Catholic Recipe: Colcannon
Also Called: Callcannon
The ancient Celtic festival Samhain was celebrated on November 1 — the first day of winter. In Christian times the celebrations were transferred to the night before — Hallowe'en, which is still one of the liveliest festivals of the year.
As children we always had a Hallowe'en party, as many Irish children do today. We had the greatest fun planning it for weeks before. We tormented a local farmer until he gave us a few turnips which we hollowed out with sharp spoons to make masks with eerie toothless grins. These were lit with stumps of candles and put up on the gate post outside the house where the party was held. On the previous day all the children participated in the making of the barmbrack, a rich fruit bread with a long history.
After hours of merriment and Hallowe'en games the feast began. We ate huge plates of colcannon, a delectable Irish potato dish made with fluffy mashed potatoes, scallions and cabbage with a pool of melted butter in the centre. After that there were slices of warm apple cake fresh from the oven with cream and soft brown sugar, and finally it was time to cut the barmbrack. Then the older people started to 'draw down the past' and tell ghost stories in hushed tones, into the early hours. Eventually we made our ways home clutching on to a grown-up and terrified on the least squeak - but not before we had put out a plateful of colcannon with a knob of butter in the centre for the fairies and the ghosts.
There are several versions of this traditional potato dish which was nourished and comforted Irish people for centuries. So popular is it that poems have been written and songs have been sung in its honour.
1. Scrub the potatoes and leave the skins on. Put them in a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil.
2. When the potatoes are about half cooked (15 minutes or so) strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put on to a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.
3. Discard the dark outer leaves of the cabbage, wash the rest and cut into quarters, remove the core and cut finely across the grain. Cook in a little boiling salted water or bacon cooking water until soft. Drain, season with salt, pepper and a little of the butter.
4. When the potatoes are just cooked, put the milk into a saucepan with the scallions and bring to the boil. Pull the skins off the potatoes, mash quickly while they are still warm and beat in enough of the hot milk to make a fluffy puree. (If you have a large quantity you can do this in a food mixer.)
5. Stir in the cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning. Colcannon may be prepared ahead up to this point and reheated later in a 350 degree oven. Cover with tinfoil before reheating so that it doesn't get crusty on top. Serve in a hot dish with a lump of butter melting in the centre.Recipe Source: Festive Food of Ireland, The by Darina Allen, Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992