazerac. Can't say I'd have thought to do a reverse version of the Sazerac. And as an aside, if you've ever been stuck on what to do with your yolks after separating the egg whites out, my wife discovered this recipe:

** absynthe should not look like midori no matter what hollywood thinks.

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